Being American

     Karen Crouse, golfwriter for the New York Times, wrote recently about the relation between the current golf stars Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.  She wrote of McIlroy’s complex relation with Ireland and the United Kingdom.  Then she pointed out that Woods had no such complications.  “I’ve always been an American,” Tiger is quoted as saying, “so it’s been very easy for me being a U.S. citizen.”  Then someone, perhaps Crouse herself, asks this stunning question:  But what about your Cablinasian self-description?

     Think about that.  I am reasonably cerrtain that the questioner meant no harm by the question, but it is a touch scary to think that someone’s nationality could be put in question by his or her racial makeup.  To even ask the question staggers the mind.  The very question implies that one’s citizenship depends, or is at least questionable, upon one’s racial makeup.  Tiger Woods was born and raised in the United States.  His father, a United States citizen, served a career in the military and did multiple tours of duty.  Yet someone thinks that, because his racial makeup is a complex of Caucasian, African, Asian and American Indian, he needs to be questioned about this national affiliation.

     I want to say, “How strange.”  In this day and age, however, it is not at all strange.  A significant proportion of the American public still believe that our president is not an American.  Why?  Supposedly because his father was African and he spent some of his youth in Indonesia.  I wonder, though, if, in the back of the gnarled minds of some among us, it is rather because he is, as some on the radical right like to say, “not one of us.”  “Us” in that phrase is decidedly white, and it is preposterous to pretend that the president’s racial makeup is not an issue in the coming election.  Those who said, within hours of his election, that he should be impeached, and those who said that their number one objective was to get him out of office are clearly acting on some set of principles other than policy, and race is a good candidate for being their primary motive.

     This leaves, however, a far more central question:  Since there is no ethnic makeup that unites us, that qualifies us as American, then what does it mean to be American?  The answer to that question leads to some interesting inferences.  The answer is that to be an American is to be committed to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  To be an American means, before all else, to hold these principles self-evident:  that all human beings are created equal, and that each human being has been endowed by his or her creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

     Imagine, if you will, a room full of people chosen from across the entire range of political ideology in American from left to right.  Imagine that I ask those in the room to stand who believe in these self-evident principles.  I am fairly certain that everyone in the room would rise to their feet.  Now think about what that means.  It means that our political disputes, if we think about it openly and honestly, are not about ends, not about goals, not about founding principles.  That being true, the only justifiable inference is that our disputes have to do, not with our aspirations but rather with the appropriate means to achieve those aspirations. 

     If that is true, then what sense can we make of the cries of certain groups that they want to “take our country back.”  Back from whom?  Not from fellow Americans, of course, because we Americans are all dedicated to the same ends.  Unless “our country” does not consist of all Americans, but rather only of a portion of Americans.  And what portion might that be?  What is their makeup?  Might they be, for instance, all white?  Whatever that makeup is, the basis for it, the criteria for being a part of “our country” is not the American ideal held by all, but a set of criteria that clearly excludes some who hold those ideals.  Interestingly enough, it follows that the very assertion that there is such a group would have to imply, would have to necessarily entail, that this group does not have the American ideal as its ultimate goal.  So the irony is that the folks who want to “take our country back” are, by that very fact, demonstrating that they are not really Americans.

     The moral of this somewhat convoluted comment is that, if we were to actually be Americans, and if we were to recognize as equals all who hold those ideals, our political arguments would be, in accord with the principles of this very blogsite, all based on rational argument.  It might not be half as much fun as the nonsense that passes for political debate at present, but it would be a damn sight more effective.

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