Ronald Reagan was characteristically upbeat and optimistic when he addressed the American people for the final time as president 30 years ago this past Friday. His farewell address to the nation is best known for his vivid description of just what he’d had in mind all those times when he invoked America as “a shining city on a hill.” …
… But for all of his optimism, Reagan did leave his audience with one clear warning for the future. He said the country needed “an informed patriotism.” He greatly feared that we were not doing enough to foster it.
“Are we doing a good-enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?” Reagan bluntly asked.
When he was young, the nation’s youth “were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American,” he noted. “And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions.” Young people learned those lessons from family, in classrooms, and through popular culture.
The Gipper worried that we were not handing down to future generations a responsible love of country. “Parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children,” he said. “Well-grounded patriotism is no longer in style” for those media figures who direct the course of popular culture.