Sorry for being so obvious. But I’ve read his latest ill-informed anti-immigrant screed and couldn’t stay quiet.
Buchanan’s thesis is that we were once a unified country but now since 1960, we’ve been in decline. First off, it’s a little suspicious that the magic time was exactly when Pat Buchanan (born in 1938) had just reached majority age. Nearly everyone looks back on their twenties as the halcyon days. It’s the moment you first achieve independence from your parents, when you come into your own agency, and when you (most likely) start paying attention to the world around you as if you were a part of you. That is, how the world is becomes your frame of reference for how the world should be. But really that’s just the drug of nostalgia, and it’s no different than Homer Simpson declaring that “rock attained perfection in 1974 — it’s a scientific fact”
Buchanan then pivots to alerting us to the existential threat to America poised by unaccompanied children fleeing violence. He of course invokes sainted Ronald Reagan of blessed memory: “For, as Ronald Reagan said, a nation that cannot control its borders isn’t really a nation anymore.” I’m not exactly sure how he squares that with the open borders of the Roman Empire, or the British one, or indeed, most of US history. But whatever.
Buchanan also invokes the Federalist papers and John Jay’s comment that “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs. … ” This might have made good propaganda, but I’m fairly sure that Jay’s words would have irked the already-numerous German, Scottish, Irish, Danish immigrants who had fought in the Revolutionary War to help establish this nation.
Buchanan asserts “We were not a nation of immigrants in 1789″, which is just laughable. Heck, Andrew Hamilton — another of the authors of the Federalist Papers — was an immigrant to these shores. While many of the colonists were born in America, many had travelled here. And above all of that, you might want to ask a Native American, who might remind you that all the White guys were immigrants or recent descendants of immigrants.
Buchanan also says “The republic of the founders for whom Jay spoke did not give a fig for diversity. They cherished our unity, commonality and sameness of ancestry, culture, faith and traditions.” This certainly makes one wonder about the long, drawn-out, sometimes-vicious fights in the Continental Congress between (usually) the New England and the Deep South contingents. Oh, also all that time and effort spent trying to square the circle on the South’s “peculiar institution”.
This brings up the largest hole in Buchanan’s argument. We used to be all one happy, unified, uniform family? What drugs is he on? Look at the treatment of any minority population in the US (and, hey, we do actually have some and always had): the Native Americans, the Blacks, the Chinese. Heck, look at how the Irish were treated. It’s a little hard to swallow that we were a unified culture. Instead, we had the in-power culture (more or less the WASPs), who then simply declared that other cultures were backward, uncivilized, and plain old irrelevant. Buchanan’s reasoning boils down to “There was only one culture — as long as you ignore all the other ones.”
It is nice that Buchanan admits, obliquely, that maybe not everything was rainbows and unicorns: “And though the civil rights movement had just begun, nowhere did black peoples enjoy the freedom and prosperity of African-Americans.” That’s right, in the magic year of 1960, White culture finally started to grudgingly offer some semblance of fairness to the Black population, a mere century after the bloodiest war in American history and the abolition of outright slavery.
Quibbling with Attorney General Eric Holder’s assertion that America is “a fundamentally better place than we were 50 years ago,” Buchanan laments that nonetheless “We are no longer one unique people ‘descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion’.” But the fact of the matter is, we never were. You can only pretend that we were by ignoring the reality, twisting the history, and unlearning the lessons. You can only pretend we were when you define “real America” as “exactly and only the small patch of ground I grew up on”.
As evidence of how far we’ve fallen, Buchanan lists a bunch of things:
We are from every continent and country. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans trace their ancestry to Asia, Africa and Latin America. We are a multiracial, multilingual, multicultural society in a world where countless countries are being torn apart over race, religion and roots.
We no longer speak the same language, worship the same God, honor the same heroes or share the same holidays.
But he says these like they’re bad things, whereas I think they speak to the enduring strength of this nation, to adapt, persevere, and improve itself — to strive always to become a “more perfect Union”. For someone who sings of “American exceptionalism”, Buchanan misses what makes us exceptional: Not the fortuitous vast natural resources, or the particular spot of earth on which we stand, or the world’s oldest free trade zone or the world’s oldest constitutional republic, not a fictitious single language or single culture. We are a nation of peoples, a weird and wonderful dream bringing together cultures, and languages, and experiences, and hopes and aspirations from all that humanity has to offer. America the nation is an idea, not a place or a people. And that is largely unprecedented and ambitious.
A final comment: One of the things that so disturbs Buchanan is that “Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are out of the pantheon”. And I say, Yea! to this, and good riddance. The triumph of the American spirit is that we can finally reject these traitorous and seditious, fundamentally dishonorable men who abandoned the United States and its Constitution, not to mention their own sworn oaths, in a parochial construction of duty to defend a heinous state founded on the noxious principle that some humans have, as a divine right, the right and even obligation to own other human beings. (If you’re one of the revisionists who want to argue that “the Civil War wasn’t about slavery”, I suggest you read the ordinances of secession, or indeed, the Constitution of the Confederate States. See also an analysis of slavery in the Confederate constitution, or a similar analysis.)