America is changing

Posted: Mar 14, 2001 12:00 AM
Americans, if they like, can spend the next decade sorting out the implications of the 2000 census. But which time, with the 2010 figures, they'll have entirely new, and sort-worthy, implications to confront; the country keeps changing in startling ways as we become the international nation. I am not sure what this means. I am not sure anyone else is sure. I am sure only that -- census figures confirm as much -- the United States is becoming a convergence point for the people of the whole world, not just the European portions thereof. But wait. What kind of people? Maybe not such various types as might be supposed. History tells us that a certain type has always aspired to American residence -- energetic, adventurous, ambitious. Such are the traits that pull certain individuals out of settled patterns and send them off in quest of -- whatever. Welfare reforms of the past half decade reduce the likelihood that America will become, generally speaking, a destination for the sluggish and slothful. What looks, all over the world, like the greatest movement of peoples since the fall of the Roman Empire may change the way we look but -- maybe -- not the way we function. All one can say is there doesn't seem much anyone can do about it. This thing is bigger than all of us. Amid the whirl and uproar, I put on the table a few considerations: 1) Whites -- still the majority of us -- have contributed significantly to the present trend, through abortion, birth control, deferred childbearing and late marriage. No wonder we shrink as a proportion of world population. We have built, in the people's words, a culture of death. This need not remain so, but it is so for now. 2) 1960s-style "white guilt" nevertheless gives off a bad smell. The culture that produced the Constitution and the vodka martini has no call to beat its collective breast over occasional lapses of behavior. Do -- for instance -- those demanding reparations for slavery think they could demand as pugnaciously in the Sudan, as in Chicago? Do the breast-beaters know a freer country than this one? If so, could they -- please -- go there promptly? 3) We have to work harder and more determinedly at inculcating citizenship principles and the English language. Nobody should become an American citizen without ample command both. Maintaining here too many "colonies" of other countries will eventually destroy civic unity. A thorough bath in U.S. history and English should be the norm for newcomers. Call me, I suppose, a "centrist" on U.S. immigration -- neither an enthusiast for open borders nor a foe of the able and industrious, hopeful of living here. One more consideration. The internationalization of American may suit some larger purpose that -- shhh -- the U.S. Supreme Court won't let you or me talk about on public property. Humans who think they control everything in the world don't know much about the God reputed to have made the world, and all its peoples, in the first place: whose capacity to surprise we should never doubt. And who, by the way, is supposed to have led our forbears here for some purpose only partly revealed to us. "A city on the hill." What could that mean? Anything? Everything? Our eyes -- even now -- may not have sprung fully open. But they will, I bet.