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Want to Help the World in the Most Effective Way? Unite as Americans.

Polling has suggested that Americans are identifying increasingly as global citizens and less so as national citizens. This trend has emerged amidst increased tension and contempt for the U.S. due to what people perceive as its past and present mistakes, such as racial injustice or imperialism. Some may argue supporting the U.S. in any way feeds into these issues, and taking a more global approach is better for problem-solving. Although having a global identity allows individuals to easily engage with the problems of the world, a collective American identity and shared ideals of freedom and equality builds unity and allows the U.S. to act on these problems in a more effective manner as one entity, rather than as individual people, to not only better the world, but also itself.

A collective American identity creates a generally undivided community which allows strength in numbers to create positive change within the country. A strong national identity is pride in one’s country and having the goal of bettering it. Tragedy is a catalyst for creating national identity and unity, with the most prominent example being 9/11. The whole nation collectively mourned the loss of thousands of people while subsequently banding together against one villain: terrorism (Al-Qaeda specifically). At this time in late 2001, President George W Bush had an approval rating as high as 90%, which is an astronomical number relative to recent history. This rating shows how determined this country was to not only persevere through this tragedy together, but how driven it was to defeat terrorism together. This common goal led the U.S. to take swift, decisive action, such as changing TSA procedures, and quickly obtaining an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against these terrorists that requires cooperation from Congress and the President. In 2011, the nation reached a milestone when Navy Seals terminated the orchestrator of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, and the U.S. celebrated together. Had the U.S. not been so unified in its action against terrorism, I fear it would be behind in the fight against terrorism today.

A country with citizens who possess a weak national identity will be divided and will be ineffective at tackling local and global issues. As a clarification, a diversity of ideas is necessary to a country’s well-being, and diversity of ideas does not necessarily lead to division as long as the common goal is to improve the country. However, when opposing sides refuse to listen to each other, or they lose hope in the country, this division is detrimental and counterproductive. Unfortunately, we are experiencing division in America today. For example, Neo-nazis, who value hatred more than their American identity and do not stand for the American ideals of freedom and equality, clashed with counter protesters in Charlottesville that ended in someone’s death. The president refused to denounce the hate of the neo-Nazis, which created further division among Americans and fed into the toxic culture between Democrats and Republicans who ridicule each other and refuse to work on issues together. America loses sight of its ideals when it focuses on political differences and defeating the “other side” instead of taking pride in improving itself, which leads to dire ramifications.

Since division is so counterproductive and harmful, the question lies in how to create a stronger collective national identity, and thus unity, without tragedy. I would argue it starts with seeing all of the positives that the United States has done for itself and the world. In terms of itself, the United States has elevated the rights of women and minorities far beyond other countries have, albeit we still have a lot of work to do. For example, the United States passed the 19th Amendment in 1920, allowing women to vote, which few countries had done and the U.S. set a precedent for more to do the same. As for the world, one could argue that World War II would have turned out differently had the United States not entered the war; the Allies were struggling and without the U.S., more deaths and devastation likely would have ensued. Remembering these monumental positives of the United States should instill pride in American citizens. The next step is taking this common pride and working together, even with those who have different ideas, to improve America and the world.

I realize most of my argument relies on America fully uniting under a strong national identity to create massive domestic and international change. Although a fully united country is obviously preferable to a divided one, a country with subdivisions is still more effective than a collection of individuals not acting towards the same goal. For example, although not everyone in the United States supports the Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter movements which have become relatively politicized, each movement can create massive social change across the country and world through coming together to work towards the goal of making America a safer place for black people or police officers. Although the movements are not perfect in that they sometimes refuse to hear the other side and even resort to violence, they are examples of different ideas whose supporters are brought together by a common goal of improving their country.

Although some argue having a predominantly national identity hurts one’s ability to empathize and actually help other countries, America’s positive and universally-applicable ideals of freedom and equality can allow the U.S. to spot injustices around the world and effectively respond to them. This country was founded on the foundations of freedom, democracy, and equality as a response to the injustices that England brought upon the colonies. Although the reality of the United States does not always match its lofty ideals, a unified movement behind these ideals has motivated positive action by the United States in the past. An example is when the army ended a reign of corruption and cruelty in Zaire in the sixties that severely harmed its citizens; the U.S. gave these citizens the freedom they deserve as humans. Despite mistakes being made by the United States, such as the various power vacuums created in the Middle East, the massive capacity of the U.S. to act on certain global injustices is powered by their strong, unifying national identity and ideals.

Some may argue that unified countries with strong national identities compete with each other in an unhealthy way, but another way the U.S. has benefitted the larger world is through competition. For example, the space race between the United States and the USSR put a man on the moon and created technologies that otherwise would not have existed as quickly if these two strong national identities did not compete. I grant that powers working together is another effective way to benefit the world, but competition derived from national identity can be as effective, if not more effective at creating world change.

Through all of this, identifying as an American may seem counterproductive to those who think that the U.S. harms the world. I understand how it would be difficult for one to identify as a citizen of a country whose ideals do not match his or her own. I would argue that this is the most important case in which to have a strong national identity. This national identity does not have to come out of joy or pride — it is normal to even be shameful of one’s country. However, I think it is important to have a relentless drive to unite with others to improve the nation. Change starts at the local level, and no matter how much you disagree with this country or the position it is in, improving the world is most effectively done as an American citizen who unites with others.

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