The Challenges to America’s National Identity

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AP English Language & Composition

Sample Responses to Questions on Samuel Huntington’s “The Challenges to America’s National Identity.”
In Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity, Samuel Huntington argues that core American values are rooted in the country’s Anglo-Christian foundations and that Americans question these values at their peril. “The Crisis of National Identity,” the opening section of the book, lays out the competing identities that challenge and weaken a national identity: allegiance to other countries; to race, ethnicity, or gender; or to the global community. After September 11, 2001, Huntington saw national identity resurging, and he wonders whether it will be sustained.
1. Salience means “prominence, significance,” so low salience means “lack of importance.” Huntington attributes this “low salience of national identity” to competing identities — as he puts it in paragraph 4, to “[g]lobalization,” “ethnic, racial, and gender identities” and “dual

citizenships,” the “celebration of diversity.”

2. “Other-national identities”: the loyalty of immigrants to their birth countries. “Subnational identities”: the loyalty of nonwhites and non-Europeans to their race or ethnicity. “Transnational identities”: the loyalty of “elite groups” to the global community. Unlike a traditional national identity, these identities are not first and foremost “American,” according to Huntington, and are not based on a crucial unifying common culture.
3. Huntington’s thesis is that competing identities have eroded the sense of national identity so that “[b]y 2000, America was, in many respects, less a nation than it had been for a century” (par. 4). His purpose is to urge readers to identify themselves first and most fundamentally with the nation as a whole rather than any narrower entity.
1. The introductory description of the marked increase in the number of flags after September 11 captures the renewed patriotism and sense of unity at that time. The concluding description of the reduction in flags captures what Huntington sees as a worrisome decline in that national

2. Rachel Newman exemplifies Americans who had weak national identity before September 11: She would earlier have seen herself not as American but as “a musician, a poet, an artist and . . . a woman, a lesbian and a Jew.” Ward Connerly, in contrast, identifies himself as “all-American,”

although the reporter persistently tries to label him “African American.”
3. Huntington begins his discussion of subnational identities by quoting from two presidential inaugural poems that, for him, represent the shift from a national identity in the early 1960s to more fragmentation by 1993. The traditional “glories” of the American identity had come to be

viewed as threats to “the well-being and real identities of people with their subnational groups.” Then he contrasts the reporter’s attempt to label Ward Connerly an African American (and Rachel Ward’s initial classification of herself) with Connerly’s “passionate affirmation of his national identity.”

4. The questions challenge readers to think through the answers and by extension to act.
5. Each of the six executives quoted explicitly rejects a national identity for his corporation. Huntington perhaps includes all these examples to emphasize how “vociferous” and unified the executives’ objections were.
1. Huntington’s tone is urgent, as in the parallel sentences itemizing the assaults on national identity (par. 4) or the questions at the end (14). It is also sometimes sardonic about those who espouse other identities, as in his quotations from Angelou’s inaugural poem (9) or from the business leaders responding to Ralph Nader (12).
2. The language of the poems provides a sharp contrast: Frost’s reference to “freedom’s story,” “glory upon glory,” and a “golden age” suggest affirmation and optimism, whereas Angelou’s “bloody sear” and “wedded forever to fear, yoked eternally to brutishness” suggest a very different attitude.
3. The ampersand (&) is a stylized rendition of the Latin word et, meaning “and.” It was at one time considered part of the English alphabet. Schoolchildren added the Latin phrase per se (“by itself”) when reciting letters such as a and i that were also words, so & was recited as “and per se

and,” evolving into the word ampersand.

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