Hyphenated Americanism: The demise of our national identity

Chances are you don’t go through life questioning your self identity. Our culture, a melding of family and community values, religious convictions and where we grow up—determines who we are. Always has, always will.

Yet to some, this is simply not so. They divvy our identity into hyphens and asterisks; using gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity to carve a crevice into our essential character. Lizzie from Peoria is redefined as a hyphenated Indian-American, asterisked single parent. In one rhetorical stroke, Lizzie is fragmented into pieces detaching her from the greater population; a rank tactic long used by demagogues to foment suspicion and hatred.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, jingoists used the epithet “hyphenated American” to denigrate new immigrants, particularly those from Eastern and Southern Europe. President Teddy Roosevelt rejected the notion, and in a 1915 speech before a Catholic audience said “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad…The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

For generations, Roosevelt’s position was considered the model for national identity. No more. Hyphenated Americanism is back in full force and the folks running with it are not the bigots of old; it is the progressive left who are cravenly splitting Americans into to cultural subsets.

Using fear and division, today’s proponents pander to aggrieved groups by galvanizing an issue, enflaming passions and offering a quick fix: Gay marriage; free contraceptives and unrestricted abortion rights; softening immigration law enforcement. The left has become a dollar store of special interests at the expense of serving the greater good, as evidenced in President Obama’s reelection strategy.

“Obama’s campaign talks about ‘winning the future’ because that is what he is trying to do politically, said Baylor University Professor Curt Nichols in a RealClearPolitics interview. “Demonstrate for Democrats a new path to political power, one that disregards traditional Democrats in favor of a coalition focused on women, blacks, Hispanics and gays.”

In the same article, Tufts political scientist Eldon Eisenach concurred. “…Picture Obama’s strategy as creating a majority coalition of “hyphens” (African-American, Mexican-American, gay/lesbian-Americans, etc.)…Recalling Teddy Roosevelt’s rejection of ‘hyphenated Americans’ and his call for national citizenship, one might add that hyphens can’t govern in the national interest.”

Should you criticize the new status quo, however, the acolytes will come at you with an arsenal of insults, false accusations of racism and ridicule. Several weeks back, the “Democratic Undergound” forum posed the question, “Why do Republicans get their underwear in a bunch over so-called Hyphenated Americans?” The answers are no surprise: “Because they are asshole-Americans;” “Republicans have no trouble with European compound nationalities…They get particular with African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Caribbean-Americans by contrast.”

Of course, the remarks were inaccurate and petty and could be easily dismissed if they weren’t so fervently repeated. “Getting our underwear in a bunch” is the least of concerns. In his final speech to the League of Nations in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson, a progressive icon, cautioned about the danger of a fragmented nation: “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.”

Meanwhile the American left is casting aside national citizenship for a “tangle of squabbling nationalities” and interest groups our leaders forewarned us about a century ago. If Barack Obama wins reelection, his campaign of dividing individual Americans into hyphens and asterisks will be a rousing success. Our country will be the ultimate loser.

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