The Tribe of America - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Tribe of America

This past Monday, New York had perfect weather for its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade — temperatures in the mid-60s and sunny, the promise of spring at last arriving after a harsh winter. But with the prospect of imminent conflict with Iraq in the air, it was not your typical St. Patrick’s Day. Reports indicate that at some points on the parade route, as many American flags were flying as Irish, along with banners expressing support for the coming battle against Saddam Hussein. Even the annual feud between ILGO (Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization) and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (organizers of the parade) over ILGO’s desire to march in the parade seemed to take a back seat. Ethnic parades in America have become increasingly polluted with the politics of grievance. But such posturing seems terribly trite now, even in a culture that has turned self-involvement into a creed.

I am an American of Irish descent, which is very different from being Irish. I enjoy the Clancy Brothers and cold beer, and there was a time when I intended to read Finnegans Wake. Growing up, I rooted for Notre Dame. That is about the extent of my Irish identity. I could never wrap my mind around The Troubles in Ireland, for example. They were so primal, so demonstrative of the blood feuds of the Old World. There is a chasm between that kind of fixation on the past and the outlook of average Americans, large numbers of whom do not recall what century our own Civil War was fought in. It’s hard to foster a grudge when you can’t remember what it is, despite the best efforts of the intellectual class to remind us.

With the exception of the Puerto Rican Day parade, St. Patrick’s Day is my least favorite day in New York City. Both days share multiple unappealing traits — enormous crowds, rampaging drunks, gratuitous noise. On the scale of unpleasantness, the Puerto Rican Day parade edges out St. Patrick’s because of the habit young Puerto Rican males have of throwing firecrackers out of their cars while blasting the stereo system. With St. Patrick’s, you get tottering bands of drunks on the sidewalks. They are generally slow moving, and so the element of surprise is much less as long as you watch where you’re stepping, if you know what I mean.

The most unwelcome trait of ethnic parades for me, though, is their very reason for being — the focus on ethnicity. In 2003, with the most multi-ethnic culture in world history, it seems strange to still be celebrating tribal origins in America. Particularly for a group like the Irish, which has long since assimilated into the cultural fabric, what, exactly, is the point of these productions? Why this persistent need to wave the banner of bloodlines? However benign their intentions, ethnic parades seem very Old Europe to me.

Another reason I dislike ethnic days in contemporary America is that we are already awash in ethnic loyalties. What we need a little more of is the older, overarching loyalty to country.

But for a generation now, the United States has been reluctant to ask for loyalty from its immigrants. The INS considers new arrivals “customers” as opposed to potential citizens, emphasizing services instead of responsibilities. The goal of many new immigrants is not to become American, but to resist assimilation. At the same time, they make demands on our institutions to recognize and cater to this desire — from services in their native language to vast overhauls of educational content — and our institutions have acceded to these demands in a thousand ways, large and small. To many well-intentioned people, such deference seems harmless.

But war has a way of making us pay for even our most benign delusions. Last week came yet another news story illustrating the price America is paying for its long and poisonous romance with identity politics. An Islamic FBI agent refused to tape his interviews with terrorist suspects because it was supposedly against his religion to record a fellow Muslim. In another age, he might have discontinued his pursuit of a position with the FBI, thereby maintaining his integrity as an American and a Muslim. But today, no such conflict pertains for him — he is an Islamist first, an American second (if that).

Before September 11th, conservatives were voices in the wilderness about the issue of multiculturalism, derided as bigots or alarmists. Since then, more people are listening. Of course, the issue has been there a long while, nurtured by the cultural currents of the 1960s. The radicals sought to invert the old hierarchy of loyalty, which placed American identity above whatever one’s small-group membership might be — most commonly ethnicity, race, or religion. They succeeded wonderfully well, as any review of the curricula at our most esteemed universities will indicate.

The result is a population less bound by the bonds of country, and more inclined to pledge loyalty to their own peer group. Now that the country is threatened domestically, in so small part because of the collapse of assimilation, some attention is being paid to the problem. But the damage has already been immense, and no one can say with any confidence that subsequent generations will be able to contain it, let alone reverse it.

I remember discussing ethnicity as a kid in school. Someone would say, “I’m 50 percent Irish, 50 percent Italian, 100 percent American.” I would reply, “I’m 75 percent Irish, 25 percent English and German, 100 percent American.” Forget our dubious math and note the loyalties. They came from somewhere — family, school –just as today’s inverted loyalties have traceable sources (media and academia, to name a few).

So I was heartened to read the reports of the increased presence of patriotic symbols at this year’s St. Patrick’s parade. However assimilated the Irish may be, it is appropriate to have reminders about where one’s primary allegiances lie. My favorite St. Patrick’s Day song remains “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue.”

I’ll even hold out some hope that the Puerto Rican Day Parade this year will have a more generous helping of American flags. And maybe the young men will go easy on the fireworks, too. After all, they can always use them for the Fourth of July.

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