What Is an American?

It was a Christian socialist, Baptist minister Ralph Bellamy, who wrote our country’s “Pledge of Allegiance.”

It was written in 1892:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and (to) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

That was it.

He wanted to add the word “equality” but did not because “he knew that the state superintendents of education on his committee were against equality for women and African Americans. (http:www.oldtimeislands.org/pledge.htm)

The words “of the United States of America” were added in 1923,even as the word “my”was taken out,  and President Dwight Eisenhower added the words “under God” in 1954.

Richard Ellis, the author of To the Flag: The Unlikely  History of the Pledge of Allegiance,  writes that the pledge was written to address fears of the native (white) American populace at the time; he said it reflects xenophobia that was running through the country at the time. Writes Ellis: … the creation of the Pledge actually reflected “two widespread anxieties among native-born Americans” at the time: the fear of new immigrants (especially in the Northeast), and the complacency of post-Civil War Americans oblivious to the dangers facing the country. (http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/strange-history-pledge-of-allegiance)

There apparently was a patriotic educational program being introduced in Chicago. The original salute, says Ellis and allegiance historians, resembled the salute Nazis used years later and a revision of the salute, changing our gesture of respect from a salute to the hand over the heart, was introduced into the Flag Code. Ellis argues that the Allegiance was written to “rekindle the patriotism and heroic duty of the Civil War years, and to Americanize the foreigner.”

With that history behind us, and the ragaing racism before us, coming unearthed in this current presidential campaign, it begs the question, “What is an American? What does American really stand for?”

It is amusing that the pledge was written by a Christian socialist of all things; it is troubling, on the other hand, that this country which was purported to be the “land for the free and the home of the brace” has really stood for its foundational white supremacy. Foreigners have been welcomed, it appears, only if they were the right color and/or ethnicity. A threat to what the early Americans considered to be the “real” America, i.e., a white man’s country, has always been met with anger and suspicion.

Television commentators have from the beginning of this GOP race given Donald Trump and his racist rants and opinions way too much coverage, while at the same time have underestimated the power of what he has said and represents. Donald Trump represents “the angry white man.” It’s not just the men who are angry; white women are right there, too, angry that too many outsiders have come into their country, changing the landscape and challenging their values, which include, first and foremost, white supremacy. The fact that gay rights has pushed homophobia aside, including gay rights, coupled with the fact that a Black man made it to the White House – twice – has their American sensibilities totally assaulted. They are not interested in America being a melting pot – not like that. Pluralism, it would seem to them, is OK as long as it is controlled by white supremacists who want to preserve and protect what they believe to be the fiber of America.

I am not sure that the base of the GOP, those who are loving Trump and Cruz …are interested in this being the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” They are not interested in the Christian doctrine of “loving one’s enemy,” as they consider people of color, Muslims, and gay people, for starters, their enemy. An American is not obliged to do what the Christian message says to do, it seems. I paused when I read that a group of Muslims protected a group of Christians in Kenya from  a terrorist. I wondered if a group of white Christians would do the same for a group of Muslims, and I found myself doubting it could happen, not if that group of Christians hailed themselves to be true Americans. The Christ takes second place to xenophobia …and that seems to be part of what an American must understand.

The thrust is on to “make America great again,” which is a euphemism that means people want to “take their country back.” I have no doubt that Trump or Cruz or whomever will work to bring the “balance” back that they like – where people of different religions and colors are kept under control. That, to them, is living out the Constitution, and their Christian values.

What is an American? In the classic sense …is an American a white Christian, with “Christian” narrowly defined? It seems so.

That is a troubling thought …and an equally troubling candid observation.

2 thoughts on “What Is an American?

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