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Is America Still a Nation?

In the first line of the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson speaks of “one people.” The Constitution, agreed upon by the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia in 1789, begins, “We the people…”

And who were these “people”?

In Federalist No. 2, John Jay writes of them as “one united people … descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…”

If such are the elements of nationhood and peoplehood, can we still speak of Americans as one nation and one people?

We no longer have the same ancestors. They are of every color and from every country. We do not speak one language, but rather English, Spanish and a host of others. We long ago ceased to profess the same religion. We are Evangelical Christians, mainstream Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, agnostics and atheists.

Federalist No. 2 celebrated our unity. Today’s elites proclaim that our diversity is our strength. But is this true or a tenet of trendy ideology?

After the attempted massacre of Republican Congressmen at that ball field in Alexandria, Fareed Zakaria wrote: “The political polarization that is ripping this country apart” is about “identity … gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation (and) social class.” He might have added — religion, morality, culture and history.

Zakaria seems to be tracing the disintegration of our society to that very diversity that its elites proclaim to be its greatest attribute: “If the core issues are about identity, culture and religion … then compromise seems immoral. American politics is becoming more like Middle Eastern politics, where there is no middle ground between being Sunni or Shiite.”

Among the issues on which we Americans are at war with one another — abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, white cops, black crime, Confederate monuments, LGBT rights, affirmative action.

Was the discovery of America and conquest of this continent from 1492 to the 20th century among the most glorious chapters in the history of man? Or was it a half-millennium marked by mankind’s most scarlet of sins: the genocide of native peoples, the enslavement of Africans, the annihilation of indigenous cultures, the spoliation of a virgin land?

Is America really “God’s Country”? Or was Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, justified when, after 9/11, he denounced calls of “God Bless America!” with the curse “God Damn America!”?

With its silence, the congregation seemed to assent.

In 1954, the Pledge of Allegiance many of us recited daily at the end of noon recess in the schoolyard was amended to read, “one nation, under God, indivisible.”

Are we still one nation under God? At the Democratic Convention in Charlotte to renominate Barack Obama, a motion to put “God” back into the platform was hooted and booed by half the assembly.

With this July 4 long weekend, many writers have bewailed the animus Americans exhibit toward one another and urged new efforts to reunite us. Yet, recall again those first words of Jefferson in 1776:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them…”

Are we approaching such a point? Could the Constitution, as currently interpreted, win the approval of two-thirds of our citizens and three-fourth of our states, if it were not already the supreme law of the land? How would a national referendum on the Constitution turn out, when many Americans are already seeking a new constitutional convention?

All of which invites the question: Are we still a nation? And what is a nation? French writer Ernest Renan gave us the answer in the 19th century:

“A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things … constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is the past, the other is the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present consent, the desire to live together, the desire to continue to invest in the heritage that we have jointly received.

“Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate: our ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past with great men and glory … is the social capital upon which the national idea rests. These are the essential conditions of being a people: having common glories in the past and a will to continue them in the present; having made great things together and wishing to make them again.”

Does this sound at all like us today?

Watching our Lilliputians tearing down statues and monuments, renaming buildings and streets, rewriting history books to replace heroes and historical truths with the doings of ciphers, are we disassembling the nation we once were?

“One loves in proportion to the sacrifices that one has committed and the troubles that one has suffered,” writes Renan, “One loves the house that one has built and that one passes on.”

Are we passing on the house we inherited — or observing its demolition?

Happy Fourth. And God bless the USA.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.”

36 Comments (Open | Close)

36 Comments To "Is America Still a Nation?"

#1 Comment By Edward bishop On July 3, 2017 @ 11:11 pm

Thank you pat Buchanan for all you do. Please continue to point out the truth without ideology. A people naturally should govern themselves. How many peoples are here under these laws? How many complain the laws are written by another, different people from themselves? How many have this point of view?

#2 Comment By Lee On July 3, 2017 @ 11:34 pm

Humans are ultimately an expression of the DNA, they carry from generation to generation. The closest of friendships formed; the mates one chooses are also demonstrably rooted in the concept of genetic proximity.

“We the People,” “the pursuit of happiness” have been transformed into concepts that do not even remotely resemble the common bonds and comprehension of the individuals who conveyed those words.

America is no longer a Nation. The demolition began decades ago, but after September 11th the process accelerated. I would argue the love affair with cars, and the Interstate highway system, other technological innovations are the greatest catalyst of the death blows.

Thought being technical innovation, fueling the types of alienation that are directly undermining, the natural expression and bonding mechanisms that are inherent to the human condition.

#3 Comment By Gregory On July 3, 2017 @ 11:55 pm

In Federalist No. 2, John Jay writes of them as “one united people … descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…”

I think this is intended more as national mythology, not historical fact. (I mean “mythology” in the sense of “important story,” not in the sense of “lies.”)

Was the discovery of America and conquest of this continent from 1492 to the 20th century among the most glorious chapters in the history of man? Or was it a half-millennium marked by mankind’s most scarlet of sins: the genocide of native peoples, the enslavement of Africans, the annihilation of indigenous cultures, the spoliation of a virgin land?

Maybe it was a bit of both? We’re far from being the worst country in the world, but we’re not perfect. The speech that Frederick Douglass gave on July 5, 1852 offers that sort of complex evaluation of the United States.

Enjoy your Independence Day, Mr. Buchanan.

#4 Comment By Bob K. On July 4, 2017 @ 12:09 am

Think about this:

“I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment of a whole people.”

Edmund Burke; from his “Speech on Conciliation with America.”

#5 Comment By hooly On July 4, 2017 @ 12:28 am

I blame the Irish Catholics and their refusal to assimilate into a Protestant America. Before them America was a solidly WASP nation and people, but the stubbornness of Irish to maintain their ethnic integrity, their Roman religion and their ethnic ways is what opened the door to other groups to do the same. Hence Pat’s nightmare today.

Thanks to the Micks!

#6 Comment By John C On July 4, 2017 @ 1:56 am

So many questions!

Here are some answers.

America is built upon principles – supposedly.

The ideals of the Founders were genuinely radical and progressive for their day.

And those ideals were proven correct: for part of its history at least, America was genuinely a beacon of freedom and brotherhood. Not for all, but for some, and maybe for all, in time.

For a brand new country, that’s pretty good!

However those ideals feel very distant nowadays. The beacon has dimmed.

The answer to Buchanan’s sequence of questions about “what is America?” and “what is American-ness” is surprisingly simple. It’s not about your ancestry or voting choices. It’s about whether you truly believe in the ideals that founded this country.

Many Americans, some of influence, don’t believe that all are created equal; nor do they think that all citizens are entitled to life, liberty, and happiness.

But this is what American-ness is all about. Not just thinking that you should get life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as your birthright: but also thinking that everyone else should, as well.

Sometimes it’s good to revisit the source. Sometimes better progress is to return to basics. And sometimes the best plan is the original.

#7 Comment By BCZ On July 4, 2017 @ 6:05 am

I think you will find many on the left shatter your concern… and largely your view of the problem. You have essentially just articulated the core indictment of the left in Richard Rirty’s ‘Achieving our Country’. A great many moderates too.

This is a good piece. The best I’ve read from you, I say…

#8 Comment By MEOW On July 4, 2017 @ 7:19 am

A very different nation each decade. It evolves. The new revolution of the emerging internet is creating a push back to the politically correct who tried to curtail free speech and chased every possible war (not in the interest of the U.S.) they could find for others to fight. Thank God for the First Amendment. Without it we would have witch hunts galore.

#9 Comment By James from Durham On July 4, 2017 @ 7:21 am

It never was “One Nation” – that’s the flaw in this proposition. The blacks were slaves not even allowed to be people. The Indians had no property rights and were dispossessed. Right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? don’t make me laugh. The whole shebang is falling apart but it was flawed from the outset. It never was what it claimed to be.

#10 Comment By Fred Bowman On July 4, 2017 @ 7:38 am

Well Pat has well you know that once a nation has become an Empire one of the first casualty is the Republic from which it emerged. An this is exactly what’s happening today. I wonder how much longer it will take before individual states and regions start breaking away in secession? And in many ways this may be only way that the ideas that help formed the American Republic can survive. Happy 4th to you & yours.

#11 Comment By Laura On July 4, 2017 @ 8:51 am

I don’t care very much about these issues you list, “Among the issues on which we Americans are at war with one another — abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, white cops, black crime, Confederate monuments, LGBT rights, affirmative action.

I care that the people in congress and the president are out there for money, not service to the people. All the laws made benefit corporations; who suck money out of the system for no benefit.

I wish we had representatives who served the people and were “statesmen.”

I am an upper middle class engineer. I pay taxes. It doesn’t matter to me whether republican or democrat is in office. They all want me to pay for everything; and let themselves off the hook.

#12 Comment By skeptical On July 4, 2017 @ 9:38 am

What people of Mr. Buchanan’s generation think of as “America” is long gone, never to be seen again. The worship of “diversity” and identity politics has seen to that.

Being of Mr. Buchanan’s age, I remember the America of the 1950’s. Economically and militarily, it was the Golden Age, because the USA was then the dominant global player.
Socially, American society was repressive; either one accepted the prevailing social rules and expected behaviors or one was marginalized. Conformity was expected. Indeed, about the worst insult was to be called “maladjusted”, or “nonconformist”; a fellow called that might as well move to San Francisco and get a beret. “Freedom” was an exalted term that applied to few, except in contradistinction to communism.

I didn’t like all the social uproar of the 1960’s, or all the social chaos which has followed, but it does represent freedom, with all its nasty consequences.

#13 Comment By Dave skerry On July 4, 2017 @ 11:02 am

Ours is a Nation of immigrants with a common purpose of finding a better way to live in peace and raise our families.God help America to preserve those principals and to get along with one another,despite our diversity,in pursuit of our common goals.

#14 Comment By JonF On July 4, 2017 @ 11:10 am

Re: We no longer have the same ancestors.

We don’t? last I checked both evolutionary biology and Christian doctrine affirm that we all came from the same origins.

Re: Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate:

I would not expect Mr. Buchanan to affirm such rank paganism. For those of us who are Christians it is the worship of Christ and the veneration of his saints which is the only legitimate “cult”.

#15 Comment By JonF On July 4, 2017 @ 11:12 am

Re: I blame the Irish Catholics and their refusal to assimilate into a Protestant America. Before them America was a solidly WASP nation and people, but the stubbornness of Irish to maintain their ethnic integrity, their Roman religion and their ethnic ways is what opened the door to other groups to do the same.

You are forgetting an earlier group: the Louisiana Cajuns and Creoles. Who were incorporated into the nation well before the great influx of Irishmen.

#16 Comment By JLF On July 4, 2017 @ 11:35 am

“God cannot alter the past but historians can.”
— Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

And here lies the problem for Buchanan and the rest of us: which historians and whose history do we accept? The differences are significant, the past is indeed mutable, and the truth therefore depends upon the acceptance of society at large.

I agree with Buchanan and mourn the loss, but there is little he, or I, or we, or they can do. Like Canute, none of us can command the tides.

#17 Comment By Bob Krantz On July 4, 2017 @ 11:39 am

We have never been (and, I hope, never will be) “one people” if that means an essential uniformity of opinions and morals. See Woodard’s American Nations for a very readable discussion on the founding cultures and their legacies.

So setting up an idealized historical straw man to contrast our current social and political turmoil is a simplistic and misleading argument. Yes, we have disparate and disagreeable factions in 2017. But probably no more than other times in our 250 year history.

What matters is how we (or at least some of us at any given time) can put aside differences and find common ground. As long as that common ground includes the key founding principles our nation continues.

Happy Independence Day!

#18 Comment By Kris On July 4, 2017 @ 11:43 am

The nation has evolved, as has the world. What has been detrimental today is the power of corporations over our government. It is no longer government by the people, but by money and influence. That is what is breaking us apart.

#19 Comment By Dan Green On July 4, 2017 @ 11:51 am

One issue many of us have pondered for years is, would we have been better off trying to live with a homogenous population of Americans , or should the myth of immigration, like all those Europeans ancestors who came, and their off springs became Americans, should now continue, with immigrants from all over the world. Common sense tells one, soon we will just be, or already are a whole bunch of folks occupying a geography.

#20 Comment By Liam On July 4, 2017 @ 12:45 pm

That statement from John Jay in Federalist No. 2 was fundamentally incorrect when it was written. It was a rhetorical appeal to the members of the New York state ratifying convention (not even to the twelfth state legislature as such) not to the general public, who knew all too well how false the statement was. And that body divided very closely and strongly 30-27.

#21 Comment By Robert Levine On July 4, 2017 @ 1:22 pm

Watching our Lilliputians tearing down statues and monuments, renaming buildings and streets, rewriting history books to replace heroes and historical truths with the doings of ciphers, are we disassembling the nation we once were?

A very telling remark, if Buchanan means the current movement to de-Confederize American public spaces. Those “statues and monuments” were to people who themselves tried to “disassemble the nation we once were.” Not coincidentally, they were doing so in the service of one of the greatest evils ever perpetrated by one people upon another – southern chattel slavery.

Unfortunately, the Civil War never really ended, because the South was never really defeated in the same way as was Nazi Germany. The battles were lost but the ideology lived on. Those areas of the south where chattel slavery was most concentrated are still the foremost bastions of white supremacy and black misery.

If the United States was ever a nation in the sense of having “common glories in the past and a will to continue them in the present; having made great things together and wishing to make them again,” we ceased to be the nation we were in 1791 in 1861. But I think the existence of chattel slavery and the kidnapping and forced transport of millions of Africans during the colonial period meant that the US would never be a nation in the sense that France or England or Spain is.

#22 Comment By minimammal On July 4, 2017 @ 2:36 pm

“We no longer have the same ancestors. They are of every color and from every country. We do not speak one language, but rather English, Spanish and a host of others. We long ago ceased to profess the same religion. We are Evangelical Christians, mainstream Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, agnostics and atheists.”

I would argue that our current lack of national cohesion and steady approach towards Balkanization is not so much a result of immigration of non-European, non-Judeo-Christian peoples per se but a result of replacing the melting pot for the “fruit salad.”

Back in the late-19th and early-20th centuries when the US experienced a huge influx of non-English-speaking Eastern and Central European immigrants, these immigrants were integrated, or, at least, their children were, into American society and now their descendants are as indistinguishably American as any Mayflower Society member. The same goes for the descendants of Chinese and Japanese immigrants from around the same period.

However, nowadays, thanks to multiculturalism, it’s considered an affront to expect any immigrant to learn English and integrate into American society as every immigrant has in decades past. Given the cultural relativistic dogma of the cult of multiculti, we no longer believe that any culture is any better than any other, including and especially American culture, and we no longer believe in the goodness or admirability of our national project. Hence, to obligate non-European immigrants to adopt American customs and values is to in effect force “whiteness” upon them.

If we still had the expectations for immigration that earlier waves of newcomers were required to meet, then the current waves of immigrants would eventually integrate into our society and their stories would become inextricably interwoven into the fabric of our nation, which has always benefited from welcoming new people and new perspectives into our shared, singular national identity. Instead, we have a ghettoization approach in which each immigrant group is encouraged to stick to its respective enclave, at odds with other groups and with broader American society, never fully accepting the honor of American citizenship but having it modified for them to meet their own specific cultural tastes, and thus transforming our United States of America into something like the “Divided Tribes of America.”

It’s not that there can’t be differences or that we must all be exactly the same, but we must have (as we did, at one time) a coherent and cohesive national identity and a mutual consensus on what it means to be an American and for a shared sense of purpose. It definitely does appear that, in opting for the fruit salad over the melting pot, we have lost coherence, cohesiveness, and consensus. As a result, the fabric of the nation seems to be rapidly unraveling.

#23 Comment By Will Harrington On July 4, 2017 @ 8:01 pm

I can’t help but think that the idea that we are a nation is one that should not have been pursued and that the weakness of the Articles of Confederation caused an over reaction. Would we, on the whole, be better off if we understood ourselves as a federation of truly sovereign states rather than a nation? The evil of slavery would likely have ended under international pressure and advancing technology and production making slavery obsolete. Would this have been better than fighting a particularly bloody war?
Is it just me or has anyone else noticed an uptick in speculation about whether we are, or should remain, a nation?

#24 Comment By bacon On July 4, 2017 @ 9:36 pm

July 4th 1776, a new nation, conceived, as Lincoln said, in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. In contrast to John Jay’s statement, there was no common language outside of the narrow circle of the founding fathers. In what became California and other parts of the Southwest Spanish was already replacing the many Native American languages, with French in the Mississippi delta of Louisiana. Those Native American languages were also extant in the northeast and indeed throughout the continent. And just about nobody in the population that became dominant, white Americans, believed that all men are created equal. We don’t believe that today, as far as I can tell.

Thanks to Mr. Buchanan for admitting our sins as well as praising our accomplishments. I’m sorry to say that I don’t see a path to tolerance and acceptance of difference in our short term future.

#25 Comment By Adriana I Pena On July 4, 2017 @ 9:54 pm

@hooly

Well, played Sir.

It is the fault of the Irish, Buchanan’s ancestors.

Why do you think that Buchanan is so against the US getting into WWII? Because he STILL cannot forgive the British Empire.

#26 Comment By Harvey Taylor On July 4, 2017 @ 11:32 pm

A nation? Possible as long as our population was racially similar. The folks who ran the slave industry then moved to banking have never assimilated and never will.They have their own nation now and insist that everyone else support it.Others have arrived and demand “immigration reform”, meaning let all of “my” people in and subsidize them.The US ceased to be a nation long ago as we face ugly megatherions that emerged from the mire.Only then will we appreciate the second amendment.

#27 Comment By Gus On July 5, 2017 @ 11:15 am

Apologies if this comes through twice. “We do not speak one language, but rather English, Spanish and a host of others.” Revisionist history. My 87 year old mom can tell you girlhood stories of North Dakota farmers who never learned to speak English instead of their native Norwegian. If you didn’t speak German in New Ulm prior to WWI you would have been lost. America has long been a place where a host of languages are spoken.

#28 Comment By Stephen Gould On July 5, 2017 @ 12:54 pm

Mr Buchanan is quite consistent to oppose the removal of Confederate statues and the renaming of streets – because he distinguishes between country and people. The war to protect slavery was fought largely within a single people, between various version of “us”. If the Confederacy had won, there would have been two countries, but still – for many years to come – a single people, a single “us”.

Of course, the dangers of placing people ahead of country have been well-exposed by history, but Mr Buchanan’s tribal loyalties have been consistent – appalling, but consistent.

#29 Comment By Stephen Gould On July 5, 2017 @ 12:58 pm

To clarify, when I said “placing people ahead of country” I meant, “a people”.

#30 Comment By El Geherg On July 5, 2017 @ 1:04 pm

Pat, as usual, is on the right track. It is demonstrably false that we are a nation based on shared principles and ideals. How can we be when so few of us even know what those ideals were? No, Jay and the other founders were concerned with securing a land for their posterity and they understood that the United States of necessity was not merely a nation of propositions but of shared history, ethnicity and yes even race.

#31 Comment By Jeff Clothier On July 5, 2017 @ 3:29 pm

If only all of us would once again agree to be landholding Anglo-Saxon Protestant males and those who serve them – women, and everyone else.

#32 Comment By JonF On July 5, 2017 @ 7:08 pm

RE: However, nowadays, thanks to multiculturalism, it’s considered an affront to expect any immigrant to learn English

Nonsense! Nearly all immigrants learn English eventually– at least at a pidgin level– and considerable effort is made in schools etc. to ensure that they do (English As A Second Language– ESL– is a major school program in immigrant-heavy areas) . Their children are often bilingual, and from the third generation on they are usually monolingual in English. That pattern has held for generations.

#33 Comment By Adriana I Pena On July 5, 2017 @ 10:32 pm

I cannot help it

“Pero […] una nación no es una lengua, ni una raza, ni un territorio. Es una unidad de destino en lo universal.”

“But… a nation is not a language, it is not a race, it is not a territory. It is a unity of destiny in the Universal”

Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera.

#34 Comment By Rick On July 7, 2017 @ 2:44 am

It’s all of the above Pat. But I would suggest — as would Kevin Phillips — that the Republic was over post Reagan.

We live in a crony capitalist plutocracy that is highly intelligent and brilliantly cynical in approach. The acrimony of left vs. right is what they both instigate and rely on for more control.

While we debate social minutiae they create economic chaos for their own gains.

It’s over Pat. This is a failed experiment. In the next 20 years expect regions to secede from the union.

I’m in the Pacific Northwest. I have zero affiliation with war mongers in the South or Midwest.

We’re pretty libertarian out here. Assisted suicide was approved by both “liberals” and “conservatives.”

The last truly functioning government in the US was the Eisenhower administration and the early years of the LBJ presidency.

It’s been downhill ever since.

#35 Comment By Dr. Diprospan On July 7, 2017 @ 3:29 am

For a long time a man dreamed of becoming, independent of an old camp or dirty cave.
Resettlement is one of the most conservative desires of man. The man inhabited the vast expanses of Eurasia, Australia and America, moving from East Africa. This happened gradually, in waves. The first wave of migration occurred about 120 thousand years ago, when the first settlers appeared in the Middle East. A breakthrough in European science, great geographical discoveries have prompted many Europeans to settle the untouched lands of the New World untouched by the Mediterranean civilization. A flood of Dutch, French, Irish, English, Spanish, and later Russian colonists – immigrants poured into North America. A new wave of migrations weakened domestic social and economic tensions in Europe, providing a worthy occupation for millions of passionarians.
After half a millennium I see no reason for pessemism, even if we are at the bottom of the wave. By spring, when you check your cellar where vegetables and seeds are stored
(farmers will understand), you can see that in the compartment one potato has become rotten, the other wrinkled, but those on which sprouts appeared we take out of the box and plant in the field. So I imagine for myself conservatism and independence.

#36 Comment By Charlie On July 11, 2017 @ 6:09 am

The USA was foundered by protestants who believed that honest hard work would be rewarded in this life as opposed to Roman Catholics who believed the poor would be rewarded in Heaven. Weber, the German sociologist described the Protestant work ethic. The Huguenots who fled France for England were silk weavers and bankers and increased the City of London’s financial capabilities. The Dutch creation of limited liability companies greatly increased commercial activities. The British, Dutch ,German and Scandinavian Protestants introduced the Protestant work ethic.

The USA is a product of people taking responsibility for themselves, educating their families in the virtues of thrift, modesty, honest hard work, charity and practical education. The Protestant work ethic requires emotionally mature responsible honest hardworking thrifty charitable respectful of practical work energetic optimistic people who think beyond the family, town and state and beyond next year and beyond the decade.
If immigrants have characteristics which in opposition to those which made the USA great , then it will decline, if they have them, it will prosper.

Culture follows character and therefore it is a state of mind.