BY B. DUNCAN MOENCH
Donald Trump is a Cheeto-colored doofus. Some of his supporters are Chrysler-driving, Nazi wannabes. Sure, yes. But the issue that led to the man’s rise—immigration restriction—isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, the COVID-19 outbreak only makes the issue more germane, and less easily dismissed with bromides about open borders. But instead of an even mildly historically informed debate on immigration and how it shapes and influences the national character and civic life, our national discussion around immigration remains clouded in a mythology about the nation’s origin story.
The American nation, we are told, is not based on a common ancestry, or even national history, but on the ideals of “democracy” and the fact that we are the sole nation on earth whose peoplehood is derived purely from immigration. The “nation of immigrants” mantra is a part of the American cultural mythology—duly intoned both by the academic “woke” left and the nationalist, heartland right. A good representative of the former, The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore, promotes this mythology in These Truths, her nearly 900-page retelling of all U.S. history according to the tenets of contemporary mythological right-think:
When the United States declared its independence in 1776, plainly, it was a state, but what made it a nation? The fiction that its people shared a common ancestry was absurd on its face; they came from all over, and, having waged a war on England, the very last thing they wanted to celebrate was their Englishness.
Well, for starters, this folklore tends to sidestep the fact that Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and most other countries of South and Latin America are also colonial nations based upon immigration, as are Australia, Canada, and so many others. But there’s an even harder truth: America is not a nation of immigrants. America is a former British colony founded by Anglo Protestant, anti-Catholic extremists who copied and pasted John Locke’s ideas into their Declaration of Independence and Constitution. With the exception of Montesquieu (who F.A. Hayek labeled an honorary Anglo), nearly every thinker and thought that helped shape the country’s founding political culture and legal structures derives specifically from early Anglo-liberalism. More specifically, it was shaped by Protestant Anglo liberals who favored religious freedom and independence of thought and association as long as they were contained within the guardrails of Protestantism and Anglo Saxonism.
Understandably, the post-1960s “conflict school” of American historiography that Lepore represents is eager to “foreground” ethnic American “subalterns” and women whose experiences were often ignored or erased by previous generations of American academics. In recent decades, though, the conflict school paradigm of academia has become centered in a bizarre ritual of imagineering, rooted in panethnic and largely ahistorical concepts of race.
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