With his usual flair for hyperbole and indifference to factual details, Donald Trump last week tweet-blasted the so-called “Squad” of female freshman Congressmen “of color” for slandering America as racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and numerous other empty epithets. Though Trump was careless for suggesting, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”––since only one, Ilhan Omar, was born abroad––his sentiment is still valid, and has been shared for decades by millions of Americans angry over their homeland being demonized by immigrants and fellow citizens alike.
This sentiment was memorably captured by country singer Merle Haggard in his hit “Fightin’ Side of Me.” Released in December 1969, the song expressed the anger of the “Silent Majority” that had just put Richard Nixon in the White House. And the lyrics identified who Americans were angry at: the free, comfortable New Leftists, college students, bougie hippies, and liberal elite fellow-travelers who burned the American Flag, slandered our soldiers as baby-killers, and called their country “AmeriKKKa.” Haggard especially targeted the antiwar activists who insulted our troops even as they were fighting and dying, and who “love our milk and honey” but “preach about some other way of livin’.” Sound familiar?
But it was one line in the chorus that summed up many Americans’ attitude: “If you don’t love it leave it.” This blunt phrase became that era’s ultimate “trigger” of leftist spluttering rage and hysterical spouting of the same question-begging epithets that today inundate the rhetoric of progressive politicians and pundits––exactly the response to Trump’s later suggestion to the “Squad,” “If you’re not happy here, then you can leave.” And like today, for self-proclaimed sophisticated cosmopolitans who fancied themselves too smart for patriotism, such a déclassé love of country was fit only for the xenophobic deplorables clinging to their guns and religion.
As usual, the common sense of the masses is smarter than the received wisdom of the credentialed elite. Haggard’s line “they love our milk and honey” exposed the moral idiocy of American anti-Americanism: its hypocrisy and shameless ingratitude. So too some immigrants today, whether first or second generation, are despicable hypocrites and ingrates. Their lives in their countries of origins would have been “nasty, brutish, and short,” as Hobbes put it. But after being welcomed into our country, they now enjoy freedom, opportunity, wealth, leisure, nutrition, and health care unprecedented in human history.
Omar, as do many anti-American Americans, tries to hide her failure of character and virtue by protesting that she is just criticizing the U.S. in order to help it achieve its noble ambitions for “social justice” and equality for all: “It [Trump’s charge] is that I am anti-American because I criticize the United States. I believe, as an immigrant, I probably love this country more than anyone that is naturally born and because I am ashamed of it continuing to live in its hypocrisy.”
In 1933 Winston Churchill had the answer to similar attacks by some Britons on their own country: “Our difficulties come from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians. But what have they to offer but a vague internationalism and the promise of vague utopias?”
George Orwell, a socialist and internationalist, still understood that in the face of an evil, expansionist ideology like Nazism, denigrating and undermining patriotism weakened the morale and solidarity a people need to answer that threat. In 1941 Orwell wrote:
England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.
In the Thirties, Orwell went on, “left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British.” Moreover, foreshadowing how today anti-Americanism has spread from the elite of intellectuals and professors to the curricula of grade schools, and as such is seen as decadence by our rivals and enemies, Orwell linked the way intellectuals sneered at ordinary, patriotic Englishmen––called “Blimps” after Colonel Blimp, a cartoon caricature of middle-class imperialists––to “systematic Blimp-baiting” which “affected even the Blimps themselves and made it harder than it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed forces.” Indeed, if the British Empire, or America today, is so wicked and oppressive, why should any citizen fight and die for it?
This danger of weakening morale and civic identity is the main problem with American anti-Americanism, a potential danger evident in the disasters wrought by England’s and France’s collapse of morale and failure of nerve in the Thirties. No people can survive without the bedrock conviction of a critical mass of citizens that they deserve to survive because their way of life is superior to others–– not because they are superior people, but because the political principles of their government like unalienable rights, personal freedoms of speech, religion, and association, political freedom, and the right to choose their political leaders and hold them accountable, are superior to the alternatives and are open to all those who desire to enjoy those goods.
These principles and our history––with all its betrayals of those principles and convictions––are part of who we are, of what identifies us as Americans. To paraphrase the Greek orator Isocrates, the name “American” denotes not a race or ethnicity or tribe, but a way of thinking and living––as free men and women.
And those ideals, as well as freedom and economic opportunity, were (and still are) what have brought millions of immigrants to our country. Once here, most were free to honor their home country and its cultures, but there was no question that if they wanted their children to have the opportunities and political freedom of America, they had to assimilate to those principles, and abandon or relegate to civil society those customs and mores that contradicted the American way. They were expected to learn English and American history, including learning about their new country’s heroes and political principles. That was the price for full enjoyment of American freedom and opportunity. If one did not want to pay that price, one could return home, and indeed many did; between 1901 and 1920, half of Italian immigrants from that period returned to Italy.
Not my grandfather, Antonio Gigantiello. He came to America in 1906, an “illiterate peasant,” according to Ellis Island records. In America he owned a little land and a grocery store in the rural San Joaquin Valley. When his two sons spoke Italian at grammar school, they were scolded and whacked with a ruler. He made his youngest, my mom, speak only English at home so he and my grandmother could learn it, though their English was broken and accented. When my grandmother offered meek praise for Italy, my West Texas father, who left home at 15 and came to California in a boxcar, would say, “If it’s so great, go back.” (Exactly what Californians told him when he praised Texas.) In the Fifties my grandparents took the train to New York and crossed the Atlantic to visit their relatives in Italy. My grandfather cut his stay in half because he was homesick for America. When he got off the train in Fresno, he kissed the ground and thanked God.
That’s how immigration worked back in the day, before a specious “multiculturalism” and “diversity” turned assimilation into a betrayal of a superior identity and culture that immigrants had abandoned. Now expecting loyalty to America and gratitude for its freedom and opportunities is xenophobic, nativist, and racist. Now it’s all about what America can do for me and my political tribe, rather than what we can do for America. Now some immigrants wave the flag of the dysfunctional country they escaped, and burn the flag of the free, prosperous country they voted for with their feet.
These criticisms don’t mean that the immigrant, like every American, doesn’t have the right to criticize his adopted country. But criticism without context, without realistic expectations, without acknowledgement that America’s sins are outweighed by its achievements and good deeds, without recognizing that equality of opportunity does not guarantee equal success–– without that mature realism, criticism is nothing but anti-Americanism, a spiteful ingratitude that bespeaks a lack of character, and a childish anger that one’s utopian expectations of “social justice” have not been met.
But freedom in America means being free to express your spite and flawed character in the public square, and to do so in whatever way you choose. Anti-American Americans are exercising their First Amendment right, and no matter how hypocritical, ignorant, incoherent, hateful, and insulting their speech, it is protected by law and legal precedent.
And this brings us to the final, most shameless hypocrisy. American anti-Americans freely indulge their First Amendment rights, but they and their social media tech-allies don’t want their opponents to have the same freedom. Thus their calls for “hate-speech” exclusions to the First Amendment, which as our universities have demonstrated for decades, mean censorship based on political ideology and standards of offense determined by the subjective or neurotic feelings of politically favored “victims.” Thus the barrage of question-begging epithets like “racist” and the rest, which by now are empty of meaning and function as verbal smog intended to shut people up and pollute political discourse with toxic emotionalism and bathos.
As for Trump, once again he has said what many Americans think, but seldom hear from the Republican elite. And he has stood up for those same Americans who love their country, not because it’s perfect, not because they think its history is sinless, but because it has in word and deed shown itself to be the “last best hope” we fallen mortals have in a tragic world. And most of all, we love America because it is who we are, its ideals the unum that allows the pluribus to become a people yet keep its diversity. There’s not much more we can expect from imperfect human beings.