On July 4, I plan to celebrate this nation's birth with something approaching devotion. I will so despite the fact that each day's news brings fresh reasons to worry about the future.
I could list the things that worry me, but you know what they are. They probably worry you, too, but the Fourth of July is a time to elevate and celebrate rather than fret. So here's a story:
Last week, I was in Europe and had dinner with a European gentleman. He is very successful and pretty happy with his lot. As sometimes happens when people of different cultures speak, I didn't understand something he was telling me. He kept emphasizing how important it was, when he was young, that he be good at sports, because he was an immigrant to the country he grew up in. I was a little slow to see the relevance of this, until at length, I got the picture. As the son of immigrants to Germany, he wasn't accepted by his peers. He felt his outsider status acutely. Excelling at soccer gave him some measure of acceptance.
We are again embroiled in a domestic fight over immigration policy. The Obama administration is confronting the consequences of its unilateral decision to grant permanent residency to the children of illegal immigrants as a wave of unaccompanied minors is dropped at our borders. Characteristically, President Barack Obama sees the problem not as a) something his own policies created or b) something he must grapple with as leader of the nation in a conscientious fashion. No, he sees it just as an opportunity to score political points against Republicans.
But putting all of that aside for the moment and thinking back to my "German" dinner companion, our American capacity to adopt immigrants and accept them as fully American remains remarkable and probably unequalled anywhere in the world. It's a confirmation of the cliche that you cannot become French, Irish or Italian by immigration. You'll always be viewed as a transplant. But anyone from anywhere can become an American. What defines us is not language or ethnicity or religion but a shared dedication to certain propositions. I can't prove this, but I suspect that even the most die-hard opponent of illegal immigration would be generous and open to any legal immigrant who happened to cross his path. He'd make an effort to pronounce his name correctly and would ask about his family. In fact, that die-hard would probably be kind even to a known illegal, because most Americans are generous. Welcoming newcomers is written into our DNA.