On Monday, when I published my review of Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity, I had no idea that I’d be talking about the idea of the American national identity or creed so soon. However, I then saw an article on the Wall Street Journal that was too fortuitously timed to not talk about it. In that article, author Jason Willick discusses the “do Americans have a common creed” question.
Here’s a hint: unlike the time of the time of the early American Republic, as described by Joseph Ellis in Founding Brothers, when there were political differences but still a common creed for Americans, there is no longer a common creed in America.
Summary of “Do Americans have a Common Creed?”
First, Willick quotes historian David Kennedy, who is worried that the answer to “do Americans have a common creed” is quickly becoming “no” because of the fractured nature of our politics and incompatible views many Americans have on immigration and American identity.
“Societies that have deep, chronic, intergenerational ethnic differences inside the same body politic don’t have particularly encouraging histories…The basic human instinct to prefer one’s own kind to another is impossible, I think, to eradicate entirely.” That means forging “a coherent society out of people who are different in their origins and aspirations is a project,” and a fragile one.”
Next, Willick echoes Huntington in his concern about mass immigration and lack of assimilation, especially when viewed in the context of past waves of immigrants to America. In the past, when all Americans loved America, immigrants were able to quickly assimilate and find common ground with their new countrymen. Now, everything is far too contentious in American politics for immigrants to immediately grasp the American identity, so it’s hard for them to assimilate:
“Imagine if we could compare the perception of Germans in 1785 to that of Poles in 1905 to that of Asian and Hispanic immigrants today. “My instinct is that the sense of difference is pretty comparable over time…”
Then why are the politics of immigration so fraught today… As American identity fractures deeply into red and blue versions, new arrivals are losing a common ideal of citizenship into which they can assimilate.”
Then, Willick goes a step farther and describes why, in his view, immigrants to America are no longer assimilating into our culture and are instead doing their best to retain and celebrate their differences with American citizens:
“Now, diversity itself has become the paramount value in parts of American culture. When celebrating difference replaces creedal values like liberty, fair play and respect for the Constitution, that undercuts “the project of assimilation”’
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Willick next discusses how, in the past at least, the American creed and out national identity helped the US resist socialism. Because, back then, the answer to “do Americans have a common creed?” was undoubtedly “yes,” we were able to resist foreign influence and the influence of foreign ideologies. Now, however, that might no longer be the case.:
“If the American creed is exceptional in its ability to fold immigrants into its fabric, so it also is in its resistance to socialism, Mr. Kennedy suggests… America’s early embrace of “more or less full political rights,” at least for white men, prevented European-style socialism from taking root.”
Finally, Willick notes how having enemies abroad has traditionally united Americans at home and led to the preservation of our common creed. Like the Romans, we were united by having barbarians at the gate. We, as Reagan stated, were the last stand of freedom during the Cold War and before then we faced possible foreign invasions. Now, however, there are no more existential threats that all Americans recognize as existential threats:
“Throughout U.S. history, the sense of what it means to be an American has been shaped by the country’s external enemies. Americans repudiated, or saw themselves as repudiating, monarchism in the revolution, imperialism in World War I, fascism in World War II and communism in the Cold War.”
My Take on “Do Americans have a Common Creed?”
After reading those excerpts, hopefully, you are able to see why I thought Willick’s article was so well-timed; it almost perfectly echoes the points that Huntington makes in Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity.
Namely, Willick makes the point that mass immigration, especially unskilled immigration, is destroying our national identity and ability to have a common creed. If nothing is done to rectify that problem (I would recommend implementing merit-based immigration reform), then soon our common creed might be lost forever.
That is problematic because our national identity and common creed have been what guided America to success, both economically and militarily, in the past. Those shared values won the American Revolution, landed us on the moon, and helped us become a world power during the Gilded Age and Industrial Revolution.
Now, however, we no longer have shared guiding principles and our nation is worse off because of that. Reading and forwarding along articles such as Willick’s or books such as Who Are We? Challenges to America’s National Identity is the only way to ensure that more Americans understand the danger of losing our common creed. If they don’t learn that, then we’re in serious trouble.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse this week while trying to answer the “do Americans have a common creed?” question. But, I think it’s an important question to analyze and think deeply about.
A united citizenry is required for America to remain successful, and based on Willick’s article, it looks like we no longer have one because we no longer have a common creed or common values. Hell, we can’t even agree on the greatness of George Washington anymore! That needs to be changed; hopefully, this generation of Gen Z conservatives will be able to do so!
By: Gen Z Conservative