Just Because She Has Crazy Eyes Doesn’t Mean She’s A Traitor
Setting aside some of the obnoxious partisan rhetoric (seriously, how is it the left’s fault that Michele Bachmann has dual citizenship?), this post by Mark Krikorian at NRO has some interesting nuggets buried within.
First, and maybe less interesting, this is what happens when our news cycle becomes politics 24/7. We become incapable of seeing the world as anything other than a game of tribes and loyalty. Everything you do becomes about which team you’re on, who you’re pledging allegiance to, and so on. It creates this Manichean drive where everything is either right or wrong, and if you disagree with me it’s because you’re some kind of heathen.
Why is it an “insult” to the United States and Switzerland to want citizenship in both? I don’t know Michele Bachmann’s story, and I don’t pretend to, but I have friends with dual citizenship. One of my best friends spent part of her childhood in Germany and most of the rest of her life here, but she still has family in Germany. She visits them often, spends a fair amount of time there, speaks the language fluently. She even likes the food! Germany is as much a part of her life as anything else. I don’t think she feels like she is “pretending” anything with her dual citizenship.
That said, there is an interesting tension inherent in this, and I think Krikorian is getting at it fairly well underneath all the hyperbole. He quotes the oath we make new citizens swear, which I’ll reproduce (in part) here:
I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.
That’s not very ambiguous. Dual citizenship is incompatible with the words in that oath. So is Catholicism, I think. But rather than conclude that that means dual citizenship (or Catholicism) is un-American, why not turn it around? Is that oath really necessary? Does it represent what we want from citizens?
Krikorian also quotes John Fonte: “Dual allegiance is incompatible with the moral basis of American constitutional democracy.” This strikes me as just totally confused. Dual citizenship may be incompatible with some formal or legal aspect of American constitutional democracy, but its moral basis? The moral basis of American constitutional democracy is precisely that “all men are created equal” and endowed with rights, like the right to pursue their happiness. What’s more, it was laid out in a document that expressly rejected the authority of the crown. From literally the first moment the United States was even a thing, we opposed the notion that allegiance has much of anything to do with the moral basis of government. Government exists to defend our freedoms, not demand our loyalty.
This, of course, is not something we always get right. I grew up saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day – with the “under God” part in it! The Japanese internment camps of World War II are a blight on the nation’s honor. Just a few short years ago, you were either “with us or against us”. Joe McCarthy had a list. There is an authoritarian strain in American politics that comes from the worst in us, but it is not a natural part of our political order. We should recognize that our core constitutional rights involve the right to criticize the state, to defend ourselves against it, and to live unmolested by it. Our tradition says that the state is not the thing that makes us Americans; rather, it’s the freedom to form all the little allegiances – to family, to church, to our favorite football teams – or not to form any at all, if that’s what we choose. That a conservative thinks loyalty to the state trumps all of this says everything you need to know about contemporary conservatism.
I am rarely in the business of defending Michele Bachmann, and she is hardly innocent of stoking the authoritarian undercurrent in America, but leave the woman alone. I don’t pretend to know what Switzerland means to her or her family, and I don’t need to know. It’s her business. She isn’t hurting anyone. Leave her be.