by Lynn Woolley
The Dallas Morning News
September 19, 2010
Americans used to fight for the things that hold us together. Now, we squabble over the things that separate us -- from illegal immigration to the mosque at Ground Zero. Disagreements over assimilation and its opposite number, multiculturalism, are leading to major political battles over who should have the right to vote. Progressives and conservatives will soon go to the mat in the Texas Legislature over the issue of photo ID. But that may be just a skirmish in a larger war.
Our Founding Fathers risked their lives and their sacred honor to create our nation, and thousands of men and women have died in wars to protect the right to self-governance, best exemplified by the right to vote. In the day of our parents and grandparents, that right was practically sacred.
But that was then. This is now: In the Netherlands, and even in a few parts of these United States, non-citizens can vote in local elections. That changes everything -- if we adopt such a system nationwide.
Before we make that leap, there are two major considerations. The political ramification is of more interest to Republicans since the great majority of immigrants vote Democratic. According to figures from the Department of Homeland security, there were an estimated 12.6 million legal permanent residents (LPR’s) living in the United States in 2008. In 2009, another 1.1 million were granted lawful permanent residency. If they get the vote, the nation could be on its way to a new era of Obama-style liberal governance.
The other consideration is societal. Our country was founded as a great experiment, bringing a diverse people together to see if they could develop and maintain a common culture. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in “Democracy In America,” European politics always started in “higher regions” of society while in America, “the township was organized before country.” The early settlers had no expectation of top-down socialism. They learned English – certainly the second generation if not the first, and abandoned the old ways.
The country chose two mottos and literally “coined” them: “E Pluribus Unum – From Many, One” and “In God We Trust.”
The nation was working to build a unified county, not a multicultural one. The Fourteenth Amendment brought black people into the ranks of citizenship and eventually Americans Indians as well. The suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment gave women the vote. We just kept getting more equal under the law. The new American culture was based on the shared experience of rugged individualism and Judeo-Christian values in what was becoming an exceptional country. Citizenship was valuable and coveted. The American people were willing to grant it, but expected the complete loyalty of the new citizens.
Here in the Twenty-First Century, we are living in the midst of a diversity movement that sprang from our elite academic institutions. If you believe that “our strength is our diversity,” you probably doubt that the United States is an exceptional nation. You agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she looks to foreign courts for guidance.
A diverse nation such as ours – if it places no premium on assimilation – will invariably become an enclave society. That means people will tend to congregate in groups or tribes with each of these tribes having its own special interests.
Foreign Policy’s Alexandra Starr writes that immigrants tend not to vote as a bloc. Oh, so? Already, in this country, there are plenty of blocs. Blacks voted in huge numbers for Obama. So did union members. Big Business skews Republican. Politicians of both stripes buy voter loyalty with earmarks. What will non-citizens want?
In Denmark, they demanded a rollback of conservative policies including a return to instruction in non-EU foreign languages such as Turkish. In the United States, we’d likely see non-citizens voting for more bilingual education and for liberalized immigration policies. Poor immigrants would support President Obama’s healthcare plan and his ideas on redistribution of wealth – the progressive agenda.
The things that conservatives seek to conserve – a social order built around the family with a set of distinct and shared values – would fall by the wayside with the changing demographics.
We used to be a nation of immigrants, but not anymore. Most of us are native-born and are still, for the most part, unified in culture and language. Our task is to decide if the “great experiment” is over and whether the Founding Fathers’ vision of a “melting pot” society has failed. Are we going to be an assimilated America, or a multicultural polyglot of tribes? Citizenship, and with it the right to vote, either means something or it’s just a cheap throwaway commodity.
E Pluribus Unum? Or not.
Lynn Woolley is a writer and talk show host streaming from www.BeLogical.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.