More Lessons In Patriotism From An American Border Town

 

Open Borders zealots and anti-immigration hawks could yet come to a pragmatic compromise that works for all, if only they stopped viewing the immigration debate as a zero-sum, existential war. This Texas town shows the potential fruits of such compromise.

One of the nicest things about having moved from Britain to the United States is the fact that I now live in a place where patriotism is not (yet) a dirty word. Going about daily life here, every day one is reminded in a handful of small but significant ways that people are proud of their country, and proud to be American. Not in an overt sense – rarely does the sentiment even have to be articulated – but more in the matter-of-fact way that certain rituals, symbols or expressions form part of the backdrop of daily life.

I have never been one to seek out tub-thumping, bombastic nationalism, and readily concede the dangers of moving too far in that direction. However, there is an equal and opposite effect moving in the opposite direction toward an overt hostility toward patriotism which is every bit as corrosive and harmful to society as unbridled nationalism. Britain is a chronic – perhaps even terminal – patient in this regard.

One of the main areas of pushback from the British Left whenever somebody dares to suggest that they might consider making their peace with patriotism rather than continually striving to publicly repudiate it is that the expression of love for one’s home country is somehow off-putting to or exclusionary of new (or old) immigrants. This, of course, is highly presumptuous and indeed offensive to many immigrants, who chose to make Britain their home precisely because they see and value those qualities in our country which our political and intellectual elites often scorn or overlook.

This is one of those occasions where Open Borders leftists are their own worst enemy. If they were at all savvy, they would realize that encouraging assimilation of new immigrants into their new home country is one of the most important means by which public opposition to immigration can be reduced in the long term. But so hell-bent are they on promoting supranationalism and eroding the nation state by any means possible that their own zealousness creates or exacerbates the very anti-immigration public pushback which now so upsets and confuses them.

Open Borders leftists and pragmatic conservatives in the UK might be able to find common ground around a policy of promoting a strong national identity and unapologetically affirming small-L liberal British values, and encouraging immigrants to embrace that identity in concert with their own. But with the progressive left so in thrall to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, many of their activists and leaders are unable to get beyond the “celebrating diversity” part to focus on the deeper attachments which must unite us if we are to avoid complete national disintegration.

Yet every day we see examples of immigrant and border communities doing this work – forging this melting pot – by necessity, in the absence of any leadership from above. Less so in Britain, but very much so here in the United States, the original melting pot.

Earlier this summer I wrote at length about my experiences spending my first 4th of July in Texas as a permanent resident of the United States. I remarked on how a heavily-Hispanic border town – one thrust unwillingly into the limelight as a result of the Trump administration’s child migrant detention policy, no less – seemed to effortlessly demonstrate the kind of simple, unifying patriotism which those on the far right claim to be impossible and those on the identity politics left view as a deeply undesirable concession to colonialism and white privilege.

And now the town of McAllen, Texas serves up another fine example of the way in which simple patriotic rituals help to unify people who hail from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.

From ValleyCentral, the website of the local CBS affiliate:

McALLEN – A packed house filled the McAllen Memorial High School Gymnasium to watch a district match-up between the Mustangs and crosstown rivals McAllen High School on Sept. 18.

Fans roared as introductions were made for each player, but, when it was time to stand an honor the flag with the playing of the national anthem, nothing played. A few laughs and some awkward silence later, a small choir began to form in the far corner of the gymnasium. Soon enough, the entire gym was stressing their vocal chords in the tune of the Star Spangled Banner.

You need to watch the video to get the full effect – see the link above.

Again, this is a town not ten miles from the border with Mexico, a town which is heavily Hispanic, where many families have links to Mexico, Central or South America and where people take rightful pride in their cultural heritage – see the Mariachi singers in the video above, performing the Star Spangled Banner before another McAllen school sports game a few years ago. But it is also a town where these identities slot naturally and effortlessly into a greater, unifying American identity – E Pluribus Unum.

Before the naysayers retort that this is an alien culture and ritual which may work in America but which would never be suitable for Britain, it is worth remembering that a few decades ago it would not necessarily have been uncommon for the national anthem to be played at all manner of events, from village fairs to movie screenings to sports events besides the FA Cup Final.

This is not a call to return to some straight-laced, black-and-white conservative fantasy about the good old days – Britain has certainly developed and improved in countless ways since the days when BBC television shut down at midnight to a chorus of God Save the Queen, and by no means should we seek to wind the clock back, even if it were possible. But how much better still could Britain be if we had tried harder to hold on to some of these unifying symbols of shared identity at the same time as we welcomed new waves of immigrants to the country, with all the richness and diversity they rightly bring with them? How much more of a cohesive society at ease with itself might we now be?

If we continue in our current state of zero-sum open warfare between the open borders brigade and the anti-immigration faction then we will fight to a stalemate and the worst of both worlds – a continuation of the status quo, with all its attendant corrosive effects on our political debate and societal cohesion.

But alternatively, if both sides were just to give a little – the progressive left to call a time out on their ceaseless efforts to undermine the nation state and denigrate patriotism, and the populist right to accept that it is neither feasible nor desirable to return to pre-2000s levels of net migration – then we could try to work toward a compromise. We could achieve what is perhaps the optimal scenario – a cohort of new arrivals into Britain who come with the intention of either becoming British citizens themselves or at least partaking meaningfully in our culture and civic life, rather than defiantly remaining, say, Spaniards in London or Pakistanis in Rotherham.

This might not be an insurmountable task, if only we had political leaders who actually dared to lead rather than pander and follow the most extreme elements of their activist bases. Absent such leadership, however, it is nothing more than wishful thinking.

 

McHi McAllen High School game - national anthem - Mariachi Oro

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No Patriotism Please, We’re British

really-british-chris-ostwald-muswell-hill-london-patriotism

Only in North London’s leafy enclaves would a shop selling British goods and memorabilia be at risk of being run out of business by snarling locals convinced that union jack cushions are one step away from fascism

Another day, another painful reminder that London voted strongly against Brexit and is, in many ways, a different country within a country.

Local newspaper Ham&High reports:

A shopkeeper has defended his novelty gift shop after it has been boycotted by shoppers who branded it ‘pro-Brexit’ and ‘racist’.

The shop in Muswell Hill caused a storm on social media with owner Chris Ostwald, 54, forced to remove his British flags on the opening day on November 26 because he received so many complaints.

One of the shop assistants, who is Spanish, left after just one day because of all the snide remarks she received.

The shop sells British-themed gifts and homeware. Their products include condiments, such as brown sauce, London underground tea towels and “Muswell Hillbillies” mugs, which references the Kinks album. There are also suffragette aprons and stocking fillers such as old fashioned compasses.

Mr Otswald, 54, told the Ham&High: “The shop is in no way meant to be ‘political’ or ‘pro Brexit’, but we have had a lot of complaints saying it is or we are ‘racist!”

“A guy came in the other day and said, ‘what’s this, a charity shop?’ and we said, ‘no, not at all’, and he said, ‘well it’s racist’, and stormed out.”

Mr Ostwald added: “People have been coming in and just tutting and walking out.”

There have been other comments on Facebook, with one person arguing that the name is not inclusive.

One man wrote on public Facebook group Muswell Hill and Friends: “Chris, while I applaud you setting up a business in Muswell Hill and employing local people I’m curious as to why you decided to call your shop ‘Really British’ (besides the obvious point that you will sell British made goods)?

“Like many people I live in London because of its international nature, and for me personally having a big sign on the Broadway saying ‘Really British’ makes me feel you’re implying that other local businesses in the area are therefore somehow ‘not really British’.

“Some will no doubt say I’m over-sensitive but I can’t help thinking that given the recent divisive referendum and the current political climate you might have chosen a more inclusive name in 2016.”

This invidious disease of proud anti-patriotism is particularly British. In America, whether you are on New York’s Fifth Avenue or Main Street in some small Mid-Western town, a shop which celebrates Americana and American heritage would be celebrated and universally popular. In France, shops which sell traditional French produce and goods are happily frequented by tourists and locals alike.

Only in Britain are we cursed with a sub-population of pinch-faced killjoys who have been bred to believe that any expression of pride in Britain is “scary” and somehow tantamount to racism. Only in the fashionable and gentrifying parts of London and Britain’s other major cities does one find this pitiful tribe of people who are allergic to their own flag.

Only in places like London’s Muswell Hill do people hold the country which gives them life and liberty in such horrified, sneering contempt.

 

European Union - United Kingdom - Britain - Flags

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Why The United Kingdom Is Coming Apart At The Seams

British Values word cloud

 

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present” – President Abraham Lincoln, Annual message to Congress, December 1862

Nobody should be surprised that the Scottish independence referendum campaign has tightened so much in the closing days, and that we now face the very real prospect of our country breaking in two.

Though it is immensely painful for unionists to see the “Yes” camp boast even a viable chance of success, and the events of the past week seem like an unforeseen emergency, the roots of this crisis have in fact been sowed over many years.

The uncomfortable truth is that the Scottish independence referendum campaign became so close because it was allowed to generate into a mere political argument – left wing pipe dreams versus conservative continuity – rather than being built into a real debate about nationhood, nationality and belonging.

What little talk there was of national identity was ceded entirely to the pro-independence campaign. Within the SNP are a die-hard contingent of Braveheart-style zealots who would vote for independence come hell or high water, ruinous economic consequences be damned. But a far greater number, the ranks currently giving the “Yes” campaign a marginal lead, are formed of naturally left-leaning Scottish voters who do not know – because they have not been told – that this campaign is about anything other than advancing a left-wing political agenda to which they are sympathetic.

There has been almost no talk from the “Better Together” campaign of what would be thrown away and lost forever if the Scottish people vote to leave the United Kingdom. This is partly because it was felt that a campaign in which voters were forced to choose between their Scottish and British identities could only ever end one way, with Scottishness winning hands-down. This may or may not be the case. But it is also because the inhabitants of the British isles have gradually become unaccustomed to talking about our nationality, our shared sense of identity and purpose, at all.

When Britain is mentioned in political debates, it has been in the false context of how small and ineffectual a country we are, buffeted by economic and geopolitical forces beyond our ability to control or influence alone. Witness, for example, the debate about Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, where the political consensus among all main parties (save UKIP) is that Britain cannot possibly survive in the world without surrendering a huge portion of her sovereignty to the EU’s supra-national institutions.

This air of national decline and inferiority has been peddled so successfully and for so long that it is accepted unquestioningly as a universal truth by many of us, despite overwhelming facts to the contrary. The truth is that Britain remains one of the few truly consequential and influential nations on Earth – culturally, economically, politically and militarily. It has become fashionable to be blasé about this fact, or to deny it altogether, but pride in this fact is justifiable, indeed essential if we are to maintain the importance of a strong nation state as the best guarantor of individual freedom and prosperity.

And yet the importance of the nation state has been continually played down in Britain. Decisive action in the national interest is viewed as arrogant and unseemly, with undue reverence given instead to the nebulous notion of “international co-operation” which sounds wonderful on paper but inevitably means closed-door meetings and undemocratic decisions taken by ministers and heads of government with no real accountability. On some level the leftists realise this truth, as their growing opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) reveals.

The concept of British nationality has been further undermined by well-intentioned but misguided dogmas which insist that all cultural behaviours within Britain’s wonderfully multiracial patchwork are valid and acceptable, even when they conflict strongly with traditional British values of tolerance, democracy, patriotism, fairness and equality before the law. Thus problems that manifest within non-assimilated minority communities go unaddressed for fear of violating the unwritten rules of political correctness, leading (in part) to scandals such as the Birmingham Trojan Horse schools scandal or the appalling, endemic sexual abuse scandal in Rotherham.

When politicians have raised concern about the lack of British values being taught in schools and promoted more generally in the culture, the petulant response from many quarters (mostly but not exclusively from the left) has been to negate British accomplishments and virtues, talking up the rest of the world while disparaging Britain at every turn.

Michael Rosen, writing in The Guardian, attacked then-education secretary Michael Gove’s call for schools to teach British values with all the smug superiority of a brainy sixth-former, and inevitably tinged with the usual list of left-wing resentments – some of which are fair, but none of which should be sufficient to negate his love of country to the extent that they clearly do:

I see you’re going to require all your schools to teach British values. If you think you’re going to have the support of all parents in this project, you’ll have to count me out.

Your checklist of British values is: “Democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.” I can’t attach the adjective “British” to these. In fact, I find it parochial, patronising and arrogant that you think it’s appropriate or right to do so.

So let’s go through it. I like democracy. I don’t think you do. You’ve replaced the democracy of local government control over schools with the marketplace.A tiny number of speculators, debt-sellers, rate-fixers and gamblers have altered the lives of millions of people. No one voted them in. No one can vote them out. We have an unelected head of state and an unelected second chamber…

And so it goes on, ad nauseam.

But the problem is not confined to the likes of Rosen, or to the many Scottish nationalists who see independence only as a useful stepping stone to achieving the kind of far-left political settlement that they so desperately want.

The problem is that even many patriotic Brits from all corners of the United Kingdom are struggling to articulate the reasons why they desperately want to keep our Union together. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, tried in his own unique way, but the result was nothing special. Various elder statesmen of British politics have tried, but none of them have managed to make the heart beat faster for love of Britain, either. And God knows that the people running the “Better Together” campaign have failed, focusing almost entirely on the risks of Scottish independence rather than the great benefits of continued union.

One of the few voices to really succeed in speaking up in favour of the United Kingdom, and arguing that Scottishness and Britishness need not be mutually exclusive, is Alex Massie. In a long piece in The Spectator – worth reading in its entirety – he writes:

The other day the historian Tom Devine remarked that all the Union has going for it is sentiment, family and history. Like that’s not enough? Those aren’twee things, they’re the things that make us who we are. The blood and guts, the bone and marrow of our lives. The tissue that connects us to our fellow citizens, the stuff that makes us more than an individual. The things from which you build a society.  You can have that in Scotland, alone and independent, too of course. But we also have it in Britain, right now, and we will lose some of that if we vote Yes. Or some of us will, anyway.

So I think of E Pluribus Unum and I think that’s a motto that applies to the United Kingdom too. And so does its opposite: within one, many. There’s ample room for many types of Britain. Not just Scots and Welsh and Irish and English but Pakistani-Scots, Jamaican-Welsh and Nigerian-English too. I think it’s the tensions and ambiguities inherent in all of this that makes Britain interesting; that makes Scotland interesting too.

The conclusion also offers a much-needed hint of British exceptionalism, and makes one see Britain as really being a country quite like no other:

Most of all, I like that when you get the train to Scotland from London or Peterborough or Newcastle north and you cross the border in the gloaming you feel your heart soar and you cry hurrah and yippee because you know you’re home now without having been abroad. I like that and think it matters. I don’t know if I know why it does or why it suddenly seems so valuable but I know I do. But that’s the Britain I know and like; a place in which I’m always Scottish but also, when it suits, British too. A country where you travel to very different places and still always come home without having been abroad.

Sadly, these kind of sentiments – though possibly quite common among British citizens from both north and south of the border – have been heard far too rarely in the debate, until the referendum is almost upon us and it may be too late to prevent a calamitous outcome. And there is no justification for the outraged surprise now pouring forth from unionist pundits and politicians. Britain is now reaping what her political and intellectual leaders sowed over the course of an entire generation.

This is what happens when an extreme, uncompromising brand of enforced multiculturalism is allowed to triumph over multiracialism.

This is what happens when we allow the perception to take hold that patriotism and pride in one’s own country is a dirty, shameful thing.

This is what happens when years of appalling education policies create a generation who do not possess a narrative history of their own country or have the faintest clue how it came into being, what it has stood for and how its institutions function.

This much is no exaggeration – your blogger took compulsory history classes at school until the age of 14 (at which point the subject was dropped thanks to the awful way it was taught), during which time the topics studied included the Tudors, the Vikings, the First and Second World Wars, and coal mining in Wales. Contrast this woeful failure to provide a comprehensive narrative history of Britain with the history education that an American student might expect to receive, and it makes a painful comparison.

Britain has been slowly waking up to these problems, but in a lazy, leisurely manner that is wholly inadequate to the urgency of the threat. Until now, our failure to nurture a common sense of shared national identity (something that the Americans do so well, and from whom we have much to learn) has led to unfortunate blips and political scandals such as the Birmingham schools Trojan Horse scandal or the repeated flying of a black, ISIS-style flag from the gates of a public housing estate in London. But these symptoms pale in comparison to the very real existential threat which seems to have crept up on so many politicians and pundits almost unnoticed.

Sure, failing to ensure that newly arrived immigrants integrate into the British way of life or allowing proponents of extremist Islam to gain a foothold in schools poses a medium-term threat to the security of the United Kingdom due to the possibility of future acts of terrorism. But the fallout from these failures does not have the potential to destroy our country overnight. On the other hand, our collective failure over at least the past thirty years to inculcate any sense of Britishness even among our own indigenous population could see our country effectively destroyed at the ballot box as soon as next week.

There is blame enough to go around for allowing this slow-motion calamity to come so close to fruition, but now is not the time. Right now, it must be all hands to the pumps in a final effort to save the United Kingdom from Alex Salmond’s chimerical fantasy of an independent Scotland serving as a socialist, egalitarian beacon for the world.

If we avoid disaster and are still fellow countrymen the morning after next Thursday’s referendum, we can then finally get to work shoring up our battered and frayed sense of nationhood, and by every means at our disposal. Educational reform, constitutional reform and government policy at the Westminster and devolved assembly levels will all have an important part to play, as well as a new constitutional settlement to iron out the unfairness of the many perks now being showered on Scotland as a desperate bribe for them to stay in the Union.

But even if the United Kingdom survives the referendum and its aftermath, it will still be for nothing if all 64 million of us British citizens cannot find a way to unlearn years of relentless teaching that there is nothing great about Britain.