With the Fourth of July just days away and COVID-19 cases in decline, Georgians are gearing up for jubilant celebrations.
Many are preparing for public fireworks displays, cook outs and parades. And yes, that one annoying neighbor appears to be hoarding shocking amounts of fireworks for a late-night show, certain to terrify nearby dogs and jolt yours truly from a deep slumber.
All of this stands in stark contrast to July 4, 2020 when celebratory events were canceled or severely curtailed and Americans were being urged to remain at home. Now in 2021, COVID-19 rates have plummeted, and Georgians seem eager to revel in a festival-like environment. Naturally, much of this is in response to Americans being cooped up for much of 2020, but the desire to celebrate the Fourth of July is also inextricably rooted in patriotism.
Unfortunately, a recent study aims to rain on Georgians’ Independence Day parades. The folks over at WalletHub—a personal finance website—conducted a review of data to determine which states are the most patriotic, and Georgia came in at an underwhelming 29 out of 50. Oregon, Washington, and even Delaware, came in above the Peach State—surprising many. While I really don’t think Americans should put much stock in the WalletHub report, I think I speak for all Georgians when I say to the experts who conducted the study, bless your hearts.
In all seriousness, their work appears terribly flawed. For starters, a clear and concise definition of patriotism is nowhere to be found in the published report. So, it seems impossible to rank my beloved Georgia—or any other state—for how well its inhabitants live up to an undefined notion. I understand that patriotism and the American experience mean different things to different people, but Merriam Webster has a fine definition that WalletHub could have used: “love for or devotion to one's country.” I should note that this form of love and devotion is genuine and not coerced.
Despite WalletHub’s glaring omission, the report’s authors sought to design a study supported by quantifiable metrics. “To determine the most patriotic states, WalletHub compared the 50 states across two key dimensions, ‘Military Engagement’ and ‘Civic Engagement.’ We evaluated those dimensions using 13 relevant metrics,” according to WalletHub.
These included weighting and factoring in the number of military enlistees per state (Georgia ranked number one) and ranking states with the most veterans per capita (Georgia did well here too). Some of the 13 metrics appear to be legitimate indicators of patriotism—as defined by Merriam Webster. After all, if you love your country enough to fight and die for it in the military, then that certainly demonstrates a form of patriotism, but many of the other metrics make little sense.
The WalletHub study strangely factored in whether states require an education in civics and how many residents volunteered for the Peace Corps. The National Council for the Social Studies explains the meaning of civics as: “In a constitutional democracy, productive civic engagement requires knowledge of the history, principles, and foundations of our American democracy, and the ability to participate in civic and democratic processes […] Thus, civics is, in part, the study of how people participate in governing society.”
While civics courses offer many benefits, I am not sure that forcing a civics education on students makes them patriotic any more than forcing someone to read the Bible makes them a Christian. Genuine patriotism cannot, in the end, be mandated. What’s more, civics education is similar to a roadmap to navigating our system of governance. This is critically important knowledge, and I am sure many have studied civics because of their love for the United States. Meanwhile, others have probably done so just as a matter of practicality.
Similarly, WalletHub places far too much importance on the rate of individuals who join the Peace Corps, which, if you’re unaware, “is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation.” While incredibly noble, this reflects a selfless love for humanity at large, rather than love for America or fellow Americans, given that volunteers spend their time helping others overseas. It just isn’t clear how this should impact states’ patriotism rankings.
The truth is that the WalletHub study relied on these and other dubious indicators, which means that the resulting rankings are skewed. While I can’t be certain of where Georgia should be rated relative to the other states, my gut tells me that the Peach State is much higher than 29 out of 50.
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.