America, it’s been said, is a “patchwork quilt.” Irish hands helped build the Erie Canal, and Chinese immigrants went to work on the transcontinental railroad, making cross-country travel possible “from sea to shining sea.” America’s present-day economic might was paid for in flesh by millions of African slaves – whipped, beaten, and forced to toil in a foreign land. The 20th century saw more of the same. Jews, Italians, Blacks and Latinos have all relied on the strides made in small business, politics, entertainment and sports to pull their communities out of powerlessness and destitution.
Today, Blacks work the assembly line in Detroit while Latin American migrants work the fields in the heartland. Americans enjoy the day off on MLK Day, parade through the center of town on St. Patrick’s Day, reach for a Mexican beer on Cinco de Mayo, and enjoy the day off and parade again on Columbus Day; on the Fourth of July, everybody gets together to barbecue, gaze up at the fireworks and wave mini American flags.
America is, if anything, multicultural.
So I take umbrage to certain talk of America being weakened by its diversity. While GOP presidential frontrunner Rick Santorum tells his followers that secularism is dividing America, paleoconservative commentator Pat Buchanan publishes a book suggesting that multiculturalism may lead to the demise of Western civilization. Both men seem to subscribe to the fashionable yet spurious notion that America was founded as an immaculately white and Christian nation.
Addressing the fallacy that America was founded as a Christian nation, nowhere does the word “God” appear in the more than 4500 original words of the U.S. Constitution; in fact, a supreme being is not mentioned at all, and as a 1796 treaty signed by President Adams asserts unequivocally, “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.” The founders, in their infinite wisdom, saw fit to form a purely secular government, notwithstanding the country’s Puritanic beginnings.
As to America being a white nation, while all of the signers of the Constitution were indeed white, and the nation’s early laws designated power and privilege as the exclusive claim of white Americans, the United States has never been a mono-ethnic nation, because America has never been defined by its border or its people, but by a singular idea: liberty.
Liberty is not an ethnic or religious principle; it’s a universal one. The founders determined that human beings are naturally free, and that it’s the sole charge of a government composed by free people to ensure that individual freedoms are protected from threats “foreign and domestic.” Since 1787, our notion of freedom has expanded, from the addition of the Bill of Rights in 1789, to the “Second Bill of Rights” proposed by President Roosevelt in 1944, which included, among other things, the right to employment, housing and medical care.
Americans should not be judged by the color of their skin or their place of worship, but by how they devote themselves to freedom, justice and equality. These three virtues alone unite us as a people – the American people – more than race or dogma ever could.