On Monday, December 30, 2013 I renounced “all allegiance and fidelity” to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I (of Scotland) and took my oath to become a United States citizen. Having lived in America for the best part of a decade, immersed myself in her history, traveled extensively, and married a girl from the heartland, I have long felt adoration for this country akin to the patriotism professed by most citizens. The Certificate of Citizenship, although welcome, told me what I already knew.
But what does becoming an American mean? Nearly ten years ago when I first entered the United States, Samuel P. Huntington sought to answer the same question in his text, Who Are We? The book, which won plaudits as well as heavy criticism, focused on what the author deemed to be the origins and supposed ‘threats’ to the Protestant character he felt formed the core of the American Creed. It spurred a lively debate that really continues to this day.
Although Huntington placed a great deal of emphasis on cultural shifts and the crude national unity that seemingly emanated from the Cold War, few words were spent on the ever-increasing size and scope of government that directly seeks to compete with national identity, community association, and civil society in general. National identity need not be conflated with that of slavish devotion to the government, despite the best efforts of the latter.
For those who saw the infamous video at the Democratic National Convention this assertion should be fairly familiar. The video, dubbed by Republicans ‘Government is the only thing that we all belong to,’ may as well have been a product of the Department of Homeland Security at a citizenship ceremony. If our immigration system is, as many Republicans and Democrats claim, broken, the process in which we inaugurate new citizens is a national embarrassment.
As expected patriotic songs are interspersed with videos of flying eagles, grafting farmers, and national monuments. Even if one finds some of this a little tacky there is still plenty of room for pride even as a room fills with that Lee Greenwood song. However, I was deeply perplexed (and troubled) by the fact that in the room where the ceremony was taking place, DHS staff had endeavored to place their bureaucracy’s flag next to every Old Glory. They had pride of place and equal standing. These dark blue rags were as prominent as the flag we new citizens proudly pledged allegiance to. Why? This struck me as rather Orwellian.
And then came the photo opportunities. New citizens had the pleasure of having their picture taken with their new congressman, the local DHS mandarin, and the flag. Both of them. Had I possessed the security of my certificate I would have requested a picture substituting the DHS flag for that of my state, Virginia. Instead I opted not to bother at all. Despite being reminded by DHS staff about the importance of this day, I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated. The fact that DHS bullies were administrating the ceremony was unfortunate, but made sense. The need for them to insert themselves and their department seemed entirely unnecessary.