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?