Patriotic assimilation is the bond that allows America to be a nation of immigrants. Without it, America either ceases to be a nation, becoming instead a hodgepodge of groups—or it becomes a nation that can no longer welcome immigrants. It cannot be both a unified nation and a place that welcomes immigrants without patriotic assimilation.
Over the past few decades, however, America has drifted away from assimilating immigrants. Elites—in the government, the culture, and the academy—have led a push toward multiculturalism, which emphasizes group differences. This transformation has taken place with little input from rank-and-file Americans, who overwhelmingly support assimilation. As Ronald Reagan worried just as it was first getting underway, this tectonic shift that “divides us into minority groups” was initiated by political opportunists “to create voting blocs.” Because presidential elections are times of national conversation, candidates of both parties are now uniquely placed to give the nation the debate on assimilation it has never had. For this, we need a thorough historical understanding of how the United States has dealt with both immigration and ethnic diversity for centuries.
Immigrants from Ireland and Germany began to settle among the original English colonists in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania almost from the start, altering the political outlook of the colonies. Diversity also came through the acquisition of territory. With the addition of New Amsterdam in 1664—later renamed New York—the colonies gained a polyglot city in whose streets 18 languages were spoken.
All immigrants faced prejudice and segregation at times. Two early groups, the Germans and the Northern Irish, particularly faced opposition. Benjamin Franklin said of the first, “Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements?” As for the Northern Irish, in 1720, Boston passed an ordinance that directed “certain families recently arriving from Ireland to move off.” The immigrants overcame such adversity on their own. The Founders would have found repugnant the idea of intervening by giving groups special privileges or benefits.
The Founders worried that diversity could get in the way of national unity. Alexander Hamilton wrote that “the safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits.” Immigrants were welcome, but in the hope that, as Washington put it, they “get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon become one people.” Adherence to the universal principles of equality, liberty, and limited government contained in the founding documents, as well as to virtues that made a constitutional republic viable—like frugality, industry, and moderation—would bind Americans together regardless of origin.
Because these principles could not be expected to take root by themselves, a system of so-called Common Schools rose in the early 19th century to educate and assimilate the children of immigrants. Early visitors like Alexis de Tocqueville noted that “in the United States, the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of a democratic republic.”
Immigrants from Northern Europe, who started arriving in large numbers in the 1840s, benefited greatly from these schools. Abraham Lincoln, a great believer in assimilation who fought anti-immigrant forces in the mid-1800s, said it was belief in the sentiments and principles of the Founding that made immigrants Americans. By the 1880s, German-born Wisconsin congressman Richard Guenther was telling crowds, “We are no longer Germans; we are Americans.”
In the 1890s the country experienced a rise in immigration from different sources. Italians, Slavs, Jews, Hungarians, Greeks, Armenians, Lebanese, and others began to enter the country through Ellis Island. They encountered renewed opposition from nativists who said the new arrivals could never be Americanized. Immigrants from Asia fared worse. So-called transnationalists rose, too, to disparage assimilation—in their case because they disdained America and sought instead “a federation of cultures.”
…The assimilationist philosophy of Washington, Hamilton, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Brandeis remained central to the country for most of the 20th century, until it began to break down in the 1970s. For the past 40 years, America’s new political, educational, corporate, and cultural elites have progressively pushed the country in the opposite direction. This new transnationalism—multiculturalism—is an attempt to make ethnic differences permanent by rewarding separate identities and group attachment with benefits, thus deterring national unity by requiring Americans to remain sorted into separate ethnic categories.
… Changes in immigration law in the mid-1960s ended restrictionist policies and led to the next surge in immigration, this time largely from Latin America and Asia. As they arrived, new immigrants discovered they would be considered “minorities,” conceptually precluding from the start their full assimilation into the larger society.
…Special treatment for specific groups by the federal bureaucracy implies betrayal and rejection of the principles espoused by every American leader from Washington through Reagan. This approach has contaminated our schools, preventing them from teaching civic principles and reverence for the nation—including lessons on how those principles have helped leaders repair the nation’s faults. The new approach also threatens the cherished American principle of equal treatment under the law.
…America owes itself an open, honest debate on multiculturalism and assimilation. Presidential candidates should ask the following five questions: (1) Why does the government need to divide Americans into demographic categories based on racialist thinking? (2) Can any society survive a sustained denigration of its history and principles through indoctrination in schools and universities? (3) Why should we continue to let the teachers unions block meaningful school-choice reform which would help to liberate immigrants from factors that threaten to relegate them to a permanent subordinate class? (4) Should the country strengthen citizenship requirements in order to make naturalization truly transformative? (5) Should the government continue policies that harm family formation and church participation, knowing that families and churches have historically been incubators of Americanization?
Candidates should not be intimidated. The vast majority of Americans support Americanization. Patriotic assimilation is a liberating, welcoming action, a proposition only a nation like America can confidently offer those born overseas. Previous waves of immigrants have found the correct balance between keeping their traditions and adopting America’s virtues, between pride in their ancestry and love of their new country. The new wave of immigrants can do the same.
A Nation of Immigrants
Even before the United States was the United States, it was a nation of immigrants. …
As a result of its diverse composition, America benefited early on from the advantages that come with the meeting and blending of cultures. The nation also learned how to deal with the threats to national identity that accompany a regular influx of newcomers. Benjamin Franklin, for example, admired the thrift and industry of ethnic Germans in Pennsylvania, but famously worried about their refusal to speak the national language—English—and the impact they were having on the electoral process. In a 1753 letter …
The Founders, however, would have found repugnant the idea of intervening to remedy such prejudices by giving groups special privileges or benefits, or by attempting to apportion their participation in society in any way. So long as the government rigorously pursued a policy of giving all free men equal protection, the onus was on the individual and his family to succeed or fail. This produced an immigrant ethic that lasted two centuries. As Linda Chavez wrote in 1994: The history of American ethnic groups is one of overcoming disadvantage, of competing with those who were already here and proving themselves as competent as any who came before. Their fight was always to be treated the same as other Americans, never to be treated as special, certainly not to turn the temporary disadvantages they suffered into the basis for permanent entitlement
Franklin made the message clear in writing to prospective immigrants, “with regard to encouragements for strangers from government, they are really only what are derived from good laws and liberty.” John Quincy Adams drove the point further in 1819 when he was Secretary of State, in a letter to a potential immigrant: “There is one principle which pervades all the institutions of this country, and which must always operate as an obstacle to the granting of favors to new comers. This is a land, not of privileges, but of equal rights…. Emigrants from Germany, therefore, or from elsewhere, coming here, are not to expect favors from the governments. They are to expect, if they choose to become citizens, equal rights with those of the natives of the country.”
The other side of the coin of being given no preferential treatment was that immigrants would be granted the same protection as natives, at that time an unheard-of privilege. George Washington made this protection clear in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, of August 21, 1790, in which he wrote:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support
This tradition lasted from the Founding into the modern era. In 1925, at the dedication of the cornerstone of a Jewish community center in Washington, DC, President Calvin Coolidge said:
Our country has done much for the Jews who have come here to accept its citizenship and assume their share of its responsibilities in the world. But I think the greatest thing it has done for them has been to receive them and treat them precisely as it has received and treated all others who have come to it. If our experiment in free institutions has proved anything, it is that the greatest privilege that can be conferred upon people in the mass is to free them from the demoralizing influence of privilege enjoyed by the few.
E Pluribus Unum—One Culture, Accessible to All
The Founders were aware that the diversity of the population posed a challenge for molding a new nation. Famous among them in this regard was Hamilton, himself born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, who wrote:
The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of the citizens from foreign bias, and prejudice; and on that love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education, and family.
Descent from England could not be the binding agent to hold the new nation together. The Revolution had had a transformative effect on the American colonists, severing links to a mother country they had, after all, just fought for eight long years. The Revolution “had deprived English culture of much of its claim to a natural position of superiority in America.”
The new bond would be adherence to the universal principles of equality, liberty, and limited government contained in the founding documents. These rights were so timeless that they came from the Creator; the conservation of a government that protected those rights depended on nurturing the right virtues and habits, and each succeeding generation would have responsibility for the continuation of such an arrangement.
The expectation of an emotional attachment to the unchanging principles of a nation’s Founding, and to the parchments in which they were codified, was uniquely American. “What would make the United States different was its demand that citizens give their allegiance to a set of political principles.” Enumerating the principles into documents was also distinctively American. The Mayflower Compact that the Pilgrims had signed with non-dissenters, or “Strangers,” aboard the ship to agree on “a Civil Body Politic” foreshadowed this tendency. This habit of writing principles into documents and then abiding by them stood in stark contrast to the governance of England, which to this day lacks a written constitution. As the British writer G. K. Chesterton put it, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence.”
Allegiance to the creed and its texts was to be based on deep loyalty, not mere practicality. “Rational adherence must be fortified with emotional attachment,” writes the Hudson Institute’s John Fonte. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 49, the new republic needed something more instinctive and primitive. The United States of America, its principles and its documents, deserved “that veneration which time bestows on everything, and without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability.”
The ideological component of the emerging nation would also meld disparate ethnicities into one people, binding different groups into a politically monocultural America. Immigrants, said Hamilton, would be drawn gradually into civil society “to enable aliens to get rid of foreign and acquire American attachments; to learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our government; and to admit of a probability, at least, of their feeling a real interest in our affairs.”
Or as Washington wrote to Adams, the hope was that “by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon become one people.”
E Pluribus Unum, the official motto in the Great Seal of the United States, demonstrated this urge for unity. In Latin it means “Out of Many, One,” and it has been through the centuries a reminder of the imperative of uniting different groups. Though the seal today has at its centerpiece the American bald eagle, the Continental Congress in 1776 considered displaying the heraldic symbols of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, and Holland—the main constituent groups at the time of the signing. This is a clear sign that to them E Pluribus Unum meant one nation formed out of many ethnic groups. Among all nations of the world at the time, then, the newly formed United States was to be the only one not instituted along hereditary ethnicity or as the result of strategic dynastic marriages.
… Strangers from other nations who came searching for economic opportunities, individual liberty, or political freedoms renewed America’s commitment to all three as long as they subscribed to the virtues that had made the republic. Franklin spoke to this in a letter to Samuel Cooper, written in 1777, in the midst of the war:
Those who live under arbitrary Power do never the less approve of Liberty, and wish for it. They almost despair of recovering it in Europe; they read the Translations of our separate Colony Constitutions with Rapture, and there are such Numbers every where who talk of Removing to America with their Families and Fortunes as soon as Peace and our Independence shall be established, that tis generally believed we shall have a prodigious Addition of Strength, Wealth and Arts.
Thomas Paine, in the influential 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, likewise observed: “This new World hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.” George Washington repeated the sentiment 12 years later almost verbatim when he wrote, “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” He also listed the traits Americans needed: The new country would welcome those who were “determined to be sober, industrious and virtuous members of society.” Franklin, for himself, listed 13 characteristically American virtues in his autobiography, ranging from temperance and frugality to industry and moderation.
The American Character, Forged in the Classroom
These personal and civil qualities that the Founders deemed essential to maintain the republic could not be expected to bloom unaided. Because civic virtues and civic love needed to be sown into citizens from early on, education became a requisite of constitutional government. …
Jefferson is one of the Founders most associated with education. He was so concerned with it that he established the University of Virginia and then chose to include this achievement in his epitaph, leaving out that he had twice been elected President of the United States and written the Declaration of Independence. He wrote to John Adams in 1813 that education should be “the keystone in the arch of our government.” …
Because a constitutional republic could degenerate into tyranny, the schoolhouse and the university would incubate republican principles. In a bill he introduced to the Virginia legislature in 1778 and again in 1780, Jefferson wrote that it was beneficial “for promoting the public happiness that those persons, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.”
“Common Schools” rose among the different states in the first half of the 19th century to instill precisely the moral and civic principles that a constitutional republic required. Their funding was “largely market-based until the Civil War.” They had, as Mark Edward DeForrest put it,
a large role in assimilating and educating the offspring of the immigrants then moving into the United States from Europe. The schools did not simply educate students in the basics of the English language or the Three Rs. Rather, the schools were actively involved in promoting the values and beliefs that were considered part and parcel of the American experience.
The common school “and the vision of American life that it embodied came to be vested with a religious seriousness and exaltation. It became the core institution of American society,” wrote education historian Charles Glenn. The schools were “perhaps the most noble and practical reform experiment of the first half of the nineteenth century.”
By the time the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville was making the rounds of the United States in the 1830s and jotting down his observations of the country, education was already deeply intertwined with the emerging republican and egalitarian character of the new country. Even the most rough-hewn pioneer penetrated the backwoods “with the Bible, an axe, and a file of newspapers.” This did not happen in a vacuum, wrote de Tocqueville, adding: “It cannot be doubted that, in the United States, the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of a democratic republic; and such must always be the case, I believe, where instruction which awakens the understanding is not separated from moral education which amends the heart.”
The blueprint for assimilation—for Americanization—laid down by the Founders and the succeeding generation was in place by the second quarter of the 19th century: …. The Founders did not get everything right; the Naturalization Act of 1790 limited naturalization to free white persons, excluding non-whites and indentured servants. ….
The New Immigrants
The importance of this assimilationist blueprint became clear as immigration quickly rose in the mid-decades of the 19th century and then further accelerated at the turn of the century. The first surge began in the 1840s, with the arrival of Catholic native Irish fleeing the Potato Famine, as well as a new wave of Germans who came this time not for religious but economic reasons.
The new immigrants flocked to the cities of a rapidly urbanizing America—especially New York, “where two-thirds of all immigrants landed between 1820 and 1860”—and many, especially the Irish, stayed. Corrupt politicians and party machines like New York’s Tammany Hall began to sever the line between citizenship and patriotism by fraudulently naturalizing immigrants by the thousands in order to secure their votes. Between 1856 and 1867, “naturalizations during years with a presidential race increased by as much as 462 percent over the previous year.” Party machines did something else, too: “they openly fostered group reaction rather than individual reflection.”] This phenomenon was not limited to the cities. The territories and states sprouting west of the Appalachians also competed with each other to attract new immigrants, with some sweetening the deal by temporarily allowing aliens to vote.
Unsurprisingly, a significant element of those with a prior stake in the franchise reacted negatively—a phenomenon often repeated from this point on in American history. The 1850s saw a rapid rise in a secretive anti-immigrant party, the Know-Nothings, which at one point reached one million members and 10,000 lodges.
…Abraham Lincoln confronted the nativist Know-Nothings, and he did so by re-asserting the ideological component of assimilation and citizenship. There is no better exposition of this view than a campaign speech he gave, to long and sustained applause, to a crowd in Chicago in 1858. In that speech, he linked immigrants to the Founders:
If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.
The 1864 Republican Party platform with which Lincoln won re-election echoed again “the asylum of the persecuted” line from Paine and Washington and the idea that immigrants renewed America’s vigor.
The Germans and Scandinavians of the late 1800s famously clung to their language around the kitchen table, in church, and in some schools and newspapers. But the fact that patriotic assimilation was expected is clear from this passage in a speech given in the 1880s by Wisconsin congressman Richard Guenther, who was German-born: “After passing through the crucible of naturalization we are no longer Germans; we are Americans…. America first, last, and all the time . America against Germany; America against the world; America right or wrong ; Always America.”
Immigration from Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia waxed and waned in the post–Civil War years until, in the 1890s, the country experienced a rise in immigration from unlikely sources: Italians, Slavs of many different nationalities, Jews, Hungarians, Greeks, Armenians, Lebanese, and others from Southern and Eastern Europe and points beyond began to arrive in great numbers for the first time in America’s history. These immigrants, known as the Ellis Islanders because about 80 percent of them entered through the immigrant inspection station that opened at New York’s Ellis Island in 1892, encountered the same opposition as previous groups, or worse.
“They stood out together as a new and different kind of immigrant who, in the view of many Americans, posed a threat to the basic American character of the nation,” wrote Michael Barone. “They came, after all, not only with little money but with little experience in republican traditions or democratic politics, and to most Americans they seemed to be a different race, or races.”
Immigrants from Asia fared even worse. Under pressure from labor unions and Western interests, Congress in 1882 passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred entry to people from China. Arrangements were made with Tokyo later to also exclude Japanese immigrants.
Some of the industrial Northeastern cities were dominated by immigrants or their children. Many of them—especially the Italians, the Jews, the Poles, and the Slovaks—had high rates of illiteracy. Fairly or unfairly, too, labor strikes were associated with new immigrants. Americans “were quick to interpret labor unrest, particularly in sectors of the economy manned mainly by foreign workers, as an importation of the new European radicalism.” Crime rose in many of these communities where immigrants clustered. Italian immigrants “accounted for a significant portion of the national rise in crime during the Ellis Island years; homicides were five to ten times more frequent among them than among other whites in America,” despite the fact that Italian immigrants “had lower crime rates than immigrants generally.”
Nativists rose again, this time with greater intensity, deeming the new immigrants as “unassimilable”
This new group fought assimilation on the grounds that America was not good enough for foreign immigrants to want to assimilate to her ways. According to this new strain of thought, then called “transnationalism,” America should instead become a multicultural federation of subcultures.
The transnationalists were led by intellectuals—such as Randolph Bourne, Horace Kallen, and later Herbert Marcuse—whose writings dripped with disdain for America, its culture, and the experiment of the Founders. The attempt was to destroy what the country had become and replace it with something completely and quite literally alien. …
The Return of the Assimilationists
It is a testament to the reverence that America has commanded generation after generation that assimilationists have always risen to defy those who underestimated this country’s transformative, even redeeming, qualities. In the early 20th century, men from both parties—including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, as well as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis—rose up to respond to both the nativists and the transnationalists not just in their official actions, but by using their bully pulpits in speech after speech. By doing this, they were echoing what the Founders had done in the 1700s.
…In a letter in 1919, Roosevelt echoed Washington’s position relating assimilation to equal treatment:
In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American.
In an apparent response to the transnationalists, Wilson in 1915 made clear that America was not going to become a federation of nations when he said, “America does not consist of groups. A man who thinks of himself as belonging to a particular national group in America has not yet become an American.”
All in all, about 35 million immigrants entered the United States between 1840 and 1920, about 25 million of whom came after 1880. The Immigration Act of 1924 severely limited immigration for decades, as a result of lobbying by restrictionists. But the assimilationists had unquestionably won the intellectual and cultural arguments about how to approach the millions of immigrants and the even larger number of their children who lived in the country at the time. Schools, companies, and civil society groups took up the challenge with numerous and unabashed assimilationist programs, classes, and other endeavors. In New York, where the vast majority of immigrants settled, the state legislature in 1898 passed a law “to encourage patriotic exercises” in “the schoolhouses of the state.” The state superintendent of public schools compiled a “Manual of Patriotism” replete with chapters on the flag, patriotic songs, patriotism, and the need for virtues such as hard work.
The immigrants and their descendants responded in kind—as all previous immigrants had since the 1600s—by assimilating to the habits and virtues of their new country and by patriotically giving the nation their loyalty, without giving up their familial customs, kitchen-table language, or love for their ancestral land. In the case of the Ellis Islanders, they became “the Greatest Generation”—the Americans who came through when their adoptive country faced existential tests by defeating the Nazis and Communism.
The New Transnationalism
The history above is the story of ethnic groups coming to America, seeking no entitlement, “overcoming disadvantage…and proving themselves as competent as those who came before.” It is also a story of immigrants assimilating to their new nation by developing an emotional attachment to the principles, habits, and characteristic virtues of the American way of life. This produced a free and self-ruling republic with a unique culture and national purpose. For the past 40 years, however, America’s new cultural and political elites have chosen to spin an opposing narrative. They have arrayed all the forces at their disposal—governmental, educational, corporate, and cultural—to dissimilate Americans into different groups, the very practice against which Wilson had thundered.
The catch-all term for this new philosophy is multiculturalism. Often portrayed by its promoters as nothing more than appreciation for other cultures—something no reasonable person could be against—multiculturalism in reality attempts to revive transnationalism as the organizing principle for a country of immigrants. While assimilation unites the country around affection for a set of principles, habits, and shared cultural experiences, multiculturalism is an attempt to make ethnic differences permanent by rewarding separate identities and group attachment with purported short-term benefits. It deters national unity by requiring Americans to reduce their complex heritage and national identity to a checkbox on a form.
The origin of our present drift toward Balkanization was benign and well-intentioned. The Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s was a gigantic step toward giving African Americans the equal protection under law that emancipation had failed to achieve a century earlier. Naturally, it led to a national conversation on remedies for the injustices suffered by black Americans. The main remedy proposed was “affirmative action.”
Originally, affirmative action mainly involved a necessary push for “race-blind” employment practices. In 1961 President Kennedy had used the term in Executive Order 10925, which required government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin”
However, affirmative action soon transformed itself into the opposite—the enforcement of race-conscious policies in employment, school admissions, and government contracting. This, in turn, quickly metastasized into the idea that only members of a specific ethnic group could speak for other members of that group or represent them in elected office.
Throughout its history, America has always incorporated people from a broad range of strong ethnic identities. As individuals “assimilated to our customs, measures and laws” (in Washington’s words), they began to identify themselves as simply “American.” In contrast, the new groups artificially engineered by the government in the 1970s shared two important characteristics. They were both national in character—no longer constrained to provincial Pennsylvania or the tenements of Lower Manhattan, but extending to the whole United States—and at the same time supranational, five monolithic categories encompassing different nationalities that shared little in common beyond a patina of similarity.
This new arrangement, divided the country into white, black, brown, yellow, and red—that is, into Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans. Its proponents at the time celebrated this as the achievement of a “rainbow nation,” but seeing the United States—a country so devoted to the proposition that all men are created equal that it fought a civil war over it—divided along such a color spectrum should make for difficult reading.
… The very fact that some of these color-based group names have now been jettisoned by preference of the groups themselves should itself raise alarm about the fact that the artificial divisions they represent are still so strong in driving social policy in America.
Next, policymakers divided the groups into “minorities” (all non-white groups) as against “the majority” (those identified as “white”), then assigned to all “minorities” the same preferences as African Americans—in accordance with the Marxist narrative that history is nothing but a stage for the struggle between the “oppressed” and the “dominant” group, or the “privileged” versus the “marginalized.” …
Several laws, administrative rules, and judicial decisions in the 1970s identified “minorities” as those groups with a history of disadvantage in the United States. For example, Public Law 94–311, passed by Congress in 1976, called for the Census Bureau to “implement an affirmative action program…for the employment of personnel of Spanish origin or descent,” because “a large number of Americans of Spanish origin or descent suffer from racial, social, economic and political discrimination and are denied the basic opportunities they deserve as American citizens and which should enable them to begin to lift themselves out of the poverty they now endure.”
The New Wave of Immigrants
This unheard-of division of America into official groups was taking place just as the country was about to absorb the biggest wave of immigrants since the Ellis Islanders of 1890–1924. Changes in immigration law in the mid-1960s ended the 1924 restrictionist policies that had favored Northern Europeans and led to the next surge in immigration, this time largely from Latin America and Asia. An estimated 33.7 million legal immigrants entered the United States between 1970 and 2012, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Of that total, 26.2 million, or 78 percent, came from Asia, Latin America, or the Caribbean (11.3 million from Asia, 14.8 million from Latin America and the Caribbean). Of these, 6.5 million, or about one-fifth, came from Mexico alone. These figures do not account for the estimated 11 million illegal residents of the United States, of whom about five to six million may be of Mexican birth.
Some 100,000 people of Mexican descent lived in the American West and Southwest at the end of the 1840s, after the end of the Mexican War and Texas’s accession to the Union. These were not immigrants but settlers obtained by territorial acquisition, just like the Dutch of New York and the French of Louisiana before them. However, they only accounted for around 0.4 percent of the U.S. population in 1850. The vast majority of today’s 54 million Hispanic U.S. residents, accounting for 17 percent of the population, arrived as immigrants after 1965.
….The word “assimilation”—first used by Washington, then repeated confidently by his successors as the organizing principle of a country of immigrants—is now considered by the politically correct to be an ugly term, with connotations of stultifying and coerced homogenization or, at worst, “cultural ethnic cleansing.” President Obama’s New Task Force on New Americans does not mention “assimilation” once in its 70-page strategy paper. On the contrary, it calls on “welcoming communities”—that is, existing American communities—to adapt to the ways of new immigrants, who are encouraged only to naturalize and register to vote.
It is interesting to note that, years earlier, just as the shift from assimilation to the “minorities vs. majority” worldview was getting underway, both Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan had come to the same conclusion as President Obama. In July 1966, Eisenhower suggested that Reagan, then a gubernatorial candidate in California, run hard against the new minority concept at the “first major press conference” he held. Ike suggested that Reagan say:
In this campaign I’ve been presenting to the public some of the things I want to do for California—meaning for all the people of our State. I do not exclude any citizen from my concern and I make no distinctions among them on such invalid bases as color or creed.
Ike further advised Reagan,
Something conveying this meaning might well be slipped into every talk—such as “There are no ‘minority’ groups so far as I’m concerned. We are all Americans.”
The present approach to immigrants carries several deeply troubling implications. First, preferential treatment of any single group by the federal bureaucracy and our cultural institutions not only represents a betrayal of the principles espoused by every American leader from Washington through Reagan but requires an actual rejection of them. The Founders and their descendants belong to the “dominant group”—the dead white men—whose ways America is now being called on to transcend. This attitude has not only contaminated schools and universities, but it also now threatens the cherished American principle of equal treatment under the law.
The role that American schools played in teaching civic principles and reverence for the nation and its founding documents—including how those principles have helped leaders repair the nation’s faults—has been reversed. … It suffices to say that Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States—which slurs the Founders as men who sought to “take over land, profits, and political power” and thus create “a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership”—continues to be the No. 1 political-science bestseller on Amazon 35 years after it was first published. In June of 2015, the University of California advised professors not to use such “microaggressive” phrases as “America is the land of opportunity” or “America is a melting pot.” Similarly, the revised Advanced Placement History curriculum framework promoted by the College Board since the autumn of 2014 emphasizes the “marginalized vs. privileged” narrative and makes no mention of Benjamin Franklin. This approach reverses that of New York’s 1904 “Manual of Patriotism,” which helped to shape the Greatest Generation.
In law, dissimilation has led to the new and egregious phenomenon of “cultural defense.” A member of an immigrant group who commits a crime under American law can now construct a defense by demonstrating that the criminal action is prescribed within the immigrant’s culture of origin. For example, when an Egyptian immigrant father recently killed his 17-year-old and 18-year-old daughters for dating non-Muslim men, even the FBI dubbed the case one of “honor killing.”
…As the Hudson Institute’s John Fonte has put it:
Multiculturalism attacks three pillars of the liberal democratic nation-state: (1) liberalism, by putting ascribed group rights over individual rights; (2) a strong and positive national identity, by emphasizing subnational group consciousness over national patriotism; and (3) majority-rule democracy.
The Need for a Debate
The radical reordering of how America absorbs newcomers came not as a response to a demand from below but as a top-down effort led by elites. PayPal founder Peter Thiel and Internet entrepreneur David O. Sacks, among others, call multiculturalism a “word game” that hides a “comprehensive and detailed worldview”
……Rank-and-file Americans of all ethnicities were indeed not consulted about such a fundamental reordering of the way the nation has absorbed immigrants. As John Skrentny described it, “[I]t is striking that the civil-rights administrators—without any public debate, data or legal basis—decided on an ethnoracial standard for victimhood and discrimination that officially divided the country into oppressed (blacks, Latinos, Native American, Asian Americans) and oppressors (all white non-Latinos.)” Today, many Americans are still unaware of the history of this unilateral reorganization. Most think that the majority-versus-minority discourse has been around forever, not knowing that it was only introduced within the past 50 years.
America owes itself the opportunity to debate this issue. It is time to stop and ask what bureaucrats, politicians, and academics have done to the American ideals of equal treatment and equal opportunity for all. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Nathan Glazer put it in their 1970 introduction to their landmark 1963 book Beyond the Melting Pot, grouping Americans into “fantastic categories” that were each assigned a color on the spectrum is “biologically and humanly monstrous.”
… If perpetuating racialist compartmentalization is harmful to members of historically disadvantaged groups, it is still worse for the country as a whole. If the continuation of self-government and liberty depends on the willingness of citizens to sacrifice for a greater good—and that is in turn contingent on a patriotic feeling, which must rely on a sound educational grounding in civic virtues—then the present course of the nation is suicidal. Segregating Americans into pan-ethnoracial groups will lead to a “loss of popular concern with the common good.” In a crisis, such divisiveness could prove catastrophic.
A cursory glance at the many vicissitudes of societies such as Yugoslavia and Iraq, where group loyalty trumped national purpose, should make Americans apprehensive about importing group ideology as an organizing principle.