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Swimmers take to the water at Chester Frost Park on July 4.

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Pride in U.S. still alive, but concerns about its future persist

A majority of Americans say they are proud to call the United States their home, but still have concerns about the future of our 241-year-old nation.

A recent study of national opinion surveys by American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan public-policy think tank, reveals most Americans consider themselves patriotic. AEI's research — based on an accumulation of pollster data from sources such as Gallup, Associated Press-NORC and Fox News — also indicates Americans don't believe the country is as patriotic as it used to be.

A sampling of visitors enjoying holiday outings Tuesday at Coolidge Park and Chester Frost Park seemed divided on how America's patriotism measures up to its past. Some took hot midday strolls in the shadow of Walnut Street Bridge in downtown Chattanooga. Others grilled, played in the sand or splashed in the shallows on the shores of Chester Frost Park.

Patriotism today is "way, way less" than in the past, said Zarria Nelson, who plays basketball for the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School Warriors and whose family had gathered at Chester Frost Park to picnic and swim.

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Dennis Reid, 63, plastic cup of ice water in hand and finishing up a Coolidge Park hike, shared similar thoughts. He had travelled from Bremen, Ga., to enjoy the Scenic City on the Fourth of July holiday.

Others, like Andrea Alexander, splashing and diving near a semi-secluded dock at Chester Frost Park, said they believed the country has not changed its patriotic outlook. Alexander, who serves in the U.S. Army, said she had moved to Chattanooga a year ago.

Joel Hunt, a custodian at Heritage High School in Catoosa County, Ga., spoke from a folding chair in the shade at Chester Frost Park. Hunt said he believes patriotism and pride of country played a key role in the election of President Donald Trump.

"I believe Americans are proud of America, and I believe that's why Trump got voted in," Hunt said.

Those same people offered similar but not identical understandings of what patriotism actually means to them. Some said it comes down to pride in the country, while others said patriotism calls them not to just feel something, but stand for something or do something.

"It means to serve without any other purpose other than love of country," Alexander said. "You do it for nothing because you love your country."

Reid's description sounded heavy with emotion.

"I tell you, it means a lot to me because we lived overseas [in Kenya] for about 12 years and saw what some of the rest of the world was like," Reid said. "When we came home on our first furlough, I wanted to kiss the ground at Hartsfield Airport when we got back."

Chin Patel, also of Atlanta, equated patriotism to commitment to the nation.

"Nation is always first," Patel said. "That's how we all think, the whole family — nation comes first. I'm a U.S. citizen."

Nelson, who described herself as biracial, said patriotism meant being proud to be an American and proud to be black.

No matter whatever else they believed, most of the respondents said patriotic obligation required them to treat one another with respect, equality and goodness.

"I think it is our responsibility to honor each other," Reid said. "I think we have the responsibility to protect the Earth as much as possible and, to me, that includes not littering and not thinking my rights [should impose on others]."

"I don't expect anything from somebody else that I wouldn't expect from myself," Hunt said, calling for people to work hard, abide by your country and do right.

Protecting one another was core to Alexander's view of patriotic obligation.

"We have the responsibility to keep our own people safe and others outside of us to make sure that we all get along," Alexander said.

Most of those interviewed said they believe the United States is the best country in the world, but that did not mean they think everything is all right.

A number of them also said they felt their personal freedom had decreased within the last 12 months. Those feelings align with opinions in the AEI study, which showed most Americans right now are unhappy with the county and its place in the world.

Nelson said she felt her personal freedom has decreased overall.

"I'm half white and black, but my black side, I feel, has decreased a lot," Nelson said. "It's the truth."

Alexander said she did not feel her personal freedom had changed. She and others, however, said our actions could make our nation better.

"I think just coming together in unity instead of fighting each other on things [will make the country better], but you'll find that anywhere," Alexander said.

Asked what would make America better, Hunt said people who aren't contributing need to get jobs, "because jobs are out there."

Reid said he believes the country has been "in a downward spiral" for years. He and others said religious faith and truth are the only way to revitalize the nation and the world.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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