A draft proposal for an America First Caucus was leaked to the press last week. News of it appeared on Friday and advocates withdrew it on Sunday.
Nonetheless, it provided a window into what ails parts of American society.
Those who supported this new congressional group had a pretty good grip on the meaning of First. They were way off base about the meaning of America.
Race is complicated. So is culture. The America First Caucus would have tried to remove those complications by making the white race and Anglo-Saxon culture the default definition of American.
The great men of the Age of Enlightenment had blind spots about racial and gender equality when they wrote the U.S. Constitution. Some argued that property should bestow greater rights. They lost to those who defended equal rights for all. All of them ignored the ideological contradiction of slavery.
What has endured since the United States came into being, however, is the concept of a nation where citizens are identified by their belief in a set of ideas rather than by the blood and soil of their ancestors. That concept made America unique among nations.
The America First Caucus proposal contended, however, that American political traditions belong uniquely to Anglo-Saxons. Immigrants would pose a threat that could not be tolerated unless they can be controlled and molded into Anglo-Saxon clones.
The racism and xenophobia of the proposal are rarely so clear or stated with such conviction, though the basic assumption behind them is false.
White Englishmen were never the sole inventors of democratic political traditions. Indigenous communities had used democratic principles to govern themselves, create alliances and trade across North America long before English settlers arrived.
Nor did white people have a monopoly on civilization. Economic and cultural empires supporting art, architecture and science appeared in Africa centuries before the Anglo-Saxon period began in the British Isles. Under South American rainforests lie the remains of vast pre-Columbian civilizations.
As a nation, America has been enriched, not weakened, by the infusion of the social and cultural heritage of immigrants. All, not just those whose heritage is European or whose skin is white, become Americans. From the time of the founding of the United States, there have been Americans who are neither white nor European.
The two-day lifespan of the America First Caucus was as it should have been— short, contentious and quickly confined to history’s dust bin.
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