'America, to me'
0 comment Tuesday, July 15, 2014 |
What is America to me?
A name, a map, or a flag I see;
A certain word, democracy.
What is America to me?
The above lines are the introduction to the song "The House I Live In" which many people know as a song sung by Frank Sinatra in a short subject made during the War years.
At Dispatches from the Hogtown Front, the blogger Hyphenated Canadian asks what Canada means.
That provoked some thought on my part about America, and about what it means to be an American.
So I've been pondering Americanness.
This blog came into being because of my sense that America, and the American way of life, was vanishing. Further, it was not vanishing as a result of some inevitable natural force, but by the loss of our old ways of being and thinking.
But in light of all that has been happening in our world in recent years, with millions of people from every corner of the world arriving in America, and claiming a right to her, I wonder what Americanness means? Is there such a thing, in an absolute sense, if anybody and everybody who shows up here can be an American simply by acquiring a piece of paper?
So what is America?
To me, it's a one-of-a-kind country which can never be recreated anywhere else on earth, should it fall to those who are doing their best to topple it now. America is an irreplaceable country. Now if it were a 'proposition', an abstraction, a set of words on a parchment, even those great words written by my long-ago kinsman, Thomas Jefferson, then it would be reproducible anywhere and everywhere.
If America is just the Constitution and the admittedly great ideas embodied therein, why has not some group of people in another corner of the world not taken that document and used it to create their own America for themselves? The founding documents of our country, with all their great and lofty ideals and principles, have been freely available to all who want to glean the wisdom therein. Why has nobody acted on that blueprint and created America on their own soil? If it is an 'idea' then it is sort of a franchise; we could set up Americas everywhere, like we open McDonald's restaurants everywhere, purveying Big Macs and fries. I hear that even in China, you can find a McDonald's burger. If we can franchise American fast food, why not American democracy?
Apparently that is the idea behind our being in Iraq: we are trying to establish a franchise for Jeffersonian democracy there. But still, even though the great ideas that supposedly constitute America are freely available for the taking and applying, nobody has made another America.
Do you think it might be that America, and the ideas which were so instrumental in her founding, were something peculiarly Western European, specifically British? Something which grew not out of nowhere, but from a long tradition which began hundreds of years earlier in England? And that England, and the people who made that country, made her the kind of country she was because of their unique character as a people?
Is it any accident that Britain has shared many of our longstanding traditions and ideals?
And is it accidental that our form of government has not taken root in much of the world?
Even many of the advanced countries that we think of as 'free' or 'democratic' are not exactly like America in their understanding of freedom; nobody has reproduced what we have here.
I think it's obvious that America is not merely an idea, or a set of ideas; America is a specific place, but it is merely a manifestation of the mind and the spirit of the people who first settled and shaped this place. And it may be that only Americans can truly understand and apply our system. I have seen no convincing evidence otherwise.
The liberals among us try to deny that fact, because they fret that it isn't 'inclusive' enough, and that it will offend or exclude other groups of people or nations. So we continue in this fantasy that we can export our way of life like a commodity. And yes, you can certainly export material goods; people the world over can wear jeans, (once a uniquely American garment), or eat a Big Mac, drink a Coke, and watch Hollywood movies. They might acquire the material trappings of America, but they can't re-create America. And conversely, we can import half the world's population here to these shores -- and it looks like that's just what our government intends to do -- but you cannot make these people Americans just by dropping them down in Minneapolis or Lewiston, Maine. There is no magic quality in the air or soil that transforms foreign people into Americans just by their physical presence here.
People are not blank slates.
And the simpletons who insist that 'every other generation of immigrants became American, so what is the problem?' are blind to the fact that first, America has never, ever allowed in so many millions of immigrants in such a short time. Second, previous generations of immigrants were mostly of European Christian origin. The commonalities far outweighed the differences. Later, when many more exotic groups immigrated, they assimilated only with difficulty, and many have in fact not assimilated to this day, not completely. Many descendants of the later waves of immigrants are, unfortunately, among the most ardent advocates of mass Third World immigration and open borders now. So even though they may speak perfect American English, and be outwardly American, obviously their sympathies are with immigrants, and they seem to harbor a resentment towards old-stock Americans, whom they see as adversaries if not enemies. They may not acknowledge this (although some express it quite openly) but it is implicit in their words and actions.
These later immigrant descendants are often among the revisionist historians and academics who push the idea that America is 'a nation of immigrants', and more perversely, they teach that 'immigrants built America.' Or that 'immigrants made America great.' Another variation on this same theme is that 'slaves built America.'
The implication is that old-stock Americans, who settled this country and fought for independence and who built the already-great country to which later immigrants came, really did nothing; the Anglo-Americans were some kind of effete aristocrats who sat around while immigrants and slaves accomplished the task of building America.
But the fact is: Americans made America. The very ideas and ideals which contributed to the making of America may not have been developed and brought to fruition by any other people on earth; they came out of a specific Western European, Anglo-Protestant matrix. And all of this came into being before the waves of immigrants of the 19th and 20th and now the 21st century.
America has welcomed in people of various national origins, and some have been a better fit than others; the best fit has been with people who were close ethnic kin to the original settlers of this country. Other later immigrants from more disparate cultures assimilated slowly, and incompletely. But all who are able and willing to embrace this country with its existing, distinctive culture can be grafted into the American people. Not all, however, are able or willing.
There are certainly immigrants who have become thoroughly American. Such immigrants truly love America, identify with her and her way of life. And it is more than merely assenting to some abstract ideas; the Americanized immigrant embraces the American people, past and present, and identifies with America, her culture, her customs, her way of life. One noted example of an immigrant who truly understood America and embraced her fully was the late,lamented Balint Vaszonyi. Coming from Communist Hungary as he did, he truly appreciated the freedom he found here, and he had a mature understanding of the history and the character of America.
My late fellow-blogger 'Aussiegirl' was another who loved this country and valued it deeply.
Everybody who knows the history of America and who truly loves America understands the fragility of what we have here; it is something that is a rarity in the history of mankind, and to tamper with the very nature and character of this country in the name of some vast social engineering experiment is like doing experimental brain surgery on an unconsenting patient, moreover, on a patient who does not need surgery. The patient may well be killed for the sake of an unjustified experiment.
America has her problems, and what problems she has among her citizens are due to disparate groups of people, conflicting values and allegiances. So what is the plan by our elites? Bring in more and more disparate, incompatible people with conflicting values and allegiances, and open hostilities. Mix well, and wait for the explosion.
So what is an American today?
I am loath to say that we Americans are 300 million people without a country and an identity, but that seems to be the direction in which we are heading, into uncharted waters.
I know that there are still many of us, descendants of those 21,000 Englishmen in New England, and the 40-some thousand colonists in Virginia, who are still here. Our culture, which has come down to us from our fathers, is still holding on, though in critical condition. But what makes us American?
Americans, even those of us of the old stock, are hard to pin down, but if I had to sum up the old American character, I would say independent, skeptical, practical, and not easily ruled; tough, persevering, hardy. We are sometimes excessive; the Puritan and the hedonist struggle within us.
At the same time, we are generally hospitable, altruistic, and neighborly, and it is these qualities which are now maliciously being used against us. There is something especially reprehensible and low and base in taking advantage of people's kindness, generosity, and niceness, and that is what is being done now. Uncle Sam, sometimes known as Uncle Sugar, is now being played for Uncle Sucker.
But in general, I agree with the assessment of writer Mary Ellen Chase, from 53 years ago in an essay:
We Americans have since our beginnings been known for our self-reliance, for our gumption and common sense. We are, or at least we were, adventurers, and our history is the story of a game played against tremendous odds and gloriously won. Why not recall the tough moral fiber which made the winning possible?
We will need to find that tough moral fiber, that distinctively American gumption, because in the new game in which America finds herself, the odds against us are even more tremendous than they were back in 1776. But as Chase said, our history is one of winning, despite the odds.

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