There is an important discussion in progress that promises to inform the debate and be a hinge pin in the midterm elections next year continuing to the presidential elections in 2016. Immigration reform has been a topic in the public sphere for several years now, decades, even, but no one has really driven the issue to the forefront until this administration. The left has been crying over what they perceive as a wrong that needs to be righted while the right decries the move as nothing more than an attempt to drum up more democrat-leaning voters. While there are salient arguments to be made both ways, the underlying issue has nothing really to do with immigration or reform. It has to do with something much more fundamental and much more important to the American way of life. It has to do with rights and responsibilities. It has to do with the foundational tenants of political affiliation. It has to do with what it means to be American. It boils down to one word: Citizen.
The Seattle Office of Civil Rights last week issued a policy letter to the city workers striking the word citizen from all official documents and replacing with the word with “resident.” They claimed that the word “citizen” was offensive to residents who were living there without citizenship. This is part of a larger language guidance that removes the words dinosaur and birthday among many others from official documents for the same “offensive” concern. This is the most egregious case of political correctness run amuck to date.
The Eugene, Oregon city council in 2011 voted down a measure that called for reciting the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of all council meetings. While many opponents claimed the words “Under God” violated their understanding of the separation of church and state, Councilman George Brown said that said that he did not feel any allegiance to the country, but rather to the world.
This begs the question: what does it mean to be a citizen? If you ask the average person on the street you might get answers like “to be born in the country” or “someone who pays taxes.” These seem like good answers on the surface, but that is the point. They are superficial. They are easy to spit out and don’t require any thought. But if you look deeper, there is a significant difference to how the word can be defined, and that difference, not surprisingly, can be drawn along the same ideological differences that separate liberals and conservatives. Liberals tend to think that the citizen gives the government a reason for being; the citizen is dependent on the government for guidance and support. Conservatives view citizenship as a duty to the greater good; that the citizen guides and supports the government.
This dichotomy is why compromise seems so hard to come by in politics. The force behind any change in legislation is fundamentally opposed by the opposite corner. When a politician from one side of the aisle reaches across to work with the other camp, they are accused of “selling out” and abandoning their principles. This idea, while often harshly stated, is not far from true, but that is the definition of compromise. No one wins the debate. And as is true in so many polemic debates, there can be no clear winner.
So who wins in the citizenship debate? Is a citizen an integral component of controlling government, or does government exist to control the citizen? That is the idea that really drives the political debate and will continue to do so for as long as we have participatory government. Once we lose the ability to debate, we have lost our government, our country and ourselves. We would be a country of nothing but residents and no citizens.
Some conspiracy theorists have postulated that the Seattle initiative is related to the immigration reform “amnesty” that is before congress. The thought is that if Americans come to believe that there is no such thing as citizenship, then “THEY” can come in and take over our country. The “THEY” being socialists, communists or any other nondescript non-American entity. While entertaining to consider, most people dismiss these allegations as extreme. But as entertaining as it is, these theories are borne out of observation of real events and they are not all so farfetched as to be ignored. The founding fathers warned that freedom requires diligence on the part of the citizen in watching the government, lest the freedoms so fiercely fought for would be willingly surrendered. It would be so much easier to take the freedoms from residents than from citizens.