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Thursday, March 30, 2006
OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan
It's the broad public knowledge, or intuition, in America, that we are not assimilating our immigrants patriotically. And if you don't do that, you'll lose it all.
We used to do it. We loved our country with full-throated love, we had no ambivalence. We had pride and appreciation. We were a free country. We communicated our pride and delight in this in a million ways--in our schools, our movies, our popular songs, our newspapers. It was just there, in the air. Immigrants breathed it in. That's how the last great wave of immigrants, the European wave of 1880-1920, was turned into a great wave of Americans.
We are not assimilating our immigrants patriotically now. We are assimilating them culturally. Within a generation their children speak Valley Girl on cell phones. "So I'm like 'no," and he's all 'yeah,' and I'm like, 'In your dreams.' " Whether their parents are from Trinidad, Bosnia, Lebanon or Chile, their children, once Americans, know the same music, the same references, watch the same shows. And to a degree and in a way it will hold them together. But not forever and not in a crunch.
So far we are assimilating our immigrants economically, too. They come here and work. Good.
But we are not communicating love of country. We are not giving them the great legend of our country. We are losing that great legend.
What is the legend, the myth? That God made this a special place. That they're joining something special. That the streets are paved with more than gold--they're paved with the greatest thoughts man ever had, the greatest decisions he ever made, about how to live. We have free thought, free speech, freedom of worship. Look at the literature of the Republic: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist papers. Look at the great rich history, the courage and sacrifice, the house-raisings, the stubbornness. The Puritans, the Indians, the City on a Hill.
The genius cluster--Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Madison, Franklin, all the rest--that came along at the exact same moment to lead us. And then Washington, a great man in the greatest way, not in unearned gifts well used (i.e., a high IQ followed by high attainment) but in character, in moral nature effortfully developed. How did that happen? How did we get so lucky? (I once asked a great historian if he had thoughts on this, and he nodded. He said he had come to believe it was "providential.")
We fought a war to free slaves. We sent millions of white men to battle and destroyed a portion of our nation to free millions of black men. What kind of nation does this? We went to Europe, fought, died and won, and then taxed ourselves to save our enemies with the Marshall Plan. What kind of nation does this? Soviet communism stalked the world and we were the ones who steeled ourselves and taxed ourselves to stop it. Again: What kind of nation does this?
Only a very great one. Maybe the greatest of all.
Do we teach our immigrants that this is what they're joining? That this is the tradition they will now continue, and uphold?
Do we, today, act as if this is such a special place? No, not always, not even often. American exceptionalism is so yesterday. We don't want to be impolite. We don't want to offend. We don't want to seem narrow. In the age of globalism, honest patriotism seems like a faux pas.
I've made this point a couple of times: it doesn't matter how people get here, but we need to teach them what it means to be an American if our nation is to continue to thrive. It's why illegal immigration is so harmful; they become economically integrated, but not patriotically. Immigrants must be welcome in this country, but we need to make them truly a part of our nation.
This is actually part of a bigger issue: Americans don't know our shared history. What was the intellectual climate that the Constitution was written in? To the extent Americans know, they think it was John Locke (not the guy from Lost), even though Edmund Burke had a far larger impact on our Constitution and most Americans have no idea how he is. It's no wonder our political culture is so fragmented; no care has been taken to make sure we at least start in the same place.