Does Citizenship Mean Much Anymore?


This Columbus Day, October 11, we should expect the now accustomed fury over any commemoration of the European “discovery” of America. Misinformation now seems always to accompany any celebration on this date—as if history must be puerile melodrama rather than tragedy—and as if in childish fashion we are to count up the importation a half-millennium ago of European pathologies—infectious diseases, zealous religious proselytizing, or African chattel slavery—versus New World payback like the gift of toxic tobacco, cocaine, and, more controversially, perhaps syphilis.

More seriously, October 11 always reminds also us of a number of contemporary disconnects. A castigated America’s much-caricatured government, and economic and social traditions, are the products of the political and philosophical heritage of the now reviled European Enlightenment. And yet, the United States still remains the premier destination of millions of would-be immigrants, many of them indigenous peoples. All risk their lives to enter a country entirely different from their own in Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

What draws them in is the unique idea of American citizenship and the freedom and empowerment of the individual. Yet, our republic and its unique brand of citizenship are not indestructible. Indeed, they seem recently more fragile than at almost any time in our history.

Over two-million foreign nationals are anticipated to cross the southern border illegally during the current fiscal year. The chaos of Mexican, Central American, and, more recently, Haitian immigrants crashing into the United States is now the new normal.

Unlike American citizens who work for the federal government, and will no doubt soon be attending to the social needs of illegal immigrants, the newly arrived are not required to be either vaccinated or tested for COVID-19.

When Americans reenter the U.S. from foreign countries by land, sea, or air, they almost always are detained if they lack a passport. Yet no such identification requirement is asked of non-Americans at the border.

Nor can Americans choose the individual statutes they find inconvenient and thus not worth obeying—in the fashion of those foreigners now crossing into Texas who assume the laws of their newfound hosts do not apply to themselves.

All U.S. soldiers must soon be vaccinated. Not so the more than 100,000 Afghan refugees who are being shepherded into America by our military personnel.

Equality under the laws is the cornerstone of our constitutional system. But recently ideology has warped how citizens are treated by the criminal justice system.

During the 2020 summer riots, violent protests led to the torching of a federal courthouse in Portland and a police precinct in Minneapolis.

The 120 days of continuous rioting, looting, and arson resulted in nearly $2 billion in property damage, 28 deaths, and 14,000 arrests—the vast majority of which were eventually dropped.

In contrast, many of the January 6, 2021, Capitol rioters still sit in jail, some in solitary confinement and a few without being formally charged. Both events were deplorable. But one set of those criminally charged face indefinite incarceration, tough prosecution, and likely stiff sentences, while the other expects exemptions despite being responsible for greater aggregate death and destruction.

The United States is run by elected officials who make our laws by the consent of us, the governed. Yet the federal bureaucracy has grown in such numbers, power, and influence that its permanent administrators are rarely audited or held accountable. Often, they wield the frightening combined powers of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches.

Take the recent cases of our most powerful, non-elected federal officials—Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the former directors of the FBI, James Comey; the CIA, John Brennan; National Intelligence, James Clapper; and Robert Mueller, a Department of Justice Special Counsel.

Recently, Milley likely violated the military chain of command as specified in a number of laws concerning the Joint Chiefs by usurping the sole prerogatives of the President, the Secretary of Defense, and military commanders in the field. Milley did this when without authorization he recalibrated long-standing procedures relevant to our nuclear deterrent.

Although his purview is to advise the president on national security, in further freelancing style, Milley warned his Chinese communist counterparts that if the U.S. were to initiate aggressive action against China, he would warn them in advance.

James Comey, under oath before Congress, on some 245 occasions claimed he could not remember or did not know when asked specific questions regarding his own FBI’s controversial and sometimes illegal role in the Russian collusion hoax.

John Brennan admittedly lied twice under oath to Congress, once denying CIA monitoring of the computers of Senate stuffers, and again falsely denying accusations of collateral civilian causalities incurred as a result of US drone strikes.

James Clapper claimed while under oath before the Congress that he had given “the least untruthful” answer when he lied that the National Security Agency had not surveilled American citizens.

The foundations for the entire Russian collusion hoax and the special counsel investigation were the spurious “Steele dossier” and the nefarious role of Fusion GPS in seeding that fake document among government agencies. Yet when asked about the role of both in his 22-month, $40 million investigation, Mueller preposterously claimed he knew nothing about either.

Note that none of these officials were ever charged, cited, or condemned for being elusive, uncooperative, or simply flat out lying while under oath—although citizens themselves face stiff penalties should they do the same.

Of all our current controversies during the turmoil of the last two years, the one common theme is that American citizens have lost the benefits of citizenship and too often ceded control of their own destinies to unelected others. But without autonomous and empowered citizens, America simply cannot remain America.

And so, this Columbus Day, we are left with the final irony. The Left successfully pushed for open borders. Millions of unaudited and often illegal immigrants were the result. Yet if progressives and socialists were to have their way in changing the 233-year traditions, customs, and laws of a unique America, then very soon the United States would become just another nation in the Americas—and thus immigrants would likely just stay home.

Victor Davis Hanson is the author of the just released The Dying Citizen: How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization Are Destroying the Idea of America (Basic Books) and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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