Who are the Real Americans?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Yesterday's discussion surrounding the possible modification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution got me thinking about how this country defines its "citizens." Smart reader David, a historian, made what I consider to be an important point:
First, as has been pointed out, this was an attempt to enshrine the values of the 1866 Civil Rights Act into the Constitution, and if this represents a problem to some folks, well, I can live with that. Both were explicitly aimed at overturning Dred Scott and making sure that people couldn't be denied "inalienable rights" simply because the majority decided they were unworthy. Remove those protections and there is nothing in the laws to prevent such artificial distinctions from being reimposed - once you start making value distinctions on citizenship (do we like your kind?) rather than objective ones (were you born here? Did you pass the naturalization process?) the potential for abuse is clear and inevitable.
I had not thought of the 14th Amendment in this light (to my shame - I should have), and my mind went immediately to those that are constantly talking about how we need to "take America back" for "REAL Americans."

Usually I consider such rhetoric to be thinly veiled racism, but really - such a yardstick could be applied to anything at all.

Consider my own family - we count as members people who could reasonably be considered white, black and Vietnamese. We run the gamut from Christian (in some cases fundamentally so), to Buddhist, to Atheist, to agnostic. We're Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We have both natural born and naturalized citizens. Our opinions on abortion, evolution, creationism, entitlement programs, divorce, the role of government in daily life, state's rights, defense, the role of the establishment clause, and every other matter is so diverse you couldn't get us to agree on anything without large amounts of Thorazine and a fully charged cattle prod.

And yet - we're Americans. All of us. From my Smart Girl who is eligible to join the Daughters of the American revolution on her father's side to my Hot Cousin's Smart Husband, who is a recently naturalized citizen, all of us count ourselves Americans.

So by what yardstick does one of us become "not a REAL American?" Am I not a real American, in spite of my years of service to this country, because I don't share the religious beliefs of the majority of my fellow citizens? Are the evolution deniers among us not real Americans because they deny the scientific consensus of those who are qualified to judge? Is my Smart Girl not a real American because she finds other women attractive instead of men?

Who gets to judge? Surely not Sarah Palin and her ilk - and surely not me. I am no more qualified to accuse someone of not being a "real American" than the Palinistas, and for the same reason - my yardstick is not objective. I may think those that don't agree with me regarding science and religion are misinformed, misled or even intellectually dishonest, but that doesn't mean they're not American.

As David pointed out, the objective standard is the 14th Amendment. Long may it remain the law of the land.

5 comments:

Eric said...

Amen!

Tania said...

Beautifully stated.

On occasion days I think that emigres are more American than schlubs such as myself who are fortunate enough to be citizens merely by birthplace. Usually after a conversation with Serge, a French-Canadian who became a citizen of the USA quite some time back, and joyously embraces his "new" country.

(ratican - what we have in Rome under the current Pope)

Vagabond said...

All of the lofty philosophical arguments made by Janiece, Eric and David are, as usual, well crafted, thoughtful and cogent. We might also think about the practical issues involved.

There is ample historic precedent for the inadvisability of arbitrarily denying or revoking citizenship. The Roman Republic played things a bit too cute with enfranchisement for the other inhabitants of the Italian peninsula. The result? Decades of revolt, civil war and a climate that made it highly unlikely that representative government (even in its very limited Roman form) would survive. Hail Caesar! In the end, the Romans realized that general enfranchisement legitimized their society and affirmed its greatness. Just a bit too late for that whole democracy thing . . .

The march of history through the dark ages, the crusades, the upheavals of the protestant reformation, colonialism, slavery, pogroms, genocide . . . most of man's ills have been, at least in part, about separating groups of people and denying some of them enfranchisement based on an arbitrary feature; race, religion, origin, etc. In every case, the eventual price paid by those societies was greater and more terrible than the price general enfranchisement would have brought. As a race, it is a fact that we humans have wasted more blood, treasure, advancement and time on this question than just about any other.

Societies that continue to deny enfranchisement to those seeking it invariably create envy, hatred and hostility that will come home to roost. When you build a wall, the first thing most humans do is begin to plan a way over, under, around or through it.

Besides, if we as a society seek ways to extend enfranchisement rather than deny it, we end up with more taxpayers, more jury duty fodder, more folks to serve in the armed forces, and more diversity in our society. All healthy things for a nation state to have. . .

Of course, with enfranchisement comes the right to vote as well . . . maybe that's what the old white men are really afraid of . . .

Might be kind of funny seeing Graham, McCain and the rest learn how to Bachata after all . . .

Luceses - short breaks from delusion

孟湖聿軒 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Janiece said...

*TONG*