The word “American” evokes certain emotions.
For some individuals, groups, and countries, it provokes a fiercely negative reaction, based on a perceived role of the United States in world affairs. Others will react more positively because of the country’s legacy of liberty and freedom.
What about Americans themselves in the 21st century? Like many non-Americans, their feelings of pride and admiration obviously range across a spectrum. But as the calendar inches closer to Independence Day, the desire to measure American values, beliefs, and patriotism takes on even greater importance.
James S. Robbins offers a passionate response to this critical call. Robbins is an author, deputy editor of Rare, member of USA Today’s board of contributors, and former senior editorial writer for foreign affairs at The Washington Times. In his powerful new book, Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity, he breaks down the American experience into various categories: citizen, identity, spirit, ideal, dream, values, and so on.
In clear, crisp language, using sharp analytical skills, Robbins treats readers to a scintillating history of American exceptionalism – and what he sees as a desirable path for America’s future.
Robbins’s term “native American” shouldn’t be confused with the more commonly used “Native American.” What Robbins is referring to is the fact that he is “indigenous to the North American continent,” doesn’t consider “himself a hyphenated American ... except maybe suburban-American,” and believes his “Americanism needs no prefix or suffix.”
While he recognizes that many of his fellow Americans have pride in the nation, he laments that there are some Americans today who are “embarrassed for and ashamed of their fellow citizens.”
Why so? Robbins sees American identity as coming under siege from two directions: “globalists seeking to dilute it, and multiculturalists trying to carve it up.” While Robbins accepts and appreciates the free-market perspective that globalization “is the Americanizing of the world,” he objects to the globalist notion that “the American nation is fading and becoming increasingly irrelevant.”
At the same time, Robbins says, multiculturalists see the term “American” being “defined by otherness, by being part of something apart from the whole, ex uno plures.”
To counter both perspectives, Robbins sets out to describe the beauty and boldness of American history, ideals, and values. For instance, the American frontier is depicted as “a practical source of liberty.” Many of the early settlers perceived that “America had a higher purpose” as a “Zionist experiment.” The American Century “was driven by both realist and idealist forces,” as the US “was committed to defending the free world against the menace of international communism.”
For Robbins: “Freedom is a defining aspect of the American character.” The origins of American-style freedom follow various trains of thought, including ancient Greek philosophers, John Calvin, and Magna Carta. America’s Founding Fathers, including George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, cherished freedom as much as they did justice and democracy.
Long story short, the American Revolution “was not the birth of freedom in this country, but the defense of freedoms that had already been established.”
Another vital component of the American experience is patriotism. Conservatives use the word as a defense of the country’s founding principles, while liberals prefer to use it as a source of radical change and to “promote social justice.”
A 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll revealed a significant left-right patriotism gap in American society. In Robbins’s view, conservatives “did not appropriate the ideal of American patriotism,” whereas the political left “abandoned patriotism sometime in the 1960s and never came back.”
Alas, there is much work still to be done. Robbins believes the “stewardship of the country and, more importantly, of the ideal” requires future generations “to recognize, honor, and carry forward the grand experiment of the first new nation.”
This will keep the spirit alive and well in the hearts and minds of all “native Americans.” In turn, it will help ensure that America always remains the Beautiful.
Michael Taube is a columnist for The Washington Times, and a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.