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Sat Jun 8, 2019, 11:27 AM

Jill Lapore: The Founders Wrote That America Is A Nation of Asylum -- Were They Right Or Wrong?

The following short history of Americanism comes from Jill Lepore's newest book, This America -- The Case For The Nation(2019). I highly recommend that DU read this
short, pithy, good framing of how we've seen and could see our nation. It follows upon her longer, but amazing These Truths: A History of the United States (2018).

My summary of her major ideas:
The United States was founded as an asylum and refuge: a sanctuary.

Thomas Paine in Commons Sense called America "an asylum for mankind."

The Declaration Of Independence cites as one of the abuses of the king, his having discouraged and even prevented people from coming to the colonies by "Obstructing Laws for Naturalization" and "refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither."

George Washington wrote in 1788: "I had always hoped that this land might become a safe & agreeable Asylum to the virtuous & persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong."

Thomas Jefferson in 1817 described the United States as offering "a sanctuary for those whom the misrule of Europe may compel to seek happiness in other climes."

Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing wrote in 1823, "We love our country, but not blindly...In all nations we recognize one great family"

Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1858: "We are the Romans of modernity... a great assimilating people."

It was in this tradition that Barack Obama introduced himself to America in 2008: " I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. These people are part of me. And they are a part of America.... I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and uncles of every race and hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible."


This was a form of patriotism.

The word "nationalism" never existed either in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution or America's first dictionary. The word didn't exist until the end of 18th Century, and the thing itself not until the 19th Century.

Today, people confuse nationalism with patriotism. There's nothing wrong with loving the place where you live and the people in it, and in that sense, the two words meant more or less the same thing.

Liberal nationalism is patriotism. Illiberal nationalism is not.

But in the 20th and 21st Centuries, nationalism has come to mean somethign different from patriotism, something fierce...violent -- less a love for your own country than a hatred of other countries and their people and a a hatred of people within your own country who don't belong to an ethnic, racial, or religious majority.

Immigration policy is a topic for political debate; reasonable people disagree. But hating immigrants, as if they were lesser humans, is a form of nationalism that has nothing to do with patriotism.

Trade policy is a topic for political debate; reasonable people disagree. But hating globalists, as if they were fiends, is a form of nationalism that has nothing to do with patriotism.

Historians who tried to write histories of liberal nationalism failed to account for all our racism. When, in the 70's, they realized that they would be accused of complicity, American historians have backed away from defining what America is.

A clear-eyed reckoning of a "new Americanism" would be a clear-eyed reckoning with its history of sorrows no less than its glories. Looking backward and forward, a new history would know that right wrongs no man.

But if liberal nationalists do not start asking and answering our questions about who we are, illiberal nationalists will. They will call America, as Hannity said, "a carnage." They'll call immigrants "animals" and other countries "shitholes." They call themselves nationalists.


In the drive toward the 2020 presidential election, we express frustration about who gets to define this country.

Because that is our nation's big question.
Can we see our history as a definitional fight?
Can we see that America IS a fight?
We here know we're not "at the end of history," and so who will write our history.

If we, as liberal nationalists, want Lapore's "New Americanism," to prevail, should we assume that the Founders were right or wrong to frame our nation as a nation of laws? or an idea? or a work in progress? or racist?

Can the Law survive the 40-year nationalist assault (with multiple foreign state incursions) that we've now come to see in its entirety?

We might not discuss these ideas fully; still, the questions they raise are worth our thought.







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Reply Jill Lapore: The Founders Wrote That America Is A Nation of Asylum -- Were They Right Or Wrong? (Original post)
ancianita Jun 8 OP
Sneederbunk Jun 8 #1
ancianita Jun 8 #2

Response to ancianita (Original post)

Sat Jun 8, 2019, 11:58 AM

1. Who can disagree the US is an asylum? Not McMurphy.

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Response to Sneederbunk (Reply #1)

Sat Jun 8, 2019, 12:14 PM

2. Charlottesville nationalists, 45, 45 voters, ICE, CBP, Homeland, so 40% of the country.

I think they think their "pain" of living with difference takes precedence over migrants' pain.

Except children. Migrant children are the "exception," assumed to be innocents, and so silently taken from their migrant parents.

This is our national reality. Those migrant camps at the border are all about no asylum.

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