The Ukrainian Motherland monument is illuminated in the colors of an American flag in celebration of the United States' Independence Day in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 4, 2023. Credit: Jae C. Hong / AP

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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.

America, you’re not all that special.

That was the essence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s column in the New York Times about a decade ago. He was arguing the United States should leave Syria alone; Russia was on the case for peace.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered a different take this week. He wished the United States a happy birthday, noting “America’s Founders upended history when they forged a republic based on individual freedom and political pluralism….” He ended on the hopeful note that America will never give up on freedom. It was a nod towards American exceptionalism.

Of course, his country is actively fighting against Putin’s naked aggression. So much for Russia’s peacemaking.

So which vision of America is winning stateside?

Seems Putin made some headway.  

Back in 2013 when Putin’s column was published in the New York Times,  about 57 percent of Americans were “extremely proud” to be American. Broken into partisan camps, the numbers were 71 percent for Republicans, 56 percent for Democrats, and 50 percent for independents.  

This year, only 39 percent of us are extremely proud to be American. Democrats have fallen the furthest, down to 29 percent. Independents are around 33 percent and Republicans hold the line at 60 percent.

Why the drop?

It does not appear to be a mere regression to the mean. Before Sep.r 11, 2001, 54 percent of Democrats were in the “extremely proud” camp. Even in March of 2017, the early days of the Trump Administration, 43 percent of Democrats remained extremely proud of our country.

It was 2018 when their pride nosedived. And it has stayed down ever since.  

The cross-tabs are even more interesting. White people are more likely than non-white people to have zero pride. And, 11 percent of people under 34 say they have no pride in this country at all. Men are more proud to be American than women.

Trying to understand the “why” behind these trends is far beyond the scope of a 650-word newspaper column. Maybe the United States is something that we shouldn’t be proud of. Maybe it is a lack of civic education. Maybe Russian information operations – attempting to sow distrust in the U.S. – are having their desired effect.  

But I’ll suggest it is right to be extremely proud of America.

We are by far the most charitable country in the world. Russia and China are at the bottom of the list.

At home, Mainers saw an incredibly intense debate around Gov. Janet Mills’ abortion bill. Setting aside political strong-arming, emotions did not lead into a loss of reason, nor did it spill into violence. Contrast that with France.

A former president has been indicted on a variety of crimes. The only army marshaling to his defense is a battalion of lawyers, since that battle will be waged in a court, not the streets.

We take in more immigrants annually than any other country.

When it comes to helping Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression, America’s commitment towers over the rest of the world.

And it remains true that the United States is the only country in the world that was founded on an idea, rather than geographic happenstance or some type of affinity.

That idea is encapsulated in Jefferson’s words, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

It is why Americans should be extremely proud.

None of this is to say we are perfect. Far from it. Our history is complicated. There are parts of it we are rightly ashamed of. Some of it continues to impact Americans negatively today. We continually fall short of the idea upon which we were founded.

But that idea endures. And it is part of the reason why President Zelenskyy decided to wish us a happy birthday.  

So I’m with Zelenskyy, not Putin. America is exceptional. It’s okay to be proud of it.

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.