Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
In the spring issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, former Clinton speechwriter Eric Liu encourages Americans–especially progressives–to reclaim their national identity and embrace both the rights and duties of American citizenship. “It is time now for a movement to re-Americanize Americans,” Liu writes. “This means reanimating our creed, cultivating the character needed for civic life, and fostering a culture of strong citizenship.” He continues:
Citizenship in this nation is many things. It is a legal status conferred by the accident of birth or by the process of naturalization. It is a set of privileges and immunities. But it is also a cultural inheritance, an ethical standard, an implied set of responsibilities, a collective story and memory.
At its core, citizenship in America is an act of claiming. What is being claimed is a creed that emanates from the declaration and finds restatement in the Gettysburg Address and yet again in “I Have a Dream.” How it is claimed is by a combination of collective belief and deeds.
To pour content again into the vessel of citizenship, we need to Americanize anew. To do that, we must reinvent the very notion of Americanization. What I write of is not a deracinating assimilation to a white man’s way. It is not enforcement of partisan orthodoxy. It is taking profoundly seriously how we make an unum from the pluribus. It is about having confidence in what is exceptional about our experiment.
Liu urges that this “new Americanization program must [...] be created by everyone. Government can be involved, but so must community foundations, schools, business leaders, union organizers, film and TV producers, social-media mavens. There should be a spirit of wiki to it all, of popular movement, with ideas emerging from the bottom up and not only from experts. Throughout, it should focus on three core elements of a civic religion: creed, character, and culture.”
The whole essay, “Sworn-Again Americans,” is well worth reading.