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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Guest Response To Patrick Buchanan Column "Are We Still A Nation?"

Were the original colonists a monolithic group?
The following is an excellent response written by local playwright and producer Jay Zehr:

Pat Buchanan's recent column described the United States as originally consisting of one people descended from the same white ancestors, practicing the same religion and all speaking the same language.

This is total fantasy.  Historian James Stuart Olson describes the colonies in 1776 as “a cultural kaleidoscope of three races and dozens of ethnic and religious groups." Multiple European languages were still spoken. In the 1790 census nearly one fifth of the population was of African descent. West of the Appalachians there were still significant numbers of indigenous people.  

Had the U.S. immediately implemented the principle of all men being created equal with inalienable rights (including the long established principles of property rights) the U.S. would now look entirely different.

Buchanan also disparages contemporary religious diversity. But that's hardly new. Among the faiths he cites, the LDS church was established in 1830. Jews are only 2.2 percent of the population, Muslims just one percent, Hindus and Buddhists even less. Does that really represent a national existential crisis? A large majority of Americans still identify as Christian. The percentage is even higher among Hispanic immigrants. 

And the conflicts between different branches of Christianity was much worse in the eighteenth century. It's amazing that Pat Buchanan, a Catholic, waxes nostalgic about John Jay describing early Americans as all "professing the same religion."  

John Jay was notoriously anti-Catholic and suggested the image of a "wall of brass around the country for the exclusion of Catholics." He opposed civil liberties for Catholics unless they renounced their "wicked...and damnable doctrine."  Catholics were discriminated against throughout the colonies. Priests could be arrested for entering Virginia. The pro-Catholic provision of the Quebec Act was a major factor leading to the American Revolution.  

Fortunately for Mr. Buchanan, the principle of liberty for minority faiths prevailed and he is free to practice Catholicism. Yet he now implies that the presence of a very small number of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists is contributing to a supposed collapse of the nation.

Of course, xenophobia is hardly new. Consider this quote: 

"Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious."  

That's Benjamin Franklin writing about German immigrants who he considered a different ethnicity.  Many of our ancestors that Buchanan suggests we venerate would have never made it to these shores had that sentiment prevailed.  

So yes, Mr. Buchanan. We have major conflicts in the U.S. But we still have a nation.  The United States of America  has survived much worse. With positive leadership instead of constant doomsaying we still can.
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