True Americanism, What It Is and Why It Matters?

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True Americanism, What It Is and Why It Matters?  The question for this blog is, why it matters to nonprofits and to the ideological debates that have wreaked havoc on the possibilities of dialogue in our society and frequently within the nonprofit sector.

Why does NPQ cover programs like this?  Because the American identity reflected in the nonprofit sector that we know is based on small “d” democracy, and democracy is of course rooted in dialogue, in hearing voices and understanding perspectives that are different than ours.

Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Amy Kass is leading off, noting how many people view themselves as citizens of the world rather than (or in addition to) being Americans, and how in the debates about immigration, public figures don’t talk about the “melting pot” that makes immigrants into the mélange of Americans.  Those are both issues that challenge nonprofits as expressed in the pages of Nonprofit Quarterly.  She cites Theodore Roosevelt’s “True Americanism” essay that it is important for immigrants in the U.S. developing their first civic loyalty to being Americans.

Just yesterday, President Obama visited El Paso to talk about one of his administration’s unfulfilled commitments, comprehensive immigration reform.  Experts know that even now, despite the President’s first presidential visit to the border area, comprehensive immigration reform isn’t going to get a major push from the White House, in part because it would get a heavy counter-push from the Republicans in Congress.  Immigration advocates are pushing, therefore, for the enactment of the DREAM Act because of the nation’s reluctance to move on immigration reform itself.

Is it that both parties are unwilling to ask what counts as American in the context of the nation’s immigrant population and the continuing flow of immigrants to the U.S. from developing nations of the Global South?  What do these conservatives here think is a true American?  Roosevelt said that true Americans view themselves simply as Americans, suggesting the hyphenated concept doesn’t work.

Robby George:  Americanism is a matter of conviction and spirit.  George teaches at Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.  An American?  One who identifies himself as an American who agrees with the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and their inalienable rights come from the Creator, thus not granted or ensured by any political leader or political system.  Wouldn’t the failure of many people to accept the rights and equality of all people—and their rejection that these values emanate from a deity—make them less than Americans despite their self-naming as Americans?

So the deprivation of people’s equal rights and privileges disqualifies the perpetrator of such as an American?

Charles Krauthammer says that what makes us unique is that our republic was founded on an idea, a principle from which everything flows, our dedication to liberty and the rule of law, encapsulated in a sacred document—the Constitution.  “Our idea of liberty is what distinguishes us,” the Washington Post op-ed columnist and Fox News commentator says, distinct from allegiance from clan or tribe or race.  Frank Hanna  of Hanna Capital (in Atlanta) argues that that national inchoate covenant is fine, but the covenant he holds with family and village (home/community) is equally important.

So what is really at issue may not be Americanism, but how much Americanism requires nationalism and identity that stops a bit at the border.  Tennessee history professor Wilfred McClay makes the argument for a kind of localism as the building blocks of Americanism, and that sparks the debate.  Investor Paul Singer suggests that Americanism, as expressed by Roosevelt, rejects multiculturalism and being a citizen of the world.  Krauthammer says that Roosevelt’s Americanism was an anti-regionalism, but our mass culture has suppressed regionalism at the cost of making everything the same.

Krauthammer describes internationalism as naïve and silly, sort of an affectation of the immature, and criticizes ethnically or racially based identity and “regionalism”.  You have to give it to Krauthammer.  When other pundits of the left and right mumble and stumble over what they’re trying to say, Krauthammer is clear as a bell.  With his statement, he has just taken a huge swipe at much of the nonprofit sector, the sector that reflects the local and small group interests and needs of “Americans” and at the same time connects localities and groups to national and international interests.