As the Presidential election nears, I’ve spent some time navigating the whole “aspiring nation” concept. America aspires, right? The promise of liberty, of opportunity, of a chance at a better life. The nation that fought for its own freedom and then pledged the same to anyone who landed upon its shores.
We’ve lived through depression and prosperity, grace and disgrace, war and peace. We’ve been the guarantor of good will and the wielder of wickedness. Lately though, things seem different, and while some people like to blame political ideologies, I posit there may be greater forces at work.
We were once a compassionate people, dedicated to lifting the tide to raise all ships. Listen to this stunning language:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
What a concept! To empathetically embrace the world’s unfortunate and light their path to prosperity. The thing is, though, when you post signs like that, people take them pretty seriously and, in this case, a whole lot of folks decided to show up. With pride and the assurance of a lasting legacy, we opened our arms and welcomed our guests only to find out that they had some rather different ideas about what they wanted in a new home. See, when you grow up elsewhere, you have different values and traditions, different ways of thinking about things like politics and economies, and social constructs. When you grow up elsewhere, assimilation feels like submissiveness. So these folks sought comfort in their own customs, and we, as a melting-pot nation are supposed to be better for it – more educated, more cultured, more compassionate and blessed with a global understanding of humanity. But democracy is a dogmatic dinner, and when other political ingredients get tossed into the meal, it becomes a recipe for ideological change.
For generations, we’ve received the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. They’ve entered America and brought their cultural influences and political ideologies and advanced them under the umbrella of capitalism and democracy. They accepted American exceptionalism and worked within that framework. But based on the current political climate, one might ask whether the melting pot may be full.
What once was a group of immigrants clothed in the American Dream, has become a nation of Americans committed to manufacturing their own national fabric. We see a bend toward socialism. We see a faction of the citizenry committed to bringing America on par with the rest of the world – they abhor American exceptionalism because they learned the lessons of equality from America, and they want to apply it to nations as well as people. We see challenges to identification laws because this faction doesn’t want to be labeled “American,” but rather, citizen of the world. We see challenges to the Constitution, because it is inconceivable that pale-skinned men could create an appropriate template for a multi-cultural nation. This faction now represents almost half of America’s population and my represent the future of the country.
After two-hundred-thirty-plus years, America is almost perfectly divided between conservative and progressive. We are a moored nation, bouncing around upon sociopolitical swells. Will we oar ourselves back toward the beachhead of America’s establishment, or will we raise the sails and drift toward some more auspicious horizon?
America’s promise has been a grand experiment. We’ve taken tired, poor and huddled masses and given them a chance to construct their own nation. In doing so, we’ve become a tired, poor and huddled mass that can no longer keep its promise. The circularity is like an anchored boat. This election may prove to be the perfect storm to un-tether our allegiance.