Wednesday, August 6, 2014

America: You’re Still Using That Word

Lady, I only speak two languages: English and bad English.
- Korben Dallas, The Fifth Element, 1997


What is it that makes an American?

What is the defining element?

What special quality makes one an American?  

If you line up a bunch of random people, how do you know which ones are Americans and which ones aren’t? 

No really. How do you know?

Oh sure, when I lived in Europe and Asia, you could always, always, spot an American in the crowd. They were the ones with the giant cowboy hats shouting, “What’s wrong with you assholes? Don’t any of you speak English?” But if you put a bunch of people side by side, naked and silent say, how do you know which ones are the Americans? Do we have some kind of magical glow? A special tattoo? Oversized sexual organs that light up and play the Star Spangled Banner?

Is American like a soul? Something you can’t see, or touch, or quantify, or measure … but nonetheless some people insist exists despite no supporting evidence whatsoever?

How do you know?

What is it?

What is it that makes one an American?

I mean, it must be something, right? There must be something that makes us Americans different, better and more awesome, than everybody else, right?

There must be.

Our representatives certainly think so.

Early this week two so-called “DREAMers” confronted Representative Steve King (R-IA) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) at a diner in Iowa

The DREAMers, a term used to identify certain illegal aliens who were brought to the United States as children and grew up here, were activists Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas.  They wanted to talk to the lawmakers about immigration reform.

Now, look, we’re talking about members of the US Congress. These are educated men, right? King went to Northwest Missouri State University, he majored in math – he didn’t graduate, he doesn’t have a degree, but still. Math. He built King Construction company and founded the Kiron Business Association.  He’s been in the House since 2003, that’s over a decade for those of you who aren’t good at math. And Paul? This guy is a doctor, he graduated from Baylor and Duke. These two men, they make federal laws. They work on issues that affect every American. Paul is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he’s on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, he’s on the Homeland Security committee – if anybody ought to know what constitutes the ethereal quality of “American,” it’s Rand Paul. I mean, you’d think, right?

And yet – and yet – before Andiola and Vargas approached and identified themselves as non-Americans, neither Representative Steve King nor Senator Rand Paul (nor their aides or security detail) were aware of the non-Americans’ status. 

Yes, that’s right, foreign invaders were able to walk right up to members of the US government in a public eatery and they literally had to say, Hi, we’re illegal aliens! Boogah! Boogah!

Because there was no way to tell just by looking at them.

Paul immediately got up from the table and ran away leaving his unfinished hamburger behind – apparently frightened by the terrifying threat of brown-skinned Mexican Ebola – and I’m forced to wonder at this point what the Fox News headlines would have looked like had it been the President who’d run from two Latinos:


But I digress, as is my tendency.

Steve King wasn’t so lucky, abandoned by Rand Paul and with no ready line of retreat,  the congressman was forced to heroically defend America from the invaders all by himself.

ANDIOLA: I’m actually a DREAMer. I’m originally from Mexico, but I was raised here. I graduated from Arizona State University. I know you want to get rid of DACA. And I wanted to give you the opportunity, if you really want to get rid of DACA, just rip mine. You can go ahead and do that. You take my DACA, you will literally take away everything.

KING: This is not what I do. I don’t call you names…

ANDIOLA: I mean, ‘cantaloupe calves?’

KING: That’s drug smugglers. You’re very good at English. You know what I’m saying. So you can understand the English language. You’re saying something that’s not true. I spoke of drug smugglers… Your ears work too, I was speaking of drug smugglers only.

ANDIOLA: You’re the one who’s trying to get rid of DACA.

KING: And you heard why. I told you why. The president has no constitutional authority to do what he has done.

ANDIOLA: Yes he does. [Gestures to Vargas] He’s actually an attorney, he’s a DREAMer. He graduated from law school.

KING: Oh and that makes you an authority. You keep your card. I don’t do individual policy. I do national policy for everyone. It troubles me a great deal that you have such disrespect for the laws of the United States of America. You’re telling me that you don’t have to abide by the laws.


So, what is it that makes King and Paul Americans, but not Andiola and Vargas?

Is it the ability to speak and understand the English language?

King certainly seems to think so and he made a point of saying so – in English.

So do many Americans, many who in fact want to make English the official – and only – language of the United States by force of law. 

And say, did you ever wonder why, if it’s so important and all, how come we don’t call our language American

Why is our language, the language of America, named after some European power? One we fought a war to get the hell away from in point of fact. But yet again, there I go, digressing.

Back on point, Is the ability to speak English, good English, a requirement for being an American? 

Is it?

Where’s that written down?

I mean, have you ever heard Arnold Schwarzeneggar? That guy was the conservative republican governor of Calleefornyah, people were talking about changing the Constitution so he could be President. He’s the very epitome of the cigar chewing, mini-gun wielding, alien killin’ American, but the son of a bitch can’t speak English – or American – worth a shit. 

Hell, how about Henry Kissinger?

And don’t even get me started on George W. Bush, because, damn, folks, just damn.

If the ability to speak, write, read, and comprehend English is a requirement for being American, shouldn’t we be testing every American on a regular basis? I don’t know about you, but I’d be perfectly willing to revoke the citizenship of those who can’t seem to grasp the difference between there, they’re, and their.  And don’t get me started on the comments under any Fox News article.



So, then, is it respect for the law?

Is respect for the law the thing that makes you an American?

Is it? King was troubled that the DREAMers have “such disrespect for the laws of the United States of America.”  

Interesting, that, don’t you think? Respect for the law.


I guess that would mean Cliven Bundy isn’t an American?

Now now, don’t get pissy with me, take it up with Steve King. 

Time to deport Mr. Bundy along with all those flag waving militiamen who flout federal and state firearms law.  And while we’re at it, how about all those Captains of Industry and the Wall Street traders who ignore federal banking laws every single day. They certainly don’t respect the law, not in spirit and not in practice – not unless forced to comply, exactly like an illegal alien.  And how about those companies who deliberately violate the federal clean air and clean water acts? They sure as hell don’t respect the law.  According to US Congressman Steve King that makes them un-American does it not? Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, both broke the law to such a degree that it actually changed our language, Watergate, Iran-Contra, would King say they aren’t American? And maybe it’s time to scrub our history books, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, every single person in the Confederacy, they all scoffed at the law and I guess that means they aren’t Americans after all. 

Hell, just last week, Sarah Palin got a ticket in Wasilla, Alaska for disrespecting the local speed limit…

What’s that?

Oh, now I’m just being silly, am I?

Well, okay, but where do we draw the line? America was founded on disrespect for the law. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and all the rest who took up arms against the King? Law breakers each and every single one.

Respect for the law? That’s what makes you an American? Seriously?

Since when?

I call Shenanigans.

Is it a particular religion that makes you an American? Your God, your prophet, your church? Are those what makes you an American? Are they? After all, there are nations which use religion as one of the defining criteria for citizenship, is America one of those nations? Well? Guess we’re not so special then, are we?

Is it a skin color? Is it your race? The color of your eyes, the color of your hair? Is it genetics that makes you an American? There certainly have been nations which defined citizenship in such terms, blond haired, blue eyed, master race. Is that what America is? Come now, don’t be shy, speak up, do you have to be white to be an American, go on, you can say it. No? Hmmm, are you sure? You are? Well, well how about that?

Is it culture? Is it our way of life that makes us Americans? What culture? What way of life? East Coast? West Coast? North? South? The Midwest? Big city? Small town? Wall Street banker? Appalachian coal miner? Southern California Surfer? Texas Cowboy? Alaskan Fisherman? Rock and Roll? Bluegrass? Polka? Jazz? Rap? Pizza?  Frankfurters? Pierogis? Apple pie? Chop suey? Kielbasa?  Hamburgers? Breakfast burritos? Freedom Fries? What way of life defines America? Please, describe it in detail and be sure to cite your references in the footnotes.

Is it wealth? Do you have to be rich to be an American? Is it health? Is it a standard of living? Is it employment? Is it keeping up with the Kardasians? I mean what is it that makes us American?

The nerve of these "Dreamers". They are here illegally and have used significant resources during their illegal stay in the US […] How can this female Dreamer ever become a productive US citizen when she obviously does not understand that America lives by the rule of law […] I will never understand how any loyal, hard-working taxpaying American would support letting these economic opportunists stay in our country.
- TiredofBeingTaxedToDeath, Washington Post 8/5/20

Oh, well, is that it?

Is that it right there? 

Is loyalty the requirement? Do you have to be hard-working? Do you have to pay taxes? Do you have to be productive? And how are all those things measured? Loyalty to what exactly? To a specific political party? To a state or a sports team or your employer? Hard working? But then shouldn’t we eliminate inheritance? I mean, come on, Paris Hilton? How American is that? Shouldn’t Mitt Romney’s kids have to build their own fortunes from scratch? To be Americans, I mean? No? Well then what’s the threshold? After all, one hell of a lot of illegal immigrants work their little brown asses off at jobs no self-respecting American would do – I mean, that’s why they’re here in the first place, isn’t it? They make the burritos, they pick the tomatoes and the cabbages, they cut the grass, they babysit our kids and clean our houses, they sew the shirts, so what then qualifies as hard work? I’m talking about the kind of hard work that makes you American? Give me a list of the approved American professions. Go on, I’ll wait while you look it up.

And economic opportunists? Tell me more about that. Tell me how Americans don’t take advantage of America’s place in the world economy every single day, because I just never get tired of that story. Oh, come on, don’t be a sorehead, don’t run away like Rand Paul, tell me. What jobs, what degree of work, how much do you have to clear to be an American?

Is it patriotism? Is it blind love of country? Is it how many flags you fly and how straight you stand when they play the national anthem? Is that what makes you an American? Strange then that so many patriots, so many of those who profess to love America, seem to hate every single thing about it.  They don’t love this America, they love an America that has never been but exists only in their fevered imagination, one made up of the right people who speak the right language and worship the right god and eat the right foods and sing the right songs with their hands over their hearts.

That’s it, isn’t it? Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, they were born somewhere else, but they grew up here same as the rest of us, they were educated here, they graduated from college here, they speak English – damned good educated American English. They love America same as us and they were willing to join the military and put their asses on the line to prove it. They didn’t break the law, their parents did. They’re no deadbeats, they work, they contribute, they dress like us, they eat the food we eat, they listen to the music we listen to and in fact there is nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever, that would allow a member of the United States government to tell that Andiola and Vargas weren’t Americans simply by looking at them.

So what then is it?

What’s that?

Oh, you’re an American because you were born here?

Ah, I see. Being an American is an accident of birth then, is it? That’s the one indefinable quality that makes you an American, you were born here.

Is that it? Is it really?

John Paul Jones, Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Pulitzer, Albert Einstein, Knute Rockne, Irving Berlin, Frank Capra, Bob Hope, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Pamela Anderson, Patrick Ewing, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Jennings, Ted Cruz, John McCain, none of these famous Americans were actually born in the United States.

What? You wanted to add something? Hello?

In fact, at the moment there are four US Senators and seven Representatives serving in the US Congress who were not born in the United States. 

And where does that leave us?

If it’s not where we were born or the color of our skin or the god we worship or the job we do or food we eat or the music we listen to or the language we speak, if it’s not the car we drive or the house we live in, well then what is it?

What makes someone an American and somebody else not?

It must be something.

It has to be right?

Is it just because we’re here?

Is it just a piece of paper that says we are?

Is that all it is? Paperwork?


Or is there more to it?


Isn’t being an American about an ideal?

Isn’t being an American about what’s inside of you? About who you are?

Isn’t being an American about what you’re willing to fight for, what you believe in, what you’re willing to die for?

Isn’t being an American about hope? About belief? About taking a chance? About a willingness to dream big. About the courage to reach for something better against all odds? About the moxie to face down your government and call them to account whenever and wherever – even if it’s the the middle of lunch?

Well, isn’t it?

Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red, male, female, young, old, straight, gay, Left, Right, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, atheist, rich, poor, smart, stupid, all of us, isn’t that who we Americans are? Down underneath it all. Isn’t that exactly what America is about?

Isn’t that, that right there, the thing which makes you an American?

Tell me, is it not a burning desire for freedom and a thirst for liberty?

Isn’t being an American about spirit?

Let me ask you something: Would an American, a real American, let a wall stop them?

Would they?

Would they really?



Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell's the matter with you? Stupid! We're all very different people. We're not Watusi. We're not Spartans. We're Americans, with a capital 'A', huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts!
- John Winger, Stripes, 1981


  1. Thought provoking! I say say to the anti-dreamers, "walk a MILE in their shoes," maybe then they can better understand what a lot of these kids go through on a daily basis. Same goes doe the anti-immigration folks.

    1. I have agree abit with both sides. First we need to come up with a system that is fair to them but still respects the law. If he served in the Military that should be automatic citizenship. But how could he do that he would be 26 just going through college . He also interned for a NY State Supreme court judge, the Brooklyn District Attorney, and a US Congressman. Oh yeah he also was in the Military for a minimum of two years I don't think so. She lost her scholarships and can't get employed as I do feel for their situation we can't just say it is ok because your parents screwed up that you have status. We need to come up with an fair system where these type of residents are not exploited but the rule of law is followed.

  2. years ago, during one of our ex-pat tours, I was reading some literature provided to help us "acclimate." It included a section of people from various countries describing what American were. The only single thing I remember was a Greek who said that "Americans stop at stop signs, even out in the country. Even when there are no other cars anywhere around." As accurate a definition as any other I have ever heard. We are a part of a great experiment. It has to do with spirit, it has to do with hope and dreams. You've hit as close
    as anyone. Thanks, as usual, for a good read. Edit note: One "cites" a source, not "sites." -Martha

    1. LOL, even though I'm an American citizen, I blow past the two stops past my house when there isn't a car coming.

    2. LOL! I found myself buckling up even though I was only going 100ft down the property to put coolers in my truck. However, I do straddle the yellow line on our narrow levee road. If I ever get pulled over, I will tell Mr. Officer that I will respect the yellow line when the road is built to Sacramento County standards!

      Dawn Gulick
      California Delta USA!

    3. Immigration is a really difficult subject. Good job on these two for trying to do something about it, I respect their courage. The biggest question I have with immigration is: why don't people fix their own country? I mean if so many people from Mexico want to immigrate here, doesn't that show a problem in Mexico? Maybe Mexico should get their shit together and that would solve the problem.

    4. Immigration is a more difficult subject for some than for others apparently.

    5. Snicker. But the USA had a hand in almost all of the problems.

      And, Anon, there's nothing brave about proposing mass deportations as a solution.

    6. We could stop illegal immigration completely if we really wanted to with one law - any company found with even one non-legal employee will cause the CEO and board members to be sent to prison for 10 years with no exceptions.

      And that would be the end of that. Easy peasy.


    7. Easy peasy

      For a dictator, maybe. In America, our legal system, imperfect as it is, still requires that you prove an individual's culpability before sending him to the hoosegow, or the Guillotine. Are you applying for the job? You seem to like the idea...

    8. "The biggest question I have with immigration is: why don't people fix their own country? I mean if so many people from Mexico want to immigrate here, doesn't that show a problem in Mexico? Maybe Mexico should get their shit together and that would solve the problem."

      Those were probably the thoughts of the native American's when the founding fathers pitched up and started taking over.

      America is a nation of contradictions. It celebrates Columbus Day when it was an Anglicsed-Italian (John Cabot) who actually "discovered" the English speaking bit of the continent (North America).

      It's a nation founded entirely on immigration and yet it's mostly the descendants of white Europeans who make the biggest noises about keeping all those "non-Americans" out.

      It's a nation that constantly likes to remind the French about how they liberated them, forgetting how it was the French who played the ace card against the British in the War of Independence, thus gaining America said independence.

      I love the best bits that America represents - progressive, inclusive, hard working, generous. But I hate what America is rapidly turning into - ugly, ignorant, corrupt.

    9. This country went off the rails when that moron St ronnie got elected. In 1976 when he ran against Ford for the nomination I sat in utter shock listening to his comments. My thought at the time was 'who will he bring on as VP, some spook?' So who does him bring on GHW Bush ex head spook of the CIA. So we get Iran Contra' we get trading missiles for hostages ( a high crime; treating with a foreign government while not being the executive ). And the first thing he does is fire the striking PATCO workers; and he is a former union president. And 30 years of tinkle down economics has proven it only works for the 1%: yet the R keep doubling down on it!!!


  3. This is so right on I don't even know where to start. Way to once again cut through the bullshit and present the obvious truth in a way so many of us understand it, but so few of us can express.

    I'm also totally on board with designating the ability to distinguish between (and correctly use) their, there, and they're as a requirement for citizenship.

    Rock on, Jim.

  4. It's got nothing to do with nationality-of-origin and everything to do with skin color. Everything else is hand-waving.

  5. Stuart in CincinnatiAugust 6, 2014 at 6:26 PM

    Excellent as usual, however the date in the Washington Post quote seems to be either from far in the future, or some kind of commie European dating system....

    1. The date is wrong in the Post item, but that dating system you mock...

      ...is standard in the the US military. Day/Month/Year

    2. I resent the remark of "some kind of commie European dating system". I came originally from Europe, and was a Landed Immigrant in Canada in 1966. I spoke English and French, which was perfect for finding a good job. I have never, ever been a Commie. Why is it, that Americans still think of some beneficial Socialism as out and out Communism? I often wondered about all that paranoia. Somebody put a lot of undereducated ideas in your heads.

    3. I think you might be missing the joke, Anonymous.

  6. Patricia SchaffhouserAugust 6, 2014 at 6:27 PM

    The very people that the anti DREAMers are afraid of, because I am convinced that it is fear that fuels their anger, are the people who can grow America. They are the ones, the fresh blood, who can be the new innovators, demonstrate the work ethic and excite us. My great grandparents came here to escape famine in Ireland and war in Germany. It wasn't a walk in the park, but they always worked, paid taxes, served in the military and raised new generations to do the same.

    1. How soon we forget apparently. My grandfather and grandmother (mom's side) were from Croatia and France. They met on the boat! My dads side of the family were mutts from England/Scotland that settled in Canada.

      Dawn Gulick
      California Delta USA

    2. We don't like the "mutt" term, but prefer the more formal "Mongrolians" :).

  7. It's sad, but none of these folks "get" the "'American Dream". It's not about ONLY YOU being able to live the dream, to me a TRUE American wants the whole world to have what we have, to have a place to live to grow to be safe to explore to achieve and to become GREAT!

    I just wish idiots like Rep King would understand that this dream is supposed to be for EVERYONE.

    1. Idiots like King just want to pull the ladder up behind them. Got mine, screw you is their attitude.

      Dawn Gulick
      California Delta USA

  8. Just a grammar fix -- the second sentence should either be "are the criteria" or "is the criterion"...

    Otherwise, bravo!

  9. My ancestors were amongst those who helped found this country. Were they here today I believe they would rise, as one, and give you a standing ovation for stepping up and saying what needs to be said. In their absence I will speak for them; Bravo, Jim Wright, Bravo.

  10. criterion is the singular; criteria is the plural.

  11. (I hate to say this when a post is, in part, about speaking acceptable English, but it's "flout" instead of "flaunt" when you disrespect something like that.)


    Else, a round of applause! No need to publish this.

  12. Just saw where Paul said he left his half eaten lunch to go do an interview. He said it was 10 feet away from where this confrontation was taking place. Well, mr Paul, please tell us who the interview was with, or even better, show us the interview. Am I being accused of not trusting what he said, well, like Saint (or is it now god?) Ronnie said, trust but verify.

    1. That's why I sit in the corner with my screen facing the window - so's I can read Wonkette at work.


    2. Must be right. . .Mr. Paul *never* lies.

    3. Carol, at this point in time, I would suggest that we should change the adage of Trust but Verify to:
      Distrust and Verify.
      There is no honor among the thieves in our political system.

  13. Conservative republicans define "Americans" as:

    "people espousing conservative republican policies, voting republicans and refusing steadfastly to compromise with non-conservatives and/or non-republicans, and who are willing to sink the US in order to implement nothing but conservative policies".


  14. Being an American means having an abominable memory and a towering ego. Many of us living here are descended from the liars, thieves, and bullies who took the land from the people who were already here. Or from those who stood by and watched while it happened. Or from those who moved here later and helped push the original occupants further off.

    I do not exempt myself from this - my mother's family has been here since the late 1700s. They started out in Pennsylvania, but moved to Michigan in the early 1800s (a few are still there.) My father's family came over in the early1900s and also settled in Michigan.

    What being an American should mean is caring for the land and the rest of the world since it's the only one we have.

    1. "Being an American means having an abominable memory and a towering ego."

      Exactly true. And a sense of righteousness that tends to forget the original Americans. I understand we live in a different time now, but it seems these people have totally forgotten that their ancestors too were once DREAMers.


      Excellent as usual, Mr W

    2. It's probably already too late, Kerry aka Trouble. The climate denier-fakers have probably already won.


  15. Excellent essay as always, Jim. And double-plus good bonus points for the "Fifth Element" quote, one of my all-time favorite Crazy Sci-Fi Romps(tm).

  16. Thank you Jim. Wish I had your gift of saying it so eloquently. "They" won't be happy until anyone different from them has to wear an armband so "we" know who is a real American and who isn't. Wait, didn't this happen before? All we have to do is listen to them talk and know who they are.

  17. You certainly speak for me! You truly are a really talented writer. Your voice and style just come through so genuine and trustworthy. I hope that this essay is read and shared by everyone. Thank you for another great piece!

  18. Great essay.

    I think it's Enlightenment values that are the core values of the United Stated of America--certainly of the Deists who founded the USA. I wish we would remember them more. As a federation rather than a nation-state the USA is multi-ethnic, and has been so from the beginning.

    And, you have given me an excuse to trot out two of my favorite quotes on this subject: "When a man starts to worry about his own identity he’s lost it already. It’s trying to board up the river to keep the water from flowing away. Soon you don’t have a river anymore. When a nation starts to hug its own particularities to itself it is showing fear and it will soon cease having any characteristics worth saving. Velonya can’t help being Velonya, and if the people are free and happy that’s all one could want of it."--R. A. MacAvoy, In the Belly of the Wolf

    “How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't make a virtue of it, or a profession... Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.”--Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

  19. My grandpa, a teenager, was a stowaway who came from Germany between WWI and WWII. Nobody told him to go home, apparently. He became a naturalized citizen in the 1950's, I believe. Lived in LA. Did landscaping.... He married my grandma after her first husband, a Cherokee, died of influenza in the 1918's in the Imperial Valley, where they'd migrated from Iowa. Grandma was a daughter of sod farmers from Europe....She was a CNA and used to tell stories of going out to the migrant camps in the valley in the winter, where the families were trying to sleep on boards above mudholes in the cubicles that were built for them. "Californians" hated them and wanted them to go away. Back to the dustbowl, I guess.

  20. Great writing, as usual. We certainly have come to expect nothing less! Now, having applauded, let me share what I take away…I have all over the world and all over our own country. Therefore I think I have a more *detached* concept of what is “an American”. I have been struggling with this lately because my husband I have very involved discussions about the same questions Jim is exploring here.
    I have come to realize that the America I signed up to serve in 1980 (USAF) doesn't exist--and very likely, NEVER existed. It was a blow to my long-held ideas of patriotism and service to country when I realized that the America that existed in my head, the one I served, the one I imagined whenever I sang the National Anthem...was never real. It has always been a massive propaganda program, designed to separate us from the rest of the world and from each other.
    Doubt me? How about these terms: American Exceptionalism? Rugged Individualism? The American Dream? We are so split up, so divided … between states, between color and ethnicity, between genders, any division that can be made, usually is.
    America the Beautiful is a great song, but it's not our country. We're a Third World nation inside of (what used to be) a First World nation. As the hubby and I talk about it, we sound more and more like some of those conspiracy theorists and so "I know I'm being paranoid. Am I being paranoid enough?" When too many things lock together, or make perfect sense when arranged in a relationship equation, where the two sides equal out, it stops being a conspiracy theory and moves into the realm of the possible. I'm not talking aliens, anal probes, death rays and Sasquatch. I'm talking logical, historically accurate observations that support our idea that we are not who we think we are.
    And that equation didn't begin just recently, or 10 years ago, 20, 30...no, it seems to have its roots much farther back--perhaps to the Revolution, but certainly from the Civil War (Or as the Southerners put it, The War of Northern Aggression; when a nation can't even agree on what a horrible event in our common history is...).
    No, THIS America is not worthy of my service. I'm not even sure that I would claim to be an American if I went abroad. And I have seriously considered moving to another country--I don't have enough money to be a suitable ex-pat. So I'm stuck here, watching for the inevitable overthrow of our corrupt, corporation boot-licking, bought and paid for legislation; the rise of the workers to reclaim the business from the board of directors and their insane "metrics" to make profits for that board; the onslaught of parents and true educators to take back our school systems so that we teach based on having our children LEARN instead of vomiting back facts to make metrics on a test that doesn't care that not only can't Johnny read, he doesn't know how to balance a checkbook or to figure what mpg his car gets. Life skills, m'dear.
    I firmly believe that the revolution is coming. It's not going to be peaceful, non-violent protest. That's been tried. (Any of the Occupy movements) The rich keep getting richer, to an obscene degree. The poor are finding that support from social safety nets is getting smaller and smaller--and the rich would get rid of all social programs if they could--or privatize them for the profits they could yield... you know, like the prisons. We have almost half of our citizens living on the ragged edge of disaster, one major life event away from abject poverty. One in four of OUR children go to bed hungry. Our elderly are treated worse than our pets. The peasant will come, with pitchforks and torches.
    My current closing on anything like this is as follows:
    The revolution is coming. "We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us."
    Believe me.

    1. Kitty, unfortunately, I fear you are correct. All one has to do is look at history. It is a 100% historical certainty, that when the wealthy of a society get greedy and forget their responsibilities to the peasants, they seal their doom. It might take some time but, eventually, the pitchforks come out. No wall or gate will save them.

      Just look around. Everyone is pissed off. Everyone knows something has gone terribly wrong, they just haven't focused the blame appropriately yet. It feels like the country is loaded up with gasoline vapors, just waiting for the spark. A Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself ablaze. Too many people are too close to the edge of disaster. Too many went over that edge since 2008, and still can't get back up.

      Instead of working to fix the problems, we have a Congress that is more focused on trying to make the president fail. There are things everywhere that need fixing, and our representatives are doing nothing to help. Half the country has been driven insane by their media.

      Chief, thank you for such a thought provoking essay. I'll be mulling this one over for some time.

    2. These are my thoughts as well. I lean naturally toward pacifism, and shudder at the thought of owning a gun and learning to use it effectively. However, I am currently considering exactly that as the 2014 and 16 elections come up. When that revolution comes I don't want the RWNJ's to be the only ones armed.

    3. Kitty:
      Interesting perspective you have, I like the "Am I being paranoid enough":) I would like to offer an answer to something you have been watching for " So I'm stuck here, watching for the inevitable overthrow of our corrupt, corporation boot-licking, bought and paid for legislation; the rise of the workers to reclaim the business from the board of directors and their insane "metrics" to make profits for that board"
      Check out what has been happening here in New England regarding Market Basket. There are multiple sources available on the interwebs, if I can be so bold I would suggest starting here: http://www.boston.com/business/news/2014/08/04/few-show-for-market-basket-job-fair-protests-enter-third-week/vpKY2Ju1ji7hsJIyjgxBUN/story.html .
      The majority of employees that are picketing are doing so during their free time, and the customers are boycotting to show support for the employees. The end goal, you might ask? To get their CEO back in office! This has been a very long-running family battle, but the previous CEO has gained so much respect and trust from his employees that they are willing to risk their livelihoods to get him back in control. About 8000 part-time employees here in New Hampshire alone just learned their hours were cut to zero for next week because sales are off by about 90%. The little guy is standing up, hopefully it can end successfully but it is not looking good:(

    4. "When that revolution comes I don't want the RWNJ's to be the only ones armed."
      This aging hippie did exactly that when the tourists war shot here in S FL back some 20 years ago. I met a German journalist 1 day and he said to me, sot to voce, as he left the laundry mat "Buy an assault rifle". So I did, an M1A, i.e. an M14. And I larded to use it. I had learned to shoot in HS but gave it up some 40 years ago. And I was pretty good at it, at least according to the NRA.


    5. scary stuff, but I got the same feeling. There is going to be a massive up-rising, especially if you get a republican president next time and things go from bad to worse for the average and the poor citizens of your country. Seeing folks carry rifles over their shoulders, openly in public, gave me the total creeps.

  21. I am so sorry that my home state continues to elect Steve King. It is shameful.

    1. Look at it this way: if he wasn't in Congress, he'd be out on the street - and that's not good for anybody. Better you guys put him where we can keep an eye on him.

  22. Northwest Missouri State - what a joke! Southwest Iowans go there because it's cheap. I'm a native Southwest Iowan, so I know. But then, Steve King is also a joke.

  23. Also add George Gordon Mead, the Gettysburg winning General born in Cadiz, Spain.

  24. "none of these famous Americans were actually born in the United States"

    Ironically enough of course, President Obama WAS born in the United States. But he still had to show his paperwork.

  25. Seriously ...Ted Cruz ... you can keep him! I feel ashamed that he was born up here.

    1. I have two very close Canadian friends who get kind of pissed off that we USAians have taken over the name of the whole continent! I also knew a woman from Brazil who felt the same way. Who knew?


  26. What is an American? We smile all of the time, and joke about everything, We expect everyone to like us, and we don't go away. We will take what is best from any culture we contact, and can't remember who cursed us 10 years ago. We stopped the cycle of war in Europe by (Gasp) rebuilding Germany. (Ask how the Russians did with their part of the world), and Japan. We have no definition. Anyone who tries to define America or Americans is doomed to fail, because we are constantly changing and (hopefully) evolving.

    Yes, Harry, someone is still here.....

    It was the town that made America famous.
    The churches full and the kids all gone to hell.
    Six traffic lights and seven cops and all the streets kept clean.
    The supermarket and the drug store and the bars all doing well.

    They were the folks that made America famous.
    The local fire department stocked with shorthaired volunteers.
    And on Saturday night while America boozes
    The fire department showed dirty movies,
    The lawyer and the grocer seeing their dreams
    Come to life on the movie screens
    While the plumber hopes that he won't be seen
    As he tries to hide his fears and he wipes away his tears.
    But something's burning somewhere. Does anybody care?

    We were the kids that made America famous.
    The kind of kids that long since drove our parents to dispair.
    We were lazy long hairs dropping our, lost confused, and copping out.
    Convinced our futures were in doubt and trying not to care.

    We lived in the house that made America famous.
    It was a rundown slum, the shame of all the decent folks in town.
    We hippies and some welfare cases,
    Croweded families of coal black faces,
    Cramped inside some cracked old boards,
    The best that we all could afford
    But still to nice for the rich landlord
    To tear it down and we could hear the sound
    Of something burning somewhere. Is anybody there?

    We all lived the life that made America famous.
    Our cops would make a point to shadow us around our town.
    And we love children put a swastika on the bright red firehouse door.
    America, the beautiful, it makes a body proud.

    And then came the night that made America famous.
    Was it carelessness or someone's sick idea of a joke.
    In the tinder box trap that we hippies lived in someone struck a spark.
    At first I thought I was dreaming,
    Then I saw the first flames gleaming
    And heard the sound of children screaming
    Coming through the smoke. That's when the horror broke.

    Something's burning somewhere. Does anybody care?

    It was the fire that made America famous.
    The sirens wailed and the firemen stumbled sleepy from their homes.
    And the plumber yelled: "Come on let's go!"
    But they saw what was burning and said: "Take it slow,
    Let'em sweat a little, they'll never know
    And besides, we just cleaned the chrome." Said the plumber: "I'm going alone."

    He rolled on up in the fire truck
    And raised the ladder to the ledge
    Where me and my girl and a couple of kids
    Were clinging like bats to the edge.
    We staggered to salvation,
    Collapsed on the street.
    And I never thought that a fat man's face
    Would ever look so sweet.

    I shook his hand in the scene that made America famous
    And a smile from the heart that made America great
    You see we spent the rest of that night in the home of a man I'd never known
    It's funny when you get that close it's kind of hard to hate.

    I went to sleep with the hope that made America famous.
    I had the kind of a dream that maybe they're still trying to teach in school.
    Of the America that made America famous...and
    Of the people who just might understand
    That how together yes we can
    Create a country better than
    The one we have made of this land,
    We have a choice to make each man
    Who dares to dream, reaching out his hand
    A prophet or just a crazy God damn
    Dreamer of a fool - yes a crazy fool

    There's something burning somewhere.
    Does anybody care?
    Is anybody there?

  27. I literally teared up while reading this while eating General Tso chicken at a terriyaki place owned by Vietnamese immigrants. It's wasn't the chicken, I promise you.

    There is only one factual thing to consider: Northwest Missouri State University. I guess you didn't do any research on the place. While I am sure there are some people that graduated from there and actually can be considered educated, they would be few and far between. The fact that he couldn't graduate told me everything I needed to know.

    It may be true that Jack Dorsey didn't graduate from my alma mater, Missouri S&T, but many smart people don't graduate from there.

  28. Of course, Central and South Americans (and non US North Americans) are all technically Americans.

  29. What is it that makes an American?

    Now there's an easy question !

    Two Europeans and an American are sitting in Las Vegas' Hard Rock Cafe. The Europeans drink beer. The American drinks ... wait for it ... Ice Tea.

    There you have it (rolls eyes).

  30. Now lets get to the real issue. After DACA passed ,another executive order that unconstitutionally circumvents congress, tens of thousands of children have been smuggled from Central America though Mexico,many have been abused and died on this journey.

    Hypocritical "compassionate liberals" conveniently omit this fact while they for ask for OPM ( other people's money) to fix this mess our president created. The real end game is more future Democrats to continue the political strangle hold this party has on the Latino vote.

    1. Remember when Republicans were letting Cubans into the country? Sure, you do. If they touched the shore, they got an immigration hearing. You know, because they were fleeing persecution and communism and it was the "right thing" to do? Remember poor little Elián González? Back when Republicans actually claimed to give a fuck about foreign born brown skinned Latino children?

      And now, of course, those immigrants vote in large part for conservatives like Marco Rubio.

      Tell you what, Mark, how about you shove your conservative hypocrisy right up your ass?

    2. another executive order that unconstitutionally circumvents congress

      I guess that's just Democratic EOs that have you PO'd, right? And BHO's in particular, him being such a tyrant and all, and issuing EOs 24/7,even in his sleep. Thing is, though, if you're not allergic to, like, facts and numbers and shit, if you do the math all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt, you get:

      Prezt-------total EO--terms*--avg--party

      Hoover 968 1 968 R
      Wilson 1803 2 901.5 D
      FDR 3522 4 880.5 D
      Taft 724 1 724 R
      T Roosevelt 1081 2 540.5 R
      Coolidge 1203 2 601.5 R
      Harding 522 1 522 R
      LBJ 325 1 325 D
      Carter 320 1 320 D
      Ike 484 2 242 R
      JFK 214 1 214 D
      Reagan 381 2 190.5 R
      Clinton 364 2 182 D
      Nixon 346 2 173 R
      Ford 169 1 169 R
      GHW Bush 166 1 166 R
      GW Bush 292 2 146 R
      BHO 183 1.5 122 D

      (Frikkin' proportional fonts)

      *Terms divided evenly between dead/resigned Presidents and their VPs who took over, to avoid all those fractions and long division crap.

      There's some explanation that could go along with this chart, like, oh, wars, Great Depressions, SLTT, but I kind of get the feeling you're not even reading this, are you, Mark? Oh, well, it was fun anyway, because facts.

      Read 'em and weep, hoss. Or, you know, turn and run...

    3. Mark, our current president did not create the conditions that are driving many of these people here. The actions of this Nation in years past has however contributed to the political disruption of the nations of South America and other continents. These conditions for this were not created in the last six years. They have been ongoing since before all of us were born. The United States has purposely destabilized governments of other countries over the years to gain political and strategic advantage. See Bay of Pigs for info on this one. Do you know who Che Guevara was and what he did? Do you know why Batista was over thrown? Have you in your infinite wisdom heard any thing about the Contra rebels groups in Nicaragua circa 1979. How about the Coup in Iran in 1953? Did you know we actually helped Osama Bin Laden by providing weapons to fight the Soviet Union? Maybe if you research some of this history you will learn something about why we have desperate people at our border seeking asylum. For fools like you Mark the only history you see is that which you choose to see. You choose to ignore the things that were done in the past that have lead in part to the challenges we face today. In your small framed world this can be the fault of only one person, The President. In one way you have a partially correct answer. However it has been many Presidents over many administrations with multiple mistakes along the way that have brought us to this point in history. Keep on thinking the mindless thoughts you get from Fox news and Rush Limbaugh etc. History will be the final judge and you will have chosen poorly. In the end you will die just as ignorant as the day you were born, having learned nothing of history but gained the ability to mouth the stupid platitudes of the non-thinking.

  31. "Let me ask you something: Would an American, a real American, let a wall stop them?"

    I would read your stuff all day for money lines like this.

  32. Pierre Trudeau was born in America. Cesar Chavez was born in a different part of America. George Washington was born in America, but was a good British citizen and subject of the King until he was middle-aged. Heck, Juan and Evita Peron were both born in America. Why the heck couldn't we have chosen a national name to suit our chosen identity, such as Canadian, Mexican, Argentinian, etc.? America is a big place, covering two whole continents and several offshore islands, and the United States isn't even the biggest chunk of the place. I've decided NOT to use the word to describe my nationality, and it gets really awkward, but it IS possible.

    1. Amen. Well, amen to everything Jim wrote, too, but this particular bit is a pet peeve of mine.

  33. I always wanted to make a bumper sticker that read: "We Are Them and They Are Us". It sprang from my ponderings about Us versus Them. I am so many different things, what group do I belong to? None?
    I also want to make a bumper sticker that reads: "We Are the Government", so maybe I'm just crazy.
    Thanks, Mr. Wright, for your eloquence and humor and intelligence.

  34. What makes an American?

    Is it the Land? (Walt Whitman, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d)

    Lo, body and soul—this land,
    My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships,
    The varied and ample land, the South and the North in the light, Ohio’s shores and flashing Missouri,
    And ever the far-spreading prairies cover’d with grass and corn.

    Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty,
    The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes,
    The gentle soft-born measureless light,
    The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfill’d noon,
    The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
    Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

    Is it shared spirit and determination in the face of adversity? (Lisa Barreto, Lady Liberty, 9/11/2001)

    I heard Her, saw Her, and felt
    Her heart, Her spirit, and Her unity.
    With Her icon
    Still holding Her torch high
    Up to the sky
    Continuing to light the world.

    Or just maybe the fact that this country was founded on the radical leftist idea, however imperfectly practiced, that (sung to Schoolhouse Rock):

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    Chris in South Jersey

    1. Could it be that the dicks who think they have a lock on what it is to be an American have taken these words: "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" to somehow exclude everyone too brown for their or too different for their taste? I think it could be. And boy oh boy, man oh man are they mistaken.

      "ourselves" in that sentence refers directly to We. The People. It's everybody, baby: everybody who is willing to be of and for and by.

      And if your idea of being an American is living in a bunker, paying no taxes, hating everyone who looks, smells, talks, thinks, different, then maybe you need to start thinking about your own connection with We The People. Cause America R Us.


    2. Or someone who hides their money in the Cayman's so they don't have to pay taxes to help support the very same country that allowed them to get rich.

      Chris in South Jersey

  35. Before I retired in 2011, some of my students were potential DREAMers ---- 5,6,7 year olds who eagerly showed up at public school with Batman backpacks and as many items from the school supply list as their families could afford. Often, they only spoke Spanish and were too shy to ask where the bathroom was or what to do with their belongings. School lunch probably did not resemble their food at home. They watched sharply and imitated the others, because they couldn't understand directions.

    When conference time came, the parents arrived as eagerly as the children had. Through a translator, they worried that they weren't doing enough to help at home, were relieved to hear about the child's progress, proud of whatever work they were shown. These parents were the mythical "involved" parents that every teacher dreams of.

    Because I kept the same kids for two or three years, I was able to watch them develop in the ways that all children that age do, but also see them to learn to be "American" ---- whatever that is. It was the best part of my job.

  36. Minor edit:
    "What jobs, what degree of work, how much to you have to clear to be an American?"

    'to' should be 'do'

    Excellent piece as always. Please keep shouting into the wind, you're good at it.

  37. Boy, oh boy! I sure hope the coffers are filling up and you are getting your regular sleep hours to keep you in good shape and strong enough to continue to write and produce commentary as you have 'lo these past few weeks.

    Damn your voice is so welcomed and needed.

    Preaching to the choir, but November is fast approaching and I am urging all that I know to rise up and VOTE to show their displeasure with all of the bullshit and lack of governance going on in DC by making significant changes to the number of the craven idiots currently in power

  38. It should be pointed out that no one was born in the United States until (more or less) July 4, 1776. Before that we were a colony of Great Britain and, as such, subjects of The Crown. This would make Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) our eighth President, the first born in the United States.

    Incidentally, that would also make George Washington, our first President AND the ranking member of the United States military EVER, a candidate for a dishonorable discharge for service under false pretenses.

    1. Note also that the US Air Force is conspicuously absent from the Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1, where it summarizes "Presidential powers, Command of military".

  39. Whoever is born on US soil (here or abroad) born to US citizens or who has chosen to become an US citizen. Personally, I am all for anyone who wants to become a US citizen should have that opportunity. I could care less about unpaid past taxes as long as they pay taxes going forward.

  40. Enjoy your writing. Am the son of 1920's German immigrants.
    Listen to "The House I Live In" by Paul Robeson; also possibly
    "Ballad for Americans."

  41. I was born in Canada (my mom was visiting her parents, surprise) and my parents didn't bother to apply for US citizenship for me until I was 3. I guess I'd better turn myself in. Oh wait, I'm white and speak English so I guess it all OK. Seriously, my cousin in England (yep I've got foreign cousins too) once told me, "It's easy to spot you Yanks." I asked, "Our accents, loud voices, clothing?", "No", said she, "it's your teeth. You all have movie star teeth." What makes an American - dental care and craces.

    1. Jennifer, I think you found the way to tell naked, silent Americans from everyone else. Just check our teeth like we're horses. *snort* Seriously we do make a fetish of dental care.
      Chandra in MO

    2. When I was living in England, I went to the dentist. He had me open my mouth and then just stared at it for what seems the longest time. I started to get worried...wtf was something really bad in there? Finally he sighed and said "You Americans have such beautiful teeth. I wish we could convince the British to take as good care of their teeth as you guys do."


  42. Beautifully, brilliantly said. Again. As always.

    Jim, is it possible to transmit this essay to the two activists, Ms. Andiola and Mr. Vargas? I would hope that could be done, if you have any contact information. I think it's safe to skip sending it to the CongressCritters' offices, though. None so deaf as those who refuse to hear....

  43. Who is an American?

    Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL) can't tell. He showed up at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing and saw two people, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, about to testify and assumed they were representatives of the government of India. He was almost cloyingly condescending to them. When he finished there was a few seconds of silence, because if he had just read the information he had been given he would have known that they were senior officials with the State and Commerce departments.

    Watch the video here - http://www.upworthy.com/on-his-1st-day-a-congressman-assumes-his-brown-skinned-colleagues-are-foreigners-it-gets-awkward?c=ufb1 and be prepared to be stunned by the amount of condescension Clawson shows and the graciousnesss of Ms. Biswal for not calling him out on his idiocy.

  44. Thank you, Jim. Beautiful and eloquent, and thought-provoking, as always.

  45. Bigots, plain and simple. How sad the so-called "real Americans" that profess to be real Americans are, in fact, the antithesis of what this country has attempted to stand for all these many generations.

    1. Plain and simple, hmm? 'Scuse me while I whip this out;

      You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons.

      That them?

  46. Jim,

    All you need to know to understand the anti-immigration is that none of them are clamoring for fences and National Guardsmen along our northern border to keep out the lousy canucks...

    And may I please use this forum for an abject apology from a native Texan:

    Many, many, many of us have never, ever voted for Governor Goodhair, and we are hopeful that those in other states have the good sense to keep him out of national political office. Really.

    1. o.k. this is one of your "lousy Canucks" LOL. The reason you do not need a wall at the border between our two countries is: "We speak English". We have a great country and we are not trying to get away from anything. We have just about everything you have. Unemployment, multiculturalism, a province [Quebec] that wants to separate from the rest of the country [I was reading about Texas], a guy in Ottawa at the helm - who is most-likely a blood relative of your "Bush -The-Loser" type and a city [Vancouver, BC[ that looks like Hong Kong, since thousands came as Refugees, when that place went back to Mainland China. So, you see, nothing to fear from the North. We still have a bit of Socialism, but that is being taken care of - our :"Bush" is trying to privatize everything now. I think most peeps in the USA are a tad crazy, but not in a negative way, necessarily. I like those, who are on the same page as I am, the "live and let live" folks.

  47. KING: Oh and that makes you an authority. You keep your card. I don’t do individual policy. I do national policy for everyone.

    Representative Steve King needs to be reminded of his job title.

  48. We do seem to be yapping all the time about "what it means to be an American" but, as citizens, would do well to really give the subject some fact based, reasoned thought. Not the Sean Hannity "because God loves us best" jingoistic kind of fluff but real, honest reflection. Our nation has many fine qualities to be sure but how many of those qualities are exclusively ours? Except for our aboriginal population and those brought here in chains, we're a nation of people who wanted to find opportunity or physical safety or religious freedom. Did all immigrants leave their country of birth and head straight to the good old US of A? No - just ask anyone from Canada, Brazil, Sweden, England, France, Australia or a host of other nations that have taken in large numbers of people fleeing violence, poverty or persecution over the years. For the most part, this country is made up of people who chose to come here, yes HERE - they wanted to be American citizens for any one of a thousand different reasons, but one thing they had in common was determination - and, as stated earlier, any real American isn't going to let a damned wall keep them out. As for the Dreamers, in their hearts they're already Americans and if, as a nation, we all took an honest look at our own personal family history, we'd see our immigrant ancestors in them.


    1. As for the Dreamers, in their hearts they're already Americans. That is pretty much enough for me. With the given that are not convicted felons, and are living as good citizens, I think they are Americans, the USA citizen, Americans.

      Rick Morton

  49. An excellent post, Jim! Although you've mentioned many valid (and non-valid) things which might determine what makes an American, it occurred to me that the idea is very different from what it used to be. For instance, being American during WWII meant something very different from today b/c there was a collective national consciousness at work in support of the U.S.A.. What are the chances you could ask the populace today to make a significant sacrifice that would be a major inconvenience and have them gladly do it? (I don't include our military, of course, though I'd venture to say maybe not 100% of them would be on board-assholes are everywhere.) I'd say the idea is laughable b/c most people have their heads so far up their own asses they can't even spell sacrifice, much less make one. I know that's cynical but I believe it's true. As for all of the people who want to "take back" their country, are we supposed to go to Mayberry or Hooterville or where? Back to where people's civil rights were trampled and were killed for the color of their skin and were treated like second-class citizens? They scream for the return of the values of the past when it seems like a lot of those weren't values at all. I see those people picketing the immigrant kids at the border and I'm ashamed, ASHAMED that they are considered to be Americans the same as I am. These hypocritical politicians and so-called leaders are the worst examples America can offer. They will pull funding for school children and the hungry and homeless but then scream, red-faced and point and accuse someone who doesn't have a damned flag pin on his lapel. Since when isn't the former UN-American but the latter is? I think the elusive definition of what makes an American has gotten so obscured by bullshit and prejudices that it's become nearly meaningless. Everyone has their own idea of what being American is all about and they're always eager to hold forth on why someone else ISN'T an American. This country is so fractured I think it can't be defined or even agreed upon in a general way any more. "Our" country has become "my" country and certainly not "YOUR" country. A country founded by immigrants has become hateful and cruel toward anyone who has the nerve to want something better for their future, even if they're children! It's a sad commentary on what America stands for. As for me, I think being an American means you care about the country and what it stands for, both here and in the world community. You want the best for your fellow citizens-basic human needs and care plus opportunities to progress and better themselves. You care about your country progressing with the times and doing what is right and what is just. I think self-involvement, self-promotion, and self-preservation has ruined the whole concept of "being American" for me. Whoever wants to point, red-faced, at me and scream "Un-American" can go fuck themselves and think about what THEY'VE done to earn that title lately.

    1. This old hippie has had the same basic ideas along this line.
      Thank you.


  50. Jim, you just keep doing it! You keep hitting the nail on the head, hitting the ball out of the park, hitting the center of the target, hitting a nerve, hitting the old funny bone.. I could go on but that wouldn't be healthy for either of us. Just keep it up, man.... you're doing GREAT!

  51. The history of the United States is the history of misfits. People who didn't fit in somewhere else came here.

    I'd like to say we got along, but that really isn't the case. Or at least there are lots of counter examples. What we did do is "go west young man." That is the misfits spread out.

    Unfortunately we ran out of "west." Yes, there's still a lot of pretty empty "north" in Alaska, but for some reason it doesn't seem to have the draw that west had.

    So now we have to get along because we can't get away. And we don't seem to be doing a very good job of that.

    And because we (at least some of us) aren't comfortable with what is going on, we certainly don't want any more of "them" (however they are defined) in to make it worse.

    As Ben Franklin said, "we must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." I'm afraid we are on the path to all hang separately.

    1. Sadly many of us already have.


  52. John Paul Jones, Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Pulitzer, Albert Einstein, Knute Rockne, Irving Berlin, Frank Capra, Bob Hope, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Pamela Anderson, Patrick Ewing, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Jennings, Ted Cruz, John McCain, none of these famous Americans were actually born in the United States.

    What? You wanted to add something? Hello?"

    One more name to that list : Werner Von Braun.

    One of the men who helped the US of A beat the Russkis to Earth's natural satellite, the Moon, and win the Space Race in perhaps its finest moment.

    1. And Von Braun was guilty of Nazi War Crimes. Not that he wasn't brilliant and not that he didn't advance our technology but all those rockets fired at England were built by him and his work force was comprised of concentration camp prisoners who were worked to death. Expediency was the game at that point and besides he was white so that worked in his favor too.

  53. I think it's important to realize that there is enough wealth even among the poor of this country to spread around the world. Why not just invite the poor of other countries to take advantage of the wealth offered freely from our social services and cultivate those dreamers. They make up a majority of those wanting a better life. If a few rapists, gang bangers and criminal types slip in as well, no big deal. It is our obligation as a free country, to eliminate our borders and become what our destiny was from the very beginning: the world's caretaker and ultimate safety net. We can always borrow more, if we don't have enough for everyone.

    1. Riiiiight.

      So, just to be clear, it's America's poor you're worried about here, is it?

  54. While reading about the most deadly industrial accident in US history (the 1907 mine explosion in Monongah, West Virginia) I noted the list of victims provided by the mining company divided out by nationality as Italian (the largest group), Polish, Greek, Slavic, Latvian, American, and Negro. Yeah - "Americans" with names like Jones, Smith and Jackson. And "negros" with names like Jones, Smith and Jackson - who apparently weren't considered by the mine owners to be "Americans". It just makes me wonder why these particular people who were most certainly born here, whose ancestors likely arrived on our shores at least 100-150 years prior and who were freed from slavery for 40 years - weren't listed among the "American" victims of the Monangah mine disaster of 1907.

    Also, in a town near my home a Greek guy named "Tommy" owns a restaurant where, every Friday night at an appointed time they played the national anthem and you're expected to stop what you're doing, stand up and sing along. Tommy didn't care if your meal had just been served and was getting cold and you were starving - you stop, you stand up, you sing. And if you didn't choose to join in, he reserved the right to kick you out. And he did - many times. Once to a disabled Vietnam vet. So, does Tommy (likely a naturalized immigrant and definitely full of patriotic zeal) really "get" what it means to be American? I contend he does not. Real Americans, while slow to anger can be full of piss and vinegar when you try to force them to do just about anything without a a good reason. I was there once on a Friday night and the "real American" in me wanted to sit there with my arms folded during the anthem but I chickened out. Shame on me.

    Same goes for flag burning legislation. Want to see the biggest bonfire imaginable? Yep, if passed that bill will do it. I love my country but don't tell me that if I own an "item" and I choose to incinerate that "item" on my own private property, that there's no local ban on open fires, that burning my "item" doesn't cause an illegal degree of air pollution or some kind of safety hazard - that you are going to stop me. I'd burn a flag just because some smart-ass tried to tell me not to.

    JZin FL

    1. As a former assistant state AG said to me once, 1) the only legal and proper way to dispose of a battered flag is to burn it, B) it is my first amendment right to burn a flag in protest. And he is a Nam vet.


  55. As a discomfited East Iowan, I truly apologize for Steve King (and, wretchedly, most likely Joni Ernst before long...). We here on the liberal east side of the state do everything we can to stay on our side of I-35 and continually information bomb them using our growing fleet of 'commie intellectual-yet still artistically pleasing-fascist leaflet propaganda' drones created by our legions of brainwashed students at the University of Northern Iowa and University of Iowa.

    But regrettably the dark powers of King and Ernst are deep-seated on that side of the state, and it is a long way for the drones to fly from the U of I into the dark heart of Lithlad and Gorgoroth, err, Red Oak and Kiron. Scores are lost to the growing legions of Remington 800, Colt ACP, and Winchester 30-30 before they can deliver their much needed payload of sagacity.

    At the very least SteyerPAC ads against her are always a hoot to watch. Chiefly in public when fanatical Ernsters see them and surge into hysterics of rage, and without delay question why these outside PACs are allowed to run such untrue and virulently abhorrent smears on TV. Needless to say, as a vet I am also fundamentally disgusted by her.

    Mike in Cedar Rapids

  56. Anti-immigrant is nothing new. It is as American as apple pie. The children and grand children of immigrants pull up the ladder and scream "Not you too". First it was the Irish, then Italians, and eastern European immigrants. "They are different, they pray differently, they look not even a little like us".

    We shut the doors firmly just before WW2 to many fleeing for their lives. Kindertransports were going to England, but America demurred, because those darling little children would grow up to be not so darling adults. Britain showed moral fortitude at a time that they were looking at a dawning abyss. When they had little to share to start with, they made room. Not so here.

    Maybe being Anti-immigrant is the one enduring value in the land of Immigrants. It is a "value" we don't need.

  57. I am late to the party here, but am throwing in my 2$ (keyboard inflation - ipad has no cents sign) anyway.
    As to the What is an American? question posed above, the commenter who quoted material saying that Americans would stop at stop signs even if there were no cars coming had it right. What makes us different from most other societies around the world is our general willingness to respect the rules, even when we could probably get away with not doing so. We are what economists call a high-trust society, and it is that characteristic that makes the United States the immigrant magnet it is. To illustrate: My husband is Chinese (I'm a generic Ellis Island American) and his father, back in China, had a stroke and now needs care. My MIL is exhausted, so my husband suggested she hire a caretaker for him, so she could go out. No, she said, and the other relatives agreed. You can't go out and leave any kind of stranger in your house - they'd steal your stuff and leave! My husband told me then that he realized he was thinking like an American, because, within limits, we do live in a society where we can trust non-family not to screw us over every chance they get.

    We also have (or at least used to have) a culture that actively taught that cheating was morally wrong. Other Western nations did too, particularly those descended from the British tradition. That is not a universal value, though. A Chinese friend, a sweet thoughtful guy, told me how, when he sat down to take his first exam at the UofC, he was shocked because not only did the other students not cheat, they didn't even TRY to cheat.

    We still care about HOW you got your perfect score. Many other cultures think proudly only in terms of what they can get away with, hence their corruption problems. Few things damage a political entity faster than a culture of corruption. As a resident of Illinois, I should know. ;-)

    To quote a Pakistani engineer I know, regarding Pakistani donut shop owners he knows who (fraudulently) claim almost no personal income from their shops so their families will be eligible for food stamps, etc., "I tell them, you came to America because it was better than home and now you want to make it just like that. Why?" But, of course, they do it because that's how the people around them do things. Normal people do whatever their micro-society considers normal. If you have a small number of, for example, Pakistanis, then as their children grow up here and spread out, they will assimilate into the larger American culture and law abiding ways. If you have a huge influx, large enough to have its own language become effectively the second language of all official transactions, then you are agreeing to ADD their culture to yours.

    Culture consists of a lot more than food and holidays. Attitude toward laws and rules is a big one. Those swarming over the border have already demonstrated their individual attitudes toward at least some laws. Look at their home countries, at the culture they bring with them, and in enough mass to keep it alive.

    Summary: Respect for the rule of law is a MAJOR piece of what differentiates Americans from the countries most would-be immigrants come from. Normal people assimilate to the values and behavior of those they interact with daily. We want immigrants to develop American attitudes toward rule of law. That won't happen if there are so many that assimilation is unnecessary (and they were rewarded for breaking the law in the first place!)

    1. Yep - because, you know, in Canada and Japan and Sweden and Germany they don't stop for stop signs like they do here. And they abandon their friends and cheat their families and steal from the government too. Not like here in the good ole' US of A. Not like real 'Muricans. - JZinFL

    2. This is an excellent observation. Just note where the largest Medicare Fraud is in the United States, it is in South Florida. Most of those indicted have Hispanic names and many have escaped back to Cuba.

    3. JZ, I was not meaning to imply that America is the only country where the rule of law is generally respected, merely that it is one of a relatively small number. Few people from other well run countries want to emigrate to the United States; life is fine where they are now. Aside from Japan, all the countries you listed share a common cultural heritage - protestant, Northern European, with the offshoots of Great Britain holding down several places.

      Nor do I mean to say that no one in other countries ever behaves honorably. My point is that in many countries a great deal of behavior we call dishonest and corrupt is considered normal, natural, and appropriate.
      The Thoughtful Heretic

    4. Relevant to both comments here ...... the biggest single Medicare fraud fine in history was indeed levied on a Florida corporation under the leadership not of someone with a Hispanic or otherwise foreign sounding surname but rather our very own Rick Scott in his pre-governor gig as the CEO of Columbia-HCA hospitals. Fraud and corruption are prevalent in all societies and quid-pro-quo the rule of the day. Anyone familiar with the cases of ex-governors Bob MacDonald of Virginia and Rod Blagojavich of Illinois (who still doesn't know what he did wrong because, you know "everyone did business that way") might get the notion, simply by looking at their names that the problem of corruption could be the Scot's-Irish folks or those awful eastern Europeans. From what little I know of human behavior, a person from any particular ethnic background would more readily notice bad behavior in "those other people" sooner than they would in someone in their own circle. And no, the "corrupt" Cubans in south Florida who've been busted for Medicare fraud didn't escape back to Cuba. I grew up in South Florida and know first hand that the Cubans are for the most part industrious, hard working and honest. And like all other groups from any society or nation, a few of them are sociopathic assholes. I'm not saying corruption isn't common in many other cultures - just that we shouldn't be blind to the notion that it's apparently pretty damned common in our own American culture as well.

  58. Bravo... great essay.

    I was thinking just the other day, and probably rightly so, that the biggest problem we face right now is identity. The fact that a large portion of the population identifies itself primarily not as American (or US citizen) but as 'liberal' or 'conservative' or 'christian' or whatever, is a huge issue. It's a fine distinction, but the unity among citizens starts with the label "US Citizen", because 'American' has a lot of baggage associated with it now, along with too many alternate spellings (if you get my drift). And whatever the hell you are after that, that's your business.

    We're getting played here by a divide-and-conquer mindset. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but when the government stops running because tiny little politicians start name-calling and picking arguments, when somehow, stupid fights and disagreements are fomented among the population by sensationalism and button-pushing, they've already overthrown us, or at least, undermined what it means to be an American...er, US Citizen. We have to get our act together... when I look at the person next to me, I want to think, "fellow citizen", not open-carry enthusiast, or gay marriage rights liberal activist, or climate change denier or creationist. I want to think that we're all in this together, no matter our differences, and the prime mission is to be citizens of the United States of America and that we abide by all that our constitution affords us.

    Thanks for calling Shenanigans every time, Jim. I enjoy reading your stuff immensely. --April

  59. Fun factoid for patriots: Mexican-Americans have won the Medal of Honor at a higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group in America

  60. Wonderful essay Jim. Have you ever seen the movie "A Day without a Mexican" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377744/ ? I think it should be required viewing for all law makers. It shows how the economy (of California) is *completely* and totally dependent on "illegals". And it does it in a very funny, entertaining, dark comedy kinda of way.

    - Yellowgirl

  61. I do believe the comments section is completely censored of non-supportive comments. What a beautiful utopia.

    1. Given that it's a Utopia, you're welcome to believe whatever ignorant stupidity you like, Ryan. Carry on.


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