E pluribus unum: Out of many, one

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/10/01/e-pluribus-unum-out-of-many-one/

Immigration is an issue that is not going away. It has dominated the coverage of the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign and is likely to continue to do so. And with good reason. Today, there are more than 11 million people living in America illegally. And although a majority of Americans favor allowing them to stay — provided certain requirements are met — sizable majorities want the government to deport criminal aliens, stop rewarding (indeed, incentivizing) illegal immigration with government benefits, and improve border security to stop the flow of uninvited guests.

Behind these practical complaints, however, looms a larger, more philosophic, question: What does it mean to be an American?

In this country, national identity is not the product of lineage or ethnic heritage. In America, our national identity comes from our shared beliefs – from our collective commitment to liberty, equal opportunity, self-governance, and the rule of law.  Adherence to our “American creed” turns a diverse country into one nation. E pluribus unum – out of many, one.

But what happens when those who live here no longer “buy in” to this premise? What happens when we stop trying to pass on our American values to the next generation and to those who seek sanctuary on our shores? Can our unique experiment in ordered liberty survive without the glue that binds us together?

Gone are the days when Americans affectionately described this country as a “melting pot,” a place where people from different countries and cultures melded together to form a new, uniquely American, culture.

Now it is fashionable to refer to America as a “tossed salad,” where members of racial and ethnic minorities do not need to assimilate in any way.

Many of our schools encourage students to define themselves primarily by their race or ethnicity, rather than by nationality. They herd Latino students into failed bilingual education programs that reinforce the retention of foreign language and customs at the expense of learning English and American values. And fewer and fewer schools even try anymore to inculcate the principles of the American founding, preferring instead to steep children in the modern “virtues” of tolerance and being green.

It is not just the schools, but our culture at large that encourages minorities and newcomers alike to think as hyphenated Americans (Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Indian-Americans, and so on). In the political arena, legislatures draw up racially gerrymandered districts, ostensibly for the purpose of empowering minorities, but serving, in the end, only to marginalize them and to divide our country. Is it any wonder then that many people today see themselves, not as individual, active participants in civil society, but as members of powerless, disadvantaged (even disfranchised) minority groups?

Of course, none of this is to say that racial or ethnic identity is irrelevant. To the contrary, as the late historian Arthur M. Schlesinger once wrote, “[w]ithin the overarching political commitment, people are free to live as they choose, ethnically and otherwise.” This is the very essence of freedom, and America is richer because of the cultural diversity of our citizens.

And yet, Schlesinger worried that our American identity is threatened by a multiculturalism that prizes race and ethnicity above national affiliation and patriotism.

A naturalization ceremony.

A naturalization ceremony.

Today, many Americans share Schlesinger’s concern that the failure of some immigrants to assimilate, and to embrace fully the principles of liberty, equal opportunity, self-governance, and rule of law, poses a danger to the American polity and to freedom generally. And it is this fear that overshadows much of today’s immigration debate.

Regardless of how we decide, as a nation, to deal with the problem of illegal immigration, we must renew our commitment to core principles if we are to prevent the Balkanization of our country.

We must insist that those who seek to become U.S. citizens become truly American by learning English and by giving up any claim to citizenship in their countries of origin.  American citizenship – like marriage – should require monogamy.

But we also must strive to educate all Americans, foreign and native born alike, about the principles upon which our nation was founded and the ideals that make our country special. Only by teaching and honoring America’s history, government, and the principles of participatory democracy can we forge a common identity and ensure that in the years to come our citizens will view themselves not simply as part of particular ethnic enclaves, but as individuals dedicated to the common enterprise that is America.

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