The Citizenship Question
by Leo Morris
Is U.S. citizenship still worth something?
That is such a grimly disheartening question because of where it came from.
I did not hear it from the usual “America is awful” crowd, the people who either think the republic always was and always will be an oppressive blight on the face of the Earth or believe the only way it can atone for its sins is for those who have been unfairly treated to unfairly treat everybody else.
It came to me from an enthusiastic follower of the Indiana Policy Review, for which I write these columns.
That is an organization dedicated to freedom and the constitutional principles that undergird it. If those who follow that vision are losing faith in the value of their franchise, is there any future left for the country?
There had better be. This country is still the best hope for the world, and to give up on its promise is to give up on all humankind.
America was founded on the single greatest political idea in history: Rights inhere in the individual.
Somewhere between anarchy and tyranny, people have forever tried to find the perfect government, the one that will provide the proper balance of autonomy and dependence. How can we best obtain security and still preserve our liberty?
Until America, the group was always paramount. There were no rights as such, merely privileges that could be granted or withheld to favored or shunned groups at the whim of an absolute ruler.
Then came our Declaration of Independence and Constitution to lay the foundation for a better way. Each individual person has rights – call them natural or God-given – just by virtue of being human that are beyond the purview of government. In fact, the chief justification for government is to protect those rights.
That is the basis of American Exceptionalism, a point President Obama missed – deliberately, I suspect – when he blithely said something to the effect that, well, all people think their country is exceptional.
America is exceptional because it found the exception to submission to tyranny.
And, yes, its behavior is often not exceptional. It does not always live up to its promise. You can find plenty of complaints from all across the political spectrum. The oligarchy is taking over. Cancel culture is rampant. There is anarchy in the streets. Equality of results has replaced equality of opportunity. Income inequality is out of control. And on and on.
I have my own concerns, especially about the leviathan state. I worry that the federal debt will crush us. It bothers me that the Supreme Court declared my property available for an economic developer with deep pockets, and that the state of Indiana declares the right to take people’s possessions by accusing them of crimes they have not even been tried for. It is astonishing that two presidents – Obama and George W. Bush – gave themselves the authority to have any American anywhere killed on their order alone and that there was no national outrage.
But consider: Those are holes in the only ship of state we have. If we abandon it, to which shore do we swim?
I am proud of some of the things I have done, ashamed of others. I try to take responsibility for my own actions, as all moral people should.
I try to avoid grand pronouncements about things outside my control. I cringe when people say they are ashamed to be an American, and I would never say I am proud to be an American. That is but an accident of birth.
But I am glad to be one. It is gratifying to be a citizen of a country that not only stands for the right thing but acknowledges its failures to live up to its own standards and always tries to do better.
If this nation, founded on the concept of natural rights, gets so many things wrong about freedom, imagine what the world would be like without America’s striving as an example. The more mistakes we make, the more we demonstrate how much we are needed.
“For if they do these things in a green tree,” it says in Luke 23:31, “what shall be done in the dry?”
I will leave it to the biblical scholars to offer the religious interpretation of that passage. But we can divine a secular meaning.
The world with America is a green tree, still capable of giving and nurturing life. The world without America would be so very, very dry.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.