The Other Americans
If you aren’t proud to be an American, why get mad when it’s pointed out?
My essay “‘Conservatism’ is no Longer Enough” stirred up controversy and anger on Twitter. It’s not necessary to review all the nastiness, but it is important to clarify one or two points.
For more than 100 years—going back to the Progressive Era—leftist intellectuals have been working incessantly to delegitimize the principles of our founding, redefine American citizenship, and impose an ever-changing “living Constitution” that authorizes the Left’s policy preferences du jour. While some radicals, such as Malcolm X, have been assertive in declaring, “I am not an American,” the more common sentiment among our fashionable elites has been to embrace the idea of being “world citizens.” Sneering at flyover hillbillies and their vulgar, flag-waving nationalism is de rigueur among establishment elites. The Left thinks America is a systemically racist and imperialistic hegemon, and the quicker it can be turned into Sweden the better.
None of this has ever been a secret. Yet the Twitter mob declares that I am a fascist for noting it. This is one of the stupidest and most Orwellian features of our current discourse. Liberals proudly declare that they are trying to remake American society. But when someone on the Right says, “Hey, you are trying to remake American society,” he is instantly denounced for racist wrong-think.
It seems beyond dispute to me that we are now two regimes living in the same country. Broadly speaking, Left and Right hold radically different conceptions of justice, human nature, and reality itself. These conceptions, as they are embraced by ordinary people, are by no means wholly rational—and most people on both sides would be incapable of articulating clearly the premises of their “side.” That is why I like Scott Adams’s metaphor that the people of the United States are watching two different movies.
One audience is watching a movie that still accepts—at least to a large degree—traditional morality, even when they don’t live up to these ethical principles. This morality includes ideas about men and women, marriage, and children that are either “common-sense,” or “outmoded and oppressive.” This audience thinks that the natural family is the bedrock of society, and a married husband and wife are the best way to raise a child. They think generally applicable laws—and equal treatment under those laws—are necessary, and that individuals should be held responsible for their actions and punished when they break the rules. They think hard work should be rewarded, and individual effort and talent should roughly correspond to success and wealth. These are the ideals they hold, even if they live up to them imperfectly.
Further, they think individuals have rights, and should be mostly be left alone to live their own lives; and that government should be limited to protecting those rights and providing those common goods people cannot supply for themselves. They believe America is a sovereign nation with the obligation to control its borders, and that Americans get to decide whom to admit to America. They think that human beings live in an orderly universe governed by natural laws, under God, and that neither individuals nor societies can ever be made perfect here on earth.
However much they may fail to adhere to these principles, this is the “movie” that one significant part of America is watching, and accepts as the true depiction of reality.
Another segment of the population watches a movie with entirely different premises, basically the reverse of what I just described above. The premises accepted by this other “audience” include group rights and collective guilt, the rule of experts trained in science, the malleability of nature (including hormone-altering sex “therapy” for children), and the ability of human agency or wisdom to eliminate various evils in the world, such as poverty and injustice. It would be tedious to list every precept and its variants, but I think it is undeniable this other portion of the population holds a distinct set of notions—radically different from the first.
I described this second group as “non-Americans,” insofar as they don’t subscribe to the original understanding of the Constitution, or the principles of republicanism articulated by the founding fathers. I am not arrogating to myself the right to decide who is an American. I’m simply acknowledging what innumerable liberals have been saying for years. If my indignant critics really wanted to prove me wrong, they could respond by saying, “I’m on the Left, and I consider myself a proud, patriotic American.” Of all the Tweets attacking me, I estimate the number that have volunteered such a declaration to be approximately… zero. The phony outrage over my straightforward empirical observation is nothing but a performative political tactic.
If the people who have spent decades bad-mouthing this country and its history, and declaring their intention to remake the nation into something else, object to being called citizen-aliens or non-American Americans, well—as I said in my essay—I’m open to other terms.
What would y’all like to be called?
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.