Being a good American
I have visited places like Mexico. There are many good things there, but I do not want the United States to become much more like Mexico. America is better. We celebrate the contributions of immigrants, as we should, but it is better if they become Americans than if Americans become more like them.
I know this is very un-PC. Inevitably, someone will indigently ask, "what is an American?" This is meant as a debate stopper. We are supposed to say that it included pretty much everything. But that is not really true. Let's not allow the debate stopper to stop us.
There is a distinctive American type. Indeed, it is an amalgam of lots of others things and it is constantly developing, but we can recognize it.
Americans believe in their Constitution and you cannot be a good American if you do not. This is literally true. You cannot serve in our government unless you believe in the Constitution. Of course, you may lie about it, but then you are also dishonest in addition to being un-American. Our president, our soldiers and all our government officials take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We can - and do - disagree about the exact interpretations of the Constitution, but we have no right to discard it and still call ourselves good Americans.
Americans also believe in liberty, rule of American law and the continuity of our institutions. Communism in this sense in not American. Sharia law is not American. If either of those things came to dominate our country, we would lose our American and we would be something else, not as good.
You also need to believe that America is your first secular loyalty. I specify secular, since most Americans believe that God supersedes even the U.S., but that need not be an issue. We "render onto Caesar," i.e. the kingdom of God is not of this world. The United States is. They exist in different parallel spheres.
When an immigrant is made an American, he/she swears to give up loyalty to all foreign despots and potentates. You can maintain your ties and love of another place, but America comes first. It is interesting to look at history. During the times of the World Wars, German ancestry Americans made up around 25% of the U.S. population, America's largest ethnic group. Yet the vast majority of them supported the U.S. and they fought and died fighting their old country. Those few that didn't were traitors and treated as such.
So let's get back to immigration. I believe that immigrants enrich our country, but it is a good thing only if they assimilate and become Americans. This does not mean they turn into suburban middle class Americans, although that is a valid aspiration, but it means that if you think about how their grandchildren will be a century hence, you will not be able to easily distinguish them from other Americans. This was the case of the original hyphenated Americans, the Germans, as well as members of the massive waves of immigrants who showed up looking for a better live a century ago. Assimilation worked back then and it should work now.
I have traveled widely in this world and lived much of my adult life outside the U.S. That has made me appreciate America even more. We really are exceptional. Not everything is better in America, but most things are. Others are catching up and this is good. It is past time they pulled their own weight. But we should strive to keep what we have.
I am extremely grateful to the generations of Americans who came before me and built this great country. As a grandson of immigrants, I know that much of that work was done before any of my ancestors got here. But I hope we have done our part. I have embraced America, as my grandfather did. My spiritual ancestors are men like Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, not some ancient warlord with whom I share some genes.
Maybe this is the essence of being an American. You celebrate as yours all the fantastic achievements of our American founders and builders. THEY are my ancestors in every real sense. They really did create a novus ordo seclorum - a new order for the ages. And if you don't like that, you are not only not American but stupid as well.
Posted by Christine & John at July 13, 2013 8:21 AM
Good post C&J. You raise many points I happen to agree with, such as “I do not want the United States to become much more like Mexico”. It saddens me to see so many libertarians and conservatives who think our laws must be revoked to allow our government to be ran like that of Mexico. The cartels have caused Mexico many problems and small government cannot do anything to stop them.
Americans believe in their Constitution and you cannot be a good American if you do not.
I to find it reprehensible that many conservatives twist the constitution to mean economic rights of the wealthy supersedes the rights and liberties of the rest of us Americans. You would think they believe only wealthy merchants fought the revolutionary war and the rest of our less well off forefathers stood to the side. It seems they also think the Constitution was the end all of our system of laws and government not the beginning, almost as if the Constitution was never ratified and we were still using the Articles of Confederation.
Sharia law is not American…., You also need to believe that America is your first secular loyalty.
Neither is Christian law for that matter C&J. Intermingling the religious as the Muslims have done with the secular has never serve any peoples well. We see many extremist conservatives in this country doing just that however, insisting their religious beliefs should be the law, go figure.
My spiritual ancestors are men like Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, not some ancient warlord with whom I share some genes.
Mine to C&J but I would also add Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt and FDR to that list. As extremist conservatives continue to force Jefferson out of textbooks I am happy to see you have included him on this list.
On the issue of immigration why have the extremist conservatives/libertarians of the tea party caucus in the HOR turned immigration reform into border control? That wasn’t the intent of the constitution nor our founding fathers, was it?
I read your article. I think most conservatives like Thomas Jefferson, at least I have not met one that dislikes him. Jefferson gave us a little for everybody. I have been to his house several times.
I don’t believe in political textbooks but I do think we need to be vigilant. In my kids textbooks, George Washington got shorter consideration that Sojurner Truth. That should be out. It is also true that McCarthy was wrong in his methods, but right that communists had infiltrated our country.
History is not equal opportunity. Most of the important things in U.S. history were done by white males. There are few individuals from other groups that would deserve a mention before the 20th Century and they would have tended to be victims and/or enemies of the U.S. like Sitting Bull.
White men are indeed responsible for most of the bad things and most of the good things in our country’s history.
Re sharia law - Christian law also does not apply to our country. People can and should be influenced by their values, but we do not now have nor never have had Christian law. IMO, our Constitution is heavily influenced by Christian ideas. Separation of Church and state was advocated by Jesus himself and Western ideas of individual liberty are heavily influenced by Christian heritage.
On a strictly stylistic note, many of our documents and writings are influenced strongly in tone by English Bibles, especially King James. There is no Gettysburg Address or Second Inaugural w/o King James Bible. The Bible was often one of the only books people had. They knew it and it influenced them.
RE “Constitution was the end all of our system of laws and government” Actually, it is. There are two sources of legitimate authority in the U.S., the Constitution and the will of the people expressed through their institutions in a Constitutional manner.
An important reason why America has become the greatest country in the History of the world is that we have been conservative about our laws. We have not gone in for the wrenching changes suffered by most other countries in the past two centuries.
Take a look at our physical surroundings. Most countries have very different coinage today than they did. Our dollars look much like they did 100 years ago. The penny we have today came out in 1909, the quarter in 1932 and the dime in 1946. We don’t believe in foolish change.
And our Constitution is the oldest in the world.
C&J, let me explain a bit better RE: “Constitution was the end all of our system of laws and government”. My point is the Constitution gave us the HOR and the Senate to make laws that did not violate the constitution. The Constitution is not the end all law of this nation but instead is a guide for governing the country that limits the power of the Federal government. It does not dictate a particular system of economics, as many conservatives would have us believe, but instead gives us a system of government.
Regarding McCarthy and the communist we seem to disagree. The constitution did not make any political parties against the law, in fact it protected us from just that kind of government interference. McCarthy and his fellow conservatives trampled the rights of many people in his witch hunt. They violated the intent of the Constitution by passing law that made the Communist political party illegal. The violated the Constitution when they went after the Hollywood types for “unAmerican” activities. They were in fact unAmerican themselves.
Yes WWII was over and the cold war begun. And yes Russia was communist, but it was conservative fear mongering just as we see today with Muslims that was the problem not communist in this country. It was a violation of constitutional rights for someone’s political beliefs to be illegal,IMHO.
Now that being said, someone engaged in espionage regardless of their political beliefs has committed a criminal act regardless of their political or economic beliefs. McCarthy and his associates confused the issue by telling us all communist were spies for the Russians,IMHO. They attacked their political opponents with the force of law instead of ferreting out the spies in the government.
IMHO FDR saved us from communism, fascism and the other ism’s that were gaining popularity in the early part of last century. These ism’s gained ground due to the excesses of capitalism/fascism in those days. The changes instituted by FDR saved capitalism from itself and as pendulum swings back towards unfettered capitalism/fascism and the country pays the price I believe we will see more ism’s becoming popular once again.
This relates to immigration in that we did allow people to immigrate from Russia then just as we do allow those from Muslim countries now despite us invading their countries and being at war with them. Yet we are not at war with those south of the border that seems to be the thrust of the immigration backlash from conservatives, wonder why ?
BTW here is what appears to be an interesting read (I’ve not finished it)regarding espionage against the US the past 70 years.
Gotta go for now but I will respond to a few more of your comments later.
Some signatory’s and co-authors to our Constitution have explained in great detail in their private papers what the meanings were to its various provisions. I find no reference to open and uncontrolled borders and yet we have millions of persons residing here illegally. The word “illegal” means it is against our laws. As far as I can ascertain, being here illegally is still enforced and nothing in our Constitution defends such a violation of our borders.
j2t2 writes; “On the issue of immigration why have the extremist conservatives/libertarians of the tea party caucus in the HOR turned immigration reform into border control? That wasn’t the intent of the constitution nor our founding fathers, was it?”
Yes, the federal government is charged with defending our borders from illegal crossing. I know of no Constitution defense, or legislative defense for being here illegally.
Yes, the federal government is charged with defending our borders from illegal crossing.
Where in the Constitution does it mention illegal border crossing Royal?
Section 4 Article 4 mentions protecting states from invasion and against domestic violence. Are you suggesting the term invasion was meant for anything other than a military invasion by a foreign country?
“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”
I am a student of “McCarthyism”.
There is not enough room to show how wrong you are concerning that issue. What you need to do is read factual material concerning Sen. McCarthy and his enemies. Edward R. Murrow is not a reliable source. State Department memos are notreliable source. And on it goes. There are creditable sources available. Find them.
j2t2, The US Constitution clearly requires the federal government to protect states from invasion. Almost a million aliens illegally pouring across the border into states each year is clearly an invasion. They are not invited in and our laws prohibit their being here. It is an invasion and it is illegal.
RE “It does not dictate a particular system of economics …” It does not dictate a particular system of economics, but with its guarantees of due process, checks & balances and individual liberty it is incompatible with any but a type of market system.
RE McCarthy – we cannot take it out of the time. Consider the recent history (recent for them). Totalitarians (Nazis and communists) were seen to have subverted democratic governments all over the world. Communists in Eastern Europe has subverted and suborned institutions there to enslave whole populations. Their method was to get inside institutions and then take over and change their purposes. Communism was a type of virus that had recently killed millions and was continuing to kill and enslave. In places like Poland and Germany, where many Americans still had family connections, communists were arresting and torturing people for crimes like belonging to the YMCA or even more ironically being against the Nazis. The rationale being that if such people were brave enough to resist Nazis they might also be brave enough to fight communists.
Soviet archives indicate a robust presence in the U.S. Communists and fellow travelers had indeed infiltrated many U.S. institutions. Alger Hiss was in a position of power at State. The Rosenbergs gave our most important weapon secrets to our enemies.
McCarthy was a clown and a demagogue. Our system neutralized him in a few years. Eisenhower, as recent research indicates, helped orchestrate his fall. But we can easily understand why he was able to manipulate.
Re FDR – He was too sick and maybe a little too trusting of Stalin near the end. I don’t think he could have done much to help and, unlike my Polish friends and relatives, I don’t think he betrayed freedom at Yalta. He had to deal with one horrible despot (Stalin) to defeat the other (Hitler). But FDR did not defeat world communism. The Soviet Union was much stronger in 1945 than it had been in 1935.
RE immigration from Russia – we didn’t really have to worry much about that. The communists wouldn’t let very many come. You may recall that they built walls to hold people in their countries and shot to kill anybody who tried to leave.
Communism was a truly evil ideology. It was incompatible with being an American.
Re immigration from south of the border – this worries me not too much. Birthrates in Mexico have dropped like a stone. That wave is finished. I am just saying that I want immigrants no matter from where to aspire to be Americans. Most do. We need to encourage them and others.
Re your link re spies - probably not worth reading. It is very dry and statistical.
The Soviet threat, BTW, was not primarily through spies. It was infiltration and agents provocateur. For example, KGB financed European peace movements and had journalists on their payrolls. On the more sinister side, they trained terrorists. It is no surprise that European terrorism, so fierce in the 1970s and 1980s largely disappeared with the fall of communism.
These guys were real bastards. They destroyed societies, soiled the environment and dehumanized people. It was right and proper that we vanquished them and we should guard against their being romanticized as people of good will just a little mistaken.
j2t2, The US Constitution clearly requires the federal government to protect states from invasion. Almost a million aliens illegally pouring across the border into states each year is clearly an invasion.
Royal it seems you are twisting the Constitution to suit your needs. Something conservatives like to accuse those to the left themselves of doing. It is quite a stretch to think that an unarmed civilian is perpetrating an invasion on this country. That these illegals come across as an army at the same time and place. It is quite extreme to twist the Constitution around in such a reckless manner,IMHO.
Re your link re spies - probably not worth reading. It is very dry and statistical.
Yeah facts are dangerous things aren’t they.
we cannot take it out of the time. Consider the recent history (recent for them). Totalitarians (Nazis and communists) were seen to have subverted democratic governments all over the world.
C&J lets also remember it was after the Allies (including China and Russia) won WWII and defeated these same totalitarians.
Communism was a type of virus that had recently killed millions and was continuing to kill and enslave.
C&J! How quickly we forget it was the communist from Russia that lost the most people to WII. 9 million soldiers compared to 1/2 million USA military deaths. Millions were killed fighting the Nazi and Fascist regimes on the eastern front.
All of this is still no reason for us Americans to give in to the fear mongering that was Joe McCarthy and his ilk in both the HOR and the Senate then or to the same type of fear mongering today about Muslims. Or the same type of fear mongering on immigration from the Hispanics.
Should we abolish the republican party because some high ranking military officer sold secrets to the Russians and was a member of the republican party? The same party that fought to keep right wing dictators in power in Latin America and the middle east for years. The same dictators that used their powers to torture and kill millions of their citizens.
Re the link - I did read it. It is not very well written and not particularly useful for our debate here. I was just saving you a little time, but if you want to read it, go ahead.
Re the allies Russian and China - Yes, we worked with the Soviets. But it was clear to them before the war was over and clear to us soon after that our wartime allies were not going to last. BTW - our ally in WWII was Nationalist China. The communists didn’t take over there until 1949.
Re “C&J! How quickly we forget it was the communist from Russia that lost the most people to WII. 9 million soldiers compared to 1/2 million USA military deaths. Millions were killed fighting the Nazi and Fascist regimes on the eastern front.”
We needed the pathogen of the Soviet Union to destroy the pathogen of Nazi Germany. But is was the less dangerous of the two evils, never a good.
Also recall that WWII was provoked when Hitler and Stalin made a deal to divide Poland and for the Soviets to take over the Baltic States. Stalin was content to cooperate with the Nazis right until the day he was surprised by Operation Barbarossa. And a big reason the Soviets lost so many people is because Stalin spent their lives recklessly and a lot of Soviets were killed from their own side.
I have great respect for the Russian people and for the bravery of the Red Army soldiers, but not of the Soviet Union.
Communism was a terrible evil that persisted for a long time. Communists killed more people than Nazis. They ruled by a type of totalitarianism that is difficult for us to understand. I met people enslaved by communists, whose whole families were killed by them.
RE being allies, recall that the Poles were also allies. Yet the communists arrested and killed Poles who were fighting the Nazis. After the war, more than 20% of the Polish population was defined as enemies of the communist state. They were subject to arrest because of their family ties, their speech or nothing in particular. In the Soviet zone in Germany, communists arrested and imprisoned youth who had joined communist youth groups right after the war. Girls were subject to gang rape. It is still unclear why they were targeted. Perhaps simply so the communist authorities could demonstrate that nothing you could do could keep you safe.
re Republicans keeping dictators in power.I will assume you say such silly over generalization just to annoy me. Democrats were president during much of that time and controlled both Houses of Congress almost continually. I don’t blame them. Sometimes there were no good choices. President Reagan worked hard to help Latin America transition to democracy. Today the only places in Latin America that still have authoritarian governments are those opposed to us. Of course, the Castro brothers are the current record holders.
C&J, as I have said none of these atrocities justifies McCarthy and his henchmen using their power to attack and destroy political rivals here in America. You speak of the lesser of the two evils, Stalin and Hitler, yet you ignore the lesser of the two evils that gave rise to the communist totalitarians in the Soviet Union. When we prop up right wing dictators we allowed communism to continue on. When we fight totalitarians by becoming totalitarians we lose when we win. McCarty is the example of this foolishness. The argument against immigration reform as proposed by the Senate is just another version of the McCarthyism conservatives perpetrated upon this country in the ‘50’s. As you have said the lesser of two evils is still evil.
BTW,FDR saved this country from the different ism’s that rose to popularity in different countries by tempering the excesses of the capitalist system and the income inequality that was the result of these excesses.
“C&J, as I have said none of these atrocities justifies McCarthy and his henchmen using their power to attack and destroy political rivals here in America.” - I never said it justifies it. McCarthy was a clown and a thug. That is why Eisenhower worked to take him down. Circumstances do not justify his behavior but it explains how he got traction.
RE - “yet you ignore the lesser of the two evils that gave rise to the communist totalitarians in the Soviet Union.” - the rise of the Soviet Union was an accident provoked by the disaster of WWI. The Germans brought Lenin into Russia. They spoke about it as introducing a bacillus into their enemy and they were right. It turned out that they caught the disease too.
RE FDR - I always liked FDR and have studied his life. I have modeled some of my own leadership methods on his. You know that Ronald Reagan was a New Deal Democrat. When asked why he left the party he said “I didn’t leave the Democratic party, the Democratic Party left me.” I feel the same way about FDR, Harry Truman and even JFK. I have no trouble quoting them and benefiting from their experience. I think that FDR et al might share Reagan’s feelings.