As we celebrate the 246th birthday of the United States on this Independence Day, how patriotic are you feeling for your country?

Our nation, even our state, seems to be divided, in light recent events; Roe v. Wade overturned, gun rights debated, questions about what can and cannot be taught in schools, and inflation affecting everyone in one way or another. The division is impacting overall patriotism, regardless of political party. A recent Gallup Poll found that 65% of respondents consider themselves extremely or very proud to be an American. In 2016, that number was 81% and it has steadily declined since.

The question of what it means to be patriotic will have different answers.

WalletHub ranks North Carolina as the 17th most patriotic state in the U.S. with Alaska ranking first. Researchers considered variables like how many voted in the 2020 Presidential election (34th in the nation for N.C.), to volunteering (30th place) to active-duty military personnel per 100,000 civilian adults (5th place).

Source: WalletHub

The Gallup Poll found that while 65% of Americans are extremely/very proud of their nation, another 22% say they are “moderately proud,” while 9% are “only a little” and 4% “not at all” proud.

According to Gallup researchers, Republican patriotism has always outpaced Democrats but the 32-point gap they now see between Republicans and Democrats is the largest gap they’ve seen since staring the survey in 2001.

“Republicans’ extreme national pride (58%) is now at its lowest point in the trend. Independents’ extreme pride, at 34%, is likewise the lowest on record for the group.” they wrote in the survey analysis. “After hitting a 22% low point in 2019, Democrats’ extreme pride rose to 31% in 2021 at the start of Joe Biden’s presidency, but it is down this year to 26%.”

So, what does it mean to be truly patriotic?

“Patriotism can be hard to define, but you know it when you feel it.,” said Amy Cooke, CEO, the John Locke Foundation. “To me, patriotism isn’t DNA or loving your country through rose-colored glasses while ignoring its imperfections. Patriotism is about loving America through its failings, celebrating its perpetual strive toward a more perfect union, and being eternally grateful for those who have given up their lives in defense of our founding principles of freedom and liberty. It’s justifiable pride in being an American.”

Father Pat Keane, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Raleigh, focused on patriotism during his sermon over the holiday weekend.

“It has always been America that the rest of the world has looked up to,” he told parishioners.

Many of our ancestors left their homes, families, and everything that they knew behind, for a better way of life in America. Others continue to do so even at the risk of death, Keane said, pointing to the examples of those who clung to planes in Afghanistan when our troops were leaving last year, or those crossing the border in Mexico.

American men and women serving in the military have bravely fought in world wars and other conflicts over the years, missing the birth of a child, such as Keane’s father. Some paid the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, there have been so many people to volunteer for service in the armed forces over the past 50 years, there hasn’t been a need to draft American service members.

Keane went on to say that there is no shortage of patriotic heroes in our country, particularly police and firefighters who risk their lives on a daily basis to serve their communities. On 9/11, many of those heroes ran toward, not away, from smoldering, crumbling buildings to save the lives of their fellow Americans. Many died that day, some, years later, and others are still dealing with health issues that occurred as a result of that bravery.

That bravery is a calling. That calling is patriotism.

But service comes in everyday acts too, like rallying around a neighbor in times of crisis, hurricane response for fellow North Carolinians who’ve lost everything, or a meal and a ride for someone fighting cancer. Complete strangers start fundraisers, collect items, offer a shoulder to lean on, and pray for those affected. Patriotism is present in those times too, as Americans serve a fellow countryman.

The Gallup Poll found that less than half of respondents age 18-24 were extremely or very proud to be an American, the lowest rate of the age groups polled. But that statistic can overlook powerful exceptions, like my own 20-year-old cousin and his fellow cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. They certainly take pride in their nation, and embrace their call to serve, as do the others who enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces each day.

There may be issues dividing our country right now, but patriotism isn’t one of them.

“We need to pray for our nation, not condemn it, and pray for other countries that don’t have our freedoms,” Father Keane said.