We have heard a lot about people entering our country for the sole purpose of having their children born here so that they become citizens of our country. And we call our citizens Americans. But what is America, and what is an American? Is it just a person born here? And is America (I know, the United States of America) just the name of a geographical territory in the Western Hemisphere.
To say simply that an American is whoever is born here or who has taken an oath of citizenship is like saying that the Bible or a contract is just ink markings on paper. It is true that a Bible is ink markings on paper, but it is not just that. And if America is just the sum total of those people we call citizens, then we have deconstructed or dumbed-down our ideals to make them irrelevant, undesirable, or even inappropriate.
If we don’t have an idea of what we are supposed to be like as a nation (if anything), then we have no way to evaluate how we are doing. You can’t fix something if you have no way of knowing if it is broken or what is broke. You can’t have a garden without knowing what the weeds are and what the plants are that you intentionally want to cultivate.
And you don’t create a new nation, like ours was created, without having a clear idea of what you want it to be. If we don’t know what we want to be as a nation, it’s like we are sitting in a rowboat without oars, going wherever the current and the waves push us. Like a ship without a rudder, it has no destination or goal. As long as it doesn’t sink, everything is alright.
Some people focus on the idea that we are a nation of immigrants, that America is not based on a particular ethnicity. When you say you have to be Japanese to be Japanese, you are not making a tautological statement. But you can be Japanese and still be an American.
We used to call it the melting pot, where all these different nationalities combine to form a new nationality, an American. But now we talk of the salad bowl, where each individual part of the mix retains its individual identity. There is no longer considered to be a distinctly American culture, certainly not one to be retained. Every culture is equally good; but if there is no actual American culture, then we become a mixture of all the other nations.
Is that so bad? If that’s so good, they could have stayed where they were, and we could have stayed the way we were. If the way we were was so bad, they wouldn’t have come here. If we become like the countries they came from, then we are not as great as we used to be.
If we don’t know why we are great or how we got that way, we will not know when we are losing that greatness, why, and how we can get it back.
Wait. Why do I keep referring to our country as great? In this context, the most relevant fact is that no other country in the world has so many people who want to come here, and no other country in the world allows so many other people to do so. I am not talking about the millions of people who just want to leave their own countries because of war, famine, corruption, or persecution, though many of them do see America as the place to go to. But if this country changes to become like all the countries these people have come from, then we lose what was so distinct, or great, that made them want to come here in the first place.
And two of those distinctions are freedom and prosperity, and we will look shortly how we are in jeopardy of losing both.
If you are making a generic salad, you can add a lot of different ingredients to add to the flavor. But this doesn’t work for everything. If you are making a milk shake, and everybody adds any ingredient they like (maybe one person adds hot sauce and another vegetable juice), you don’t end up with a milk shake. You end up with something that no one wants to drink. Recipes exist for a reason. Only certain ingredients in certain proportions make the best tasting dishes.
When our country was founded, it was peopled from six different European nations: England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, and Germany. Eventually, as people from other nations wanted to come here, immigration laws aimed to retain the existing ethnic composition of our country.
In 1965, at least partially as a result of the new civil rights laws, immigration was opened to all nations. While this may sound noble at first, it forces the question: what is an American? Is it just whoever happens to live here legally or permanently? What do we teach our children or the new immigrants about what America is?
We talk about American ideals: freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But many of these new residents don’t believe in these. And many of the old ones are starting to not believe in them either.
Freedom of speech involves the exchange of ideas, the right to disagree with each other, and the right to express that disagreement. But we now have political correctness and hate speech laws which seek to stifle all speech that disagrees with the current mantra.
Where the old command was to love your neighbor, the new rule is to not offend your neighbor. And you can never be too sure what will do it. You can otherwise ignore him, but just don’t offend him. Don’t say anything or do anything that he might not like.
Photo credit: Roger Smith (Creative Commons)