Make America What Again?

credit:  ymuchomas.com

credit: ymuchomas.com

Prime among the apparent reasons for the political ascent of the phenomenon of Donald Trump is his theme of “Make America Great Again.” This has captured a populist revulsion for the ethnic and cultural changes that have been trending for decades now, most prominently the increase in Hispanics and Muslims. Pat Buchanan, not surprisingly waxing nostalgic for a White America, joins with Trump in advocating immigration control as a solution.  A large part of the country is buying into this, at least on the “conservative side”. In an interview,  (thanks to Bud Morgan for the link) Buchanan says,

Anybody that believes that a country can be maintained that has no ethnic core to it or no linguistic core to it, I believe is naive in the extreme.

This idea is certainly arguable. America is of course a melting pot of diverse ethnicity, and, as Buchanan asserts, of language as well. But is the solution immigration control? A wall? Isolationism? Personally, I think that is even more extreme, not to mention impractical.  People seem clueless about the immense lowering of the cost of goods that the global economy has brought about.  If Trump is successful in overturning international trade policies, it’s is going to hit the economy like a hammer.

What is it that makes a country? What is the glue that holds it together, that gives it political and cultural identity if not language and ethnicity? Is it the Constitution? Well, the Constitution provides the political structure that makes the country successful, but that’s facilitation, not impetus. Most American citizens would be hard-pressed to write down the Bill of Rights, except of course for the Second Amendment, and maybe the First.

Are we bound together because we all got schooled in history the same way? I don’t think so. Native American history differs from that that which has long been fed to us Anglo’s. Because we are all fans of American sports? Sounds absurd, but there’s a lot of commonality in that. Seventy-five years ago, we were forced by war and the necessity of conscription into a common national identity and political cooperation, but now wars are fought much differently and common sacrifice is no longer part of the glue. (This may, ironically, be a big part of the current political problem.) No. Personally, I think language is the main cultural glue we have left.

I have long been an advocate of making English the national language, although I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of change if we did. English is the natural default already. Second languages? No problem there with me. So, I understand Trump’s appeal on this issue, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for him. As I heard someone say yesterday, his opinions and pronouncements have a shelf-life of about 24 hours.

So, what’s the solution? Maybe, just maybe, it’s that we need to buckle up and do the long, hard slog of public education better. Any other ideas?

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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25 Responses to Make America What Again?

  1. Elyse says:

    Thoughtful post, Jim.

    My thought is part of the education that is needed. But I think that we need to put a real comprehensive effort into teaching civics. Why it matters that people vote. Why it matters who people vote for. What the government is — and what it isn’t. What does “regulation” mean. What are the responsibilities of the various levels of government — which one impacts your life most and at which point in time. What authority does the President have, the mayor, the congressman? Do they have the authority to do what they promise? The list goes on and on and nobody is taught the basics anymore.

    Enormous swaths of our country have no clue about any of these. And that ignorance leads many of them to blindly follow Trump, who himself hasn’t got much of a clue of what the various levels of government can and cannot do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim, another good thought-provoking post.

    When I see Trump’s motto, “Make America Great Again,” I can’t help but think that that was the same theme Hitler used during his march to power in the 1930’s — “Make Germany Great Again!” It’s more than a little unnerving to see that the destruction Hitler brought about to Germany could easily be repeated in this country by a rich, bloviating, hypocritical narcissist named Trump.

    Of course what we are witnessing today may just be the natural end of a mature democracy. As John Adams said over 200 years ago, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
    Then there’s British historian Arnold Toynbee, “History shows that great nations rise and great nations fall, but the autopsy of history is that all great nations commit suicide.” And de Tocqueville had a lot to say on this subject as well.

    All of us no doubt agree that we have a dysfunctional Congress and a dysfunctional political system and, I would argue, a dysfunctional electorate. It’s hard to imagine we can go on much longer without a collapse. It’s even harder to imagine that appropriate corrective action can be taken at this late date.

    I could go on, but I’ll stop here. However, I would recommend that you and the visitors to this blog check out an article by Andrew Sullivan in the New York Magazine, “Democracies end when they are too democratic.” It’s long, but worth the read – http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html?mid=fb-share-di

    It may also be informative to read what was evidently an impromptu speech by former Colorado Richard Lamm, a Democrat, which Lamm himself titled, “I have a Plan to Destroy America.” It’s a pretty good analysis of multiculturalism. – http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/lamm.asp

    Herb

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi JIm,
    I generally agree with you, and with Herb and Elyse, but I have a curiosity question: When you say “I have long been an advocate of making English the national language…” I wonder if you’d elaborate a tad. What would you see accomplished by that? And what would be the significance of making English the national language?

    Like

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      . . . what would be the significance of making English the national language?

      Good question, Helen. Symbolism. Unity. I’m thinking of how to emphasize American citizens commonality. We differ in almost every other regard: religion, color, ethnicity, sports, cuisine, idioms, politics. But, I submit, fluency in a common language can’t help but bring us together, not just through normal communication but in appreciation of history and literature.

      Ultimately, I think it would be a good thing for English to be the universal world language, something that is already mostly the case in the business world and in commercial aviation. And, it’s an appropriate pick since it’s already spoken widely and had borrowed so extensively from other languages. Wouldn’t world peace be more likely with a common language? Reverse the Tower of Babel, so to speak.

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      • I think the unofficiated official language will become Spanglish. Actually, I think it will be Eñanol. Are you able to read or write or speak Spanish?

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      • I agree wholeheartedly with your view that a command language would bring us together, not just through normal communication but in appreciation of history and literature. I simply wonder about its being an”official” national language. If that means that signs/documents/public information would be in English only, then I can see problems, mostly in efficiency and pragmatic needs, but also in the welcoming and amicable relations to those who will but have not yet mastered the language.

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        • Jim Wheeler says:

          Agreed, implementation of English as the national language should be managed sensibly. The way I see it, signs/documents/public information would be in English only, but there would be no prohibition against explanatory documents, language programs and teaching aids. Consider also that translation software has improved greatly. The app on my smartphone can do every language I can think of in an instant.

          Like

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Helen,

      P.S.
      There is evidence an official language would work. Immigrants are actually required to have a reasonable command of English and also of U.S. history. I suspect those who pass those requirements are better citizens than many of the natural-born.

      Like

  4. Jim Ruebush says:

    We watched a program recently about a woman who made her way from China to the U.S. decades ago. It was a difficult trip. She assumed another name and was taken by family who had lost their own daughter of the same age years before. They acted as though she was their own. Officials never caught on. Bad news for them all if they had.

    She arrived in the U.S. a teen. The person to meet her in San Fran. never showed. She was on her own in a new land. She worked hard and became a strong chord in the fabric of the society around her. Her story is not unique. There are large numbers of people who strive to be part of the idea of freedom here.

    At the end of the program, she spoke eloquently to a crowd of people from all over the world who were gaining their citizenship. The camera scanned their faces. They were all colors, shapes, sizes, and ages. They appeared to represent huge diversity of culture and religion.

    I want people like that to come here. Their desire and willingness to be part of this country are the things that have always, and will in the future, keep it great. The negativity and fear mongering of DT and his like will do the opposite.

    Thank you, Jim, for your thought provoking post.

    Like

  5. Regrettably, Donald J. Trump is proof of H. L. Mencken’s maxim that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

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  6. PiedType says:

    As always I’m inclined to think education is the solution (to the world’s ills, if you want to get really expansive). I’m not sure how to drill it into the willfully ignorant, but we must try. And education plus citizenship should be the thread that unites us. Citizenship could (and probably should) mandate profiency in the English language. We can’t keep tearing ourselves apart spending time and money accommodating umpteen different languages. Just one example: My son is an IT architect for a large metro school system, and the online programs he develops for the parents must be accessible in 17 different languages!

    Like

    • PiedType says:

      And this despite the fact that virtually every family has one or more devices that can translate any language to English.

      Like

      • Jim Wheeler says:

        17 different languages! Wow. I wonder if the school system your son works for tries to facilitate fluency in English?

        Like

        • PiedType says:

          I’m sure they do at some point. But their concern is reaching the parents of the students, and the parents do not attend the schools.

          Like

          • Jim Wheeler says:

            Ah. Makes sense. So this doesn’t necessarily indicate a failure to assimilate. I looked this up in the WSJ (from March, 2015):

            There are 1.13 million foreign students in the U.S., the vast majority in college-degree programs, according to a report to be released Wednesday by the Department of Homeland Security. That represents a 14% increase over last year, nearly 50% more than in 2010 and 85% more than in 2005.

            Students from China account for the largest share—331,371 of all international students, or 29%. Nearly 81,000 subjects of the Saudi kingdom are studying in the U.S. this school year, up from about 5,000 in 2000-01. Nearly three-quarters of Saudi students are enrolled in bachelor’s programs or English-language programs that precede starting undergraduate studies here.

            Sounds like progress towards universal English to me.

            Like

            • PiedType says:

              It indicates a failure of the parents to try to assimilate (or at least learn the language), and I don’t appreciate that. It’s far easier and cheaper for them to learn one language than for us to continue to cater to however many languages are represented by our immmigrants. English is the predominant language in this country, and immigrants who come here should be prepared to learn it. The onus is on them to learn it, not on us to keep producing everything in umpteen different languages to accommodate them, especially now that technology provides translation devices.

              Young people with any ambition at all realize they need to learn English to get along here and to advance their educations and livelihoods.

              Like

  7. aFrankAngle says:

    Education as in public education? Nope … education of the public is paramount. However, the public must invest their time and effort into educating themselves on issues, processes,policies, and stances … and sad to say, that ain’t going to happen.

    Like

  8. I think about this issue a lot. My kids were both born in the US but have spent a decade living abroad. They tell people they’re American and their passports say United States of America, but the ties that bind us together as Americans mean less and less if the only definitions of being an American are legal and don’t rely on service or language or cultural ethnicity.

    Liked by 1 person

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