Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Idea of America

Years ago, we had a visit from a woman who had immigrated from Russia, and married a friend of ours.  She was seeking citizenship, and I was attempting to explain why so many people flew the Flag of the United States of America from their homes.  I told her that the United States is not a place so much as it is an idea.  The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution defined what America was intended to be.  Rather than being patriotic about a King, with whom you probably disagree, or the old blood and soil sort of patriotism, people who showed their patriotism by flying the flag were expressing an idea.  I don't think she understood.  But saying it out loud cemented the thought firmly in my mind.  The idea of what America is, is contained in the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  i don't apologize for either.

Today, Frank Minter had a piece at the National Review entitled The Myth of Flyover Country's "Real America", which expresses the thing I tried to convey all those years ago. For no matter where I go, I carry with me the "idea" of "real America." Indeed, I suspect this is what truly irritates people when they encounter Americans in a foreign land. You can take the person out of America, but you can't take America out of the person.
Trump is a New Yorker. He built his real-estate empire from Manhattan. He raised his children on New York’s swanky Fifth Avenue. He then became a reality-TV star, and emerged as the hero of the forgotten working class across Middle America. He is preparing to be president of the United States. This presents an opportunity to crush the oft-repeated conservative claim that the only “real America” is out there, somewhere, away from Washington, D.C., and the coasts.
This “real America” myth is a nostalgic throwback to a time that seems simpler by comparison, more polite and value-based. This Mayberry idealism may seem harmless, just a romantic look back to the old values expressed in Norman Rockwell paintings. But it’s not harmless. Saying this “real America” is lost or nearly lost is destructive to the Republican party and to real equality.
.First of all, American was never as simple as a Robert Frost poem. Second, this “real America” view implicitly excludes all the good, hard-working Americans who just happen to live in towns and cities that don’t resemble Mayberry. Does the “real America” view mean that small-business owners who are struggling, working almost every waking hour as they raise children in Los Angeles, New York City, or Miami, somehow aren’t real Americans? We shouldn’t be surprised that many read that message into it.
I suppose as an "official old fart" and a "curmudgeon emeritus," that I read what the conservatives are saying and I know what they mean.  I too have a certain nostalgia for what we had, and I feel the loss of some aspects, while being grateful that others are long gone.  But I also know, and have always known, that participation in America does not depend on ones race, or national origin. That to participate in America requires first an acceptance of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence; that all men are created equal under the law; that all me possess certain unalienable rights. Second, that those rights are not yours until you take them, defend them, and make them yours.  Finally, unlike some of my impatient neighbors ( and most Democrats) I look at our republican form of government as a feature, not a bug.

Republicans have never played the identity politics game.  That we leave to the Democrats and the Left.  We even have a "gay" wing of the party called the Log Cabin Republicans.  But you don't know that because they wish to live their lives, and be left alone.  Indeed, that is what all real /Americans want.

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