Ross Douthat’s latest column is a shout-out to the seminal book by Samuel Huntington (“Who Are We”), albeit through Douthat’s cuckservative world view. Douthat begins with the Left’s current narrative that Trump’s travel ban (or enforcing any existing immigration laws, for that matter) is ‘not who we are’:
In this narrative, which has surged to the fore in response to Trump’s refugee and visa policies, we are a propositional nation bound together by ideas rather than any specific cultural traditions — a nation of immigrants drawn to Ellis Island, a nation of minorities claiming rights too long denied, a universal nation destined to welcome foreigners and defend liberty abroad.
Given this story’s premises, saying that’s not who we are is a way of saying that all more particularist understandings of Americanism, all non-universalist forms of patriotic memory, need to be transcended. Thus our national religion isn’t anything specific, but we know it’s not-Protestant and not-Judeo-Christian. Our national culture is not-Anglo-Saxon, not-European; the prototypical American is not-white, not-male, not-heterosexual. We don’t know what the American future is, but we know it’s not-the-past.
But the real American past was particularist as well as universalist. Our founders built a new order atop specifically European intellectual traditions. Our immigrants joined a settler culture, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, that demanded assimilation to its norms. Our crisis of the house divided was a Christian civil war. Our great national drama was a westward expansion that conquered a native population rather than coexisting with it.
As late as the 1960s, liberalism as well as conservatism identified with these particularisms, and with a national narrative that honored and included them. The exhortations of civil rights activists assumed a Christian moral consensus. Liberal intellectuals linked the New Deal and the Great Society to Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Pop-culture utopians projected “Wagon Train” into the future as “Star Trek.”
So, what happened to change this?
Then for a variety of reasons — a necessary reckoning with white supremacism, a new and diverse wave of immigration, the pull of a more globalist ethos, the waning of institutional religion — that mid-century story stopped making as much sense. In its place emerged a left-wing narrative that stands in judgment on the racist-misogynist-robber baron past, and a mainstream liberal narrative that has room for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton (as opposed to the slightly more Trumpish genuine article) and Emma Lazarus, but feels unsure about the rest.
In other words, the teleology of ‘Tolerance’, particularly when one side really isn’t interested in equality as much as ‘It’s my turn now’, is the identity malaise our country now finds itself in.
But meanwhile for a great many Americans the older narrative still feels like the real history. They still see themselves more as settlers than as immigrants, identifying with the Pilgrims and the Founders, with Lewis and Clark and Davy Crockett and Laura Ingalls Wilder. They still embrace the Iliadic mythos that grew up around the Civil War, prefer the melting pot to multiculturalism, assume a Judeo-Christian civil religion rather the “spiritual but not religious” version.
Trump’s ascent is, in part, an attempt to restore their story to pre-eminence…
The following two paragraphs by Douthat show him drifting rather aimlessly, at the impasse one inexorably reaches when one does not, and cannot, acknowledge the (not-peripheral, but integral) racial component of American exceptionalism.
But so far we haven’t found a way to correct the story while honoring its full sweep — including all the white-male-Protestant-European protagonists to whom, for all their sins, we owe so much of our inheritance…
Maybe no unifying story is really possible. Maybe the gap between a heroic founders-and-settlers narrative and the truth about what befell blacks and Indians and others cannot be adequately bridged.
Getting beyond this impasse requires acknowledging that Western Civilization is different than other civilizations, and that the cultures of Western countries (formulated before the post-1965 onslaught of third world immigration into the West) fall along racial lines.