I Became an American

From Charles C.W. Cooke:

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American.

I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a citizen. It feels odd finally to be at this point. I decided that I wanted to be an American on my first visit here at age three. Sure, at that point it wasn’t quite clear to me whether there was an America outside of Walt Disney World. But on subsequent visits, of which there were many, I discovered that there really was, and that it was a giant, rambunctious, beautiful place. Since then, I’ve never wavered in my ambition to be of it.

Why? Well, how long have you got? I’ve been sharing my view that this is the last great hope for mankind for almost seven years now. It ebbs and flows as all experiments do, but America continues to serve as the last surviving incubator of the great classically liberal values. If you believe in human freedom, this is your huckleberry. But there’s something more than that to this — something ineffable. I tried to capture this in a cover story back in 2014:

Being asked to explain why I love America is sometimes like being asked to explain why I love my fiancée. There are all the tangible things that you can rattle off so as not to look clueless and sentimental and irrational. But then there is the fact that you just do, and you ultimately can say little more than that.

I don’t know why I love the open spaces in the Southwest or Grand Central Terminal or the fading Atomic Age Googie architecture you see sometimes when driving. I don’t know why merely glimpsing the Statue of Liberty brings tears to my eyes, or why a single phrase on an Etta James or Patsy Cline record does what it does to me. It just does. I have spoken to other immigrants about this, and I have noticed that there is generally a satisfactory explanation — religious freedom, the chance at self-expression, the country’s size — and then there is the wistful stuff that moistens the eyes. Show me a picture of two canyons, and the fact that one of them is American will make all the difference. Just because it is American. Is this so peculiar? Perhaps.

“My fellow Americans.” How sweet that sounds.

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Gleeful Indignation

From Roger Kimball:

It is curious how close certain seemingly contrary emotions can be. Consider, to take just one example, the feelings of glee and outrage. At first blush, they seem very different. Glee occupies a positive register in the metabolism of human emotions. There is such thing as malicious glee, of course—the German word schadenfreude captures that perfectly. But by and large, I believe, glee is a sunny, allegro emotion.

Outrage, on the contrary, is a dour beast. It glowers. It fulminates. It glories in moral indignation, which it eagerly manufactures whenever it is in short supply.

And it is there, in the manufacture, affectation, the pretense, of moral indignation that that outrage shades in smarmy gleefulness. You can see this in operation right now, today, by the simple expedient of turning to CNN and watching commentator after commentator explode in gleeful outrage over Donald Trump’s alleged comments about the relative desirability of immigrants from countries like Norway, on the one hand, and countries like Haiti, El Salvador, and various apparently unnamed African countries on the other. (I say “alleged” not because I doubt the substance of the report, but simply because the president has disputed some details of the reporting.)

Two questions: Were all those commentators at CNN (and the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other purveyors of sanctimony)—were they more delighted or unhappy about the president’s comment? Think carefully before answering.

Sometimes, the experience of outrage, and its accompanying moral indignation, is essentially a feeling of displeasure—at a wrong done or suffered, an injustice or cruelty observed, etc.

But sometimes, outrage is but a patina of indignation whose chief motive is incontinent delight. Which is it for the talking heads at CNN? Are they genuinely morally offended by the president’s comments? Or are they really absolutely delighted by the opportunity he has given them to say “shithole” over and over again while also running endless chyrons reminding viewers that the president referred to (if he did refer to) Haiti, El Salvador, etc., as “shithole countries” from which we should not seek immigrants?

I think it is the latter, and I believe there are two parts to the delight. One is the natural expectation of a ratings boost in the wake of all that potty-mouthed commentary. The other is the prospect, once again, of being given free rein to lay into Donald Trump and deplore how horrible, uncaring, racist, and vulgar he is. Maybe, just maybe, this exhibition of political incorrectness will turn the tide of public opinion against this most improbable president. Maybe, just maybe, it will administer the coup de grace against a man who is the walking embodiment of everything enlightened progressive opinion loathes.

Maybe. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Which brings me to my second question: Was the president right to question the desirability of accepting immigrants from places like Haiti? Let’s leave his colorful language to one side. That was just a bit of rhetorical salsa on the burrito. The coarsening of language in the public square (and the private hearth) means that virtually anyone not cloistered hears and/or utters much ruder language almost daily.

The real issue is whether we justly prefer immigrants from some places over others.

I would say that the answer is an unequivocal Yes. Of course we do. Not only was the president correct when, some time ago, he said that we should favor immigrants who knew English and brought with them marketable skills, he is also correct now when he suggests that someone from Norway, say, is more likely to bring those desirable qualities than someone from Haiti, El Salvador, etc.

He is further correct that the Haitis of the world are conspicuously undesirable places: crime- and disease-ridden trous de merde that we may pity and may endeavor to help but that are not necessarily good sources of helpful immigrants.

And here we come to a second curiosity in the preening and ecstatic outrage over the president’s comment. Everyone, near enough, knows that he was telling a home truth. It was outrageous not because he said something crude that was untrue. Quite the contrary: it was outrageous precisely because it was true but intolerable to progressive sensitivities.

In other words, the potency of taboo is still strong in our superficially rational culture. There are some things—quite a few, actually, and the list keeps growing—about which one cannot speak the truth or, in many cases, even raise as a subject for discussion without violating the unspoken pact of liberal sanctimoniousness.

Donald Trump, of course, does this regularly, delightedly. Hitherto, his brazenness has only endeared him to his base and driven his critics mad. Perhaps it will be different this time. Maybe the angry censors will descend en masse in effective indignation and drag him from the stage. Again, though, I wouldn’t count on it. Trump’s Haiti moment is cut from the same script as Trump’s “Rosie O’Donnell is a fat pig” mot. Uncouth. Crude. But was it untrue?

We live in a surreal moment when it becomes ever harder to tell the truth about sensitive subjects. Donald Trump has strutted across our timid landscape like a wrecking ball, telling truths, putting noses out of joint. The toffs will never forgive him, but I suspect the American people have stronger stomachs and are up to the task.

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