Americans are constantly being lectured—correctly, I believe—that good citizenship isn’t contingent on skin color, faith, or ethnicity, but a set of beliefs. Yet whenever anyone is critical of the ugly things someone like Ilhan Omar says, they are immediately battered for being xenophobes and racists. You can’t have it both ways.
I mean, you can try. Nearly the entire contemporary progressive argument is girded by identity grievances. So when Fox News’s Tucker Carlson gives a monologue, in which he concludes that Omar was “living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country,” the reaction is predictable.
As philosophical matter, though, Omar isn’t the kind of immigrant we should want. That’s not because she is Muslim or black, but because she doesn’t believe in the traditional ideas that define American life. And she shouldn’t be immune from criticism merely because of her background.
When my parents came to the United States as refugees in 1968, for instance, they were asked to renounce communism—because collectivism, like Islamism or fascism or any authoritarianism, is antithetical to American principles. Any newcomers in 1968 who believed the United States was guilty of crimes against the proletariat, and praised Pol Pot or Castro, would not have been a quality immigrant.
This is one reason we still give newcomers citizenship tests. We want them not only to comprehend our foundational ideas, but to adopt them. Whether or not this nation consistently lives up to those values (far from it) is irrelevant. There’s no country in human history born without sin. Yet only Americans are asked to engage in daily acts of contrition for their past.
Notwithstanding the pathetic self-flagellation we see from historical revisionists like Beto O’Rourke and Omar, most immigrants surely understand that our mitzvahs outweigh our sins, and then some. Most wouldn’t be here otherwise.
The concepts that allowed all of that to happen were codified by the American Founders, not by the 1900s progressives or the Obama administration or Megan Rapinoe. Diversity is nice, but it’s not our “strength.” Activism itself is no act of patriotism. Being an immigrant or gay isn’t a manifestation of American idealism. Prospering under a system that values the individual liberty of all citizens is.
Some people might have you believe their partisan hobbyhorses—like “economic patriotism,” for example—are American ideals. They aren’t. Having the right to protect yourself, your family, and your property without asking permission from the state is an American ideal. Religious freedom is an America ideal. Being able to live life without being coerced to participate in groupthink is an American ideal. Uninhibited free expression is an American ideal. The right of communities to live without being impelled by a majoritarian democracy to adopt centralized policies is central tenet of American governance.
Social mores change. Not our core governing principles. Now, you may find all this eye-rolling earnestness both antiquated and puerile, which seems to be the case with Omar and most of her progressive allies. But then you have a new set of principles you want to enact, not the traditional ones some of us want to preserve.
When Carlson argues that the very fact Omar — a refugee from one of the most violent places on Earth, Somalia — can rise to become, at only 36, one of the most famous members of Congress is the best argument against her critique of America, he has good point. Omar has more influence than 99 percent of her co-citizens. She is a testament to an open and free society. Her words are not.
Believing that the United States is defined by racism and economic injustice doesn’t make Omar a bad immigrant, only a silly human being. Importing anti-Semitic beliefs from the broader Islamic world, on the other hand, makes her an unassimilated American.
Being critical of foreign intervention doesn’t make Omar un-American, but talking about servicemen who sacrificed their lives fighting Somalian warlords at Battle of Mogadishu as if they were terrorists does. In the same way, dismissing the Islamic extremists who murdered 3,000 Americans on 9/11 as “some people who did something”—because it’s “Islamophobic” to point out facts—makes her ungrateful.
Now, I disagree with Carlson’s broad contention about the value of immigration. My empirical view—one which I gained partly from being the child of immigrants and partly living in a neighborhood filled with newcomers who, although they possess a range of political opinions, are both grateful and decent—is that, on the whole, liberal immigration adds much to American life. There is plenty of data that backs this view. That doesn’t mean all immigrants are exemplars of patriotism.
Nowhere in the Constitution are we asked to let everyone in world enter this country. Yet we have the largest percentage of immigrants in the world, with more than 40 million people living here right now who were born elsewhere. The United States, allegedly steeped in the white supremacist ideology of the nefarious founding, has been more welcoming to strangers than any nation in the world, and it’s not even close.
With so many people coming here, it is within the purview of the citizenry to make decisions about who enters and who doesn’t. And it is perfectly legitimate—although probably not very practical—for us to try and discern what ideological baggage is brought with them.
Certainly there is nothing “nauseatingly racist” about bring critical of Omar, or pondering the potential downsides of mass immigration. This lazy smear so overused it’s become virtually meaningless. (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez recently insinuated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a racist for criticizing her.) And not just by politicians, but pundits, as well.
At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf claims that Carlson suggested “that because Omar came here as a child, she doesn’t have the right to voice critical opinions about America.” You can read the Fox News host’s comments yourself, but nowhere does he propose anything of the sort. What does seem to be happening, though, is that some people are given special dispensation from criticism and debate. And that is a genuinely un-American idea.