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What Does it Mean to Be “American?”

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann once accused Barack Obama of holding positions that are “anti-American” (and she was not the first).

What did she mean? In order to define what it means to be “anti-American” we should define what it means to be “American” and use examples from history to see if our judgment is fair or even accurate.

Was Patrick Henry “American?” Was he who emphatically and boldly challenged: “…but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” American?

Or did his adamant opposition to the Constitution as it was written in 1787-88 make him “anti-American?”

What does it mean to be “American?”

The fundamental philosophies and ideas that undergird the founding of the American Republic are the following:

  1. Equality before the law
  2. National and local sovereignty
  3. Powerful self-governance and self-determination
  4. Peace through strength
  5. Disdain for imperialism and privilege
  6. “Light on the hill” example of freedom
  7. A willingness to fight against tyranny and oppression in all its forms.

Which of these principles is Barack Obama opposed to? How many of these principles have been not only ignored, but trampled by the policies of the outgoing Republican administration? Which “America” is Rep. Bachmann talking about?

Was Henry David Thoreau being “anti-American” in his willingness to be jailed for his refusal to pay a poll tax used to finance the Mexican-American War, which he believed to be unjust?

Was Martin Luther King Jr. “anti-American” when he helped “freedom riders” show Americans the absolute “un-American-ness” of “separate, but equal” and segregation?

When will we stop questioning one another’s “American-ness,” or patriotism?

I am as grateful for those whose patriotism is demonstrated in fighting with truth and justice to protect my rights at home from an ever-increasingly invasive government as I am for those who fight with weapons with defend my life.

What gives Rep. Bachmann the right to question anyone’s “American-ness”, especially when America is made up of thinking individuals who see things distinctly from their neighbor?

I challenge you to find someone whose motives you have questioned, then make a conscious effort to trust their motives, their love for their country, and the hope they have for its people.

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Mike Wilson received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from Brigham Young University and pursued graduate work at the University of California, San Diego, where he earned a M.S. degree in Biomedical Sciences prior to obtaining his M.D. at the UCSD School of Medicine.

He lives in Cedar City, Utah with his wife Jenni and their six children and practices emergency medicine in St. George, Utah while working on a Ph.D. in Constitutional Law at George Wythe University. He is also an Associate Mentor at GWU.

Mike’s passion is promoting idea that the common man has power and capacity to affect grand change in the world through true principles of love, goodness, and virtue. Because of his Jeffersonian trust in the common man, he considers himself a “little d” democrat (an ideal, not a political party).

He believes that the cause of liberty is founded essentially in widespread powerful education, checks on power, and promotion of virtue and goodness. Force is never a real solution to problems for Mike and the statesman’s role is to understand the ideal, see where society is, and then put himself in a position to move society in the direction of the ideal.

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Comments

  1. “I challenge you to find someone whose motives you have questioned, then make a conscious effort to trust their motives, their love for their country, and the hope they have for its people.”

    Are you saying you trust President Obama’s motives?

    On your several points above we can clearly see the administration is not in favor of either point 1 or 2. They’ve dropped the case against the Black Panthers in Philadelphia because they’re not for equal justice, they’re for social justice. The administration is most certainly not for state sovereignty and is actively meddling in things that should be locally controlled.

    Yes at first, we should trust someone’s motives when we don’t know much about them, but do it in Reagan’s way…”trust but verify.” Obama fails the test. Too many actions show him fighting against America and the ideals our Founding Fathers had to preserve moral agency in this country. Statists like Obama are actively working against that ideal.

  2. Oak, motives are different than methods and objectives.

    I ardently disagree with Obama’s methods and objectives, but I don’t question that his motives are sincere; I believe that he believes he’s doing the right thing.

    No, being sincere does not make one right. But we can certainly aid dialogue if we stop questioning the sincerity of each others motives.

  3. So then at what point can we ever question someone’s motives? Are motives always sincere? Would you say Hitler’s motives were sincere because he did what he really believed in? What about a person like Bill Ayer’s who realized being a terrorist to effect wide-scale change wasn’t as popular or easy as getting into the education field and moving toward mass indoctrination efforts? At what point can we question people’s motives? Ever?

    If Mike is making the case above that fundamental American ideals include equality before the law, but we clearly see Obama fighting that ideal (methods and objectives), then can a person not say he is anti-American for this behavior? How about his new clampdown on the internet and free speech? I’m not saying others are perfect, but he is consistently showing socialist tendencies which are anathema to the American system. So at what point can we say someone is anti-American?

  4. Oak,

    The main difficulty is that if we question a socialists motives (which are generally equality and “social” justice”) then we’ve lost any capacity to dialog with them. As with Steve, I disagree with the means that the Democratic party and the Obama administration are using right now in their domestic agenda. Is it anti-American? Not in their view. Their view of America is one in which all men are created equal and it is the role of government to assure that that ideal is achieved. Their view of America is that the government exists “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”.

    They see their motives as justified in those ends. But those are their motives. Just as they are yours and mine. Modern-day liberals just see the government as the tool to accomplish those things. You or I may see government as a roadblock to achieving these things.

    But questioning their motives ends the conversation and will never allow any understanding. This is what conservatives almost always do with liberals and what liberals almost always do with conservatives and there is no real dialog because we are questioning the sincerity of the opposition.

    Does Obama want to create jobs? Absolutely. Does he believe that a Keynesian economic model of fiscal stimulus is the way to accomplish this? Yes. Is he wrong? I’m pretty sure he is, but it doesn’t mean he has ulterior motives that what he states. He’s just going about it the wrong way.

  5. Mike, you may be starting from a false premise. I’m not sure we can or should dialog with *every* socialist. I’m not sure I agree with the notion that Obama & Co. believe all men are created equal. I think they are statists who view themselves as *more equal* than most and gifted with the capacity to control a perfect society by removing choice from the public and just telling us what we need to do (a familiar plan). Having surrounded himself with Marxist revolutionaries in his cabinet and throughout his life, I’m not certain Obama wants domestic tranquility either. I know some of his cohorts don’t from statements they’ve made and actions they’ve taken such as AG Holder dropping charges against the Black Panthers who intimidated people at the polls and are on video stating they want to kill white babies. Totally racist and violating the law and they are let go without an explanation.

    Your statement that Obama wants to create jobs is also in serious doubt with me as well. After a single deep water oil rig accident, he’s tried to put a moratorium on all oil drilling in the ocean saying 1500 feet down is too deep to drill safely. This puts thousands of people out of work and will seriously jeopardize our economy. At the same exact time he’s taking this action, he’s loaning Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company, $2 billion to do deep water drilling and just a few days before committing to this action publicly, George Soros invested huge amounts of money into this conglomerate. Not only that, Petrobras is drilling much deeper than 1500 feet. I do not think he’s interested in creating jobs at all. I think his fundamental transformation of America into a socialist welfare state hinges on making people dependent and drastically increasing welfare and unemployment rolls.

    Unless you are going to just say that in your paradigm, motives can never be questioned because it’s just a personal governing fundamental that nobody else can comment on, I’d have to disagree with your premise. I think we have to look at the disconnect between what a person declares as their motives and their behavior and take note that actions speak louder than words in determining motives. If a person says they’re going to do A, but does B instead, we have to ask if B is an intentional lie or if they really believe B is the way to achieve A. In this case I think B is an intentional lie to publicly represent something to continue to pacify the public while doing opposing behaviors that match his true motives. In this specific case, I may have to agree that Obama is anti-American because his stated words of support for America do not match his actions taken against America.

  6. Oak,

    I definitely can see your perspective. The thing is that most of those who govern do so from the perspective that they are smarter than the rest of us and thus know better and want to protect us from ourselves. Their motives are seeking for peace and order and security. Obama (and Cheney and Clinton and Bush I and II and Reagan) buys into the world view of Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan”. They all believe that in order to have an order and peaceful society, you need a gigantic, all-powerful entity that can control all other players and make them so fearful that society (and the world in general) submits to their ideas for order and peace. It comes at a cost, but this is the world of modern politics. Coolidge was perhaps the last president that didn’t buy into this worldview.

    So I whole-heartedly disagree with the motives and the means, but that doesn’t mean they are being insincere about what they want to accomplish. As much as I don’t buy into Pres. Obama’s view of the world, I don’t buy into Michele Bachmann’s world view as being my definition of what it is to be “American”. But because I disagree with her about what it means to be an “American” (I”m sure I hold views that she would consider “un-American”) that doesn’t mean I don’t love this country, what it stands for (or should stand for) and what it can be any less that Rep. Bachmann. That was my point.

    Calling those who disagree with one’s ideology “un-American” destroys the ability to convince and turn the discussion in a productive and educational direction.

    Regarding dialoguing with socialists, I think we have to. A significant portion of the American populace buys into the ideas of modified socialism and unless we can have a discussion with them without calling them “un-American” we can’t bring them over to a more “natural law”- and freedom-based point of view.

  7. Sean Elcock says:

    I love your last comment, Mike. The first paragraph nicely summarizes modern politics in a realistic fashion. And the last part I think is spot on in terms of using ideas rather than labels to further the discussion.

    One challenge with that viewpoint (not using labels) is that so much of the public today is used to quick, easy, marketing messages that over-simplify arguments. Thus the emphasis on (and attention given to) labels like “un-American”. They are effective at drumming up support and attention for a viewpoint (such as Bachmann’s). I think a key challenge for freedom lovers is mixing the right combination of true principles/ideas with effective communications.

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What Does it Mean to Be “American?”