But in the later stages of the Vietnam War -- a war begun by elite liberals -- elites on campuses began taking an adversarial posture toward their own country. Later, with globalization, a transnational mindset grew among corporate and professional elites. Legal elites, too: Some Supreme Court justices have taken to citing foreign law as one basis for interpreting the U.S. Constitution.
This gap between transnational elites and the patriotic public has reverberations in partisan politics. Americans in military service and those with strong religious beliefs now vote heavily Republican. Americans with strong patriotic feelings are more closely split between the parties, but the growing minority with transnational attitudes vote heavily Democratic. Which doesn't necessarily help the Democratic Party.
Democrats Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck, both Clinton administration veterans, point out in a recent paper that two-thirds of liberals, the dominant force in the party at least in 2004, reject pre-emptive use of military force and want to cut the defense budget, while only one-third of the electorate agrees.
"While social issues and defense dominate today's political terrain," they conclude, "it is in these areas that liberals espouse views diverging not only from those of other Democrats, but from Americans as a whole. To the extent that liberals now constitute both the largest bloc within the Democratic coalition and the public face of the party, Democratic candidates for national office will be running uphill."
"A nation's morale and strength derive from a sense of the past," argues historian Wilfred McClay. Ties to those who came before -- whether in the military, in religion, in general patriotism -- provide a sense of purpose rooted in history and tested over time. Secular transnational elites are on their own, without a useful tradition, in constructing a morality to help them perform their duties.
Most Americans sense they need such ties to the past, to judge from the millions buying books about Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson and other Founding Fathers. We Americans are lucky to live in a country with a history full of noble ideas, great leaders and awe-inspiring accomplishments. Sadly, many of our elites want no part of it.