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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Patriotism Done Right – A Lesson For Britain, From Kentucky

The slavish worship of diversity is not enough to keep our fraying social fabric from coming apart in these difficult times; we need symbols and rituals that unite us, and we must defend these symbols from those who wrongly portray them as divisive or exclusionary

Take three minutes to watch this beautiful video of the Kentucky All-State Choir giving a moving and pitch-perfect rendition of the US national anthem from the balconies of the Hyatt hotel in Louisville, where they are currently staying while participating in a conference and competition.

Now try to picture this scene, or anything like it, taking place in Britain. Laughably impossible, isn’t it? Overt displays of gentle patriotism, and by schoolchildren? If such a scene did occur at an inter-school competition anywhere in the UK, it would more likely make the news because a group of parents complained that their children were forced to take part in some terrible, jingoistic ceremony, the first step toward the formation of a new Hitler Youth.

There would be earnest think-pieces in the Guardian about how teaching or singing the national anthem at public school events was oppressive to those who live here while wanting nothing to do with our shared culture, or who harbour a seething dislike of the various symbols and rituals which represent the country that gives them life and liberty. The matter would be hotly debated on BBC Question Time. Change.org petitions would be started, Twitter memes created and MPs would take sides.

One can just imagine Cathy Newman then hauling the poor choir director in to the television studio for one of her famously objective and well-researched interviews on Channel 4 news:

Cathy: So what made you decide to force these impressionable young children, many of whom might not even be comfortable identifying as British, to sing an anthem which they dislike and show respect to a country about which they might feel ambivalent at best?

Choir director: Well, there is far more that unites us than divides us, and our thinking was what better way to show that all of our students are united by something deeper, something which transcends the differences in their race, national origin or religion than by performing —

Cathy: So what you’re saying is that you wanted to brainwash these children into mindlessly supporting UK foreign policy and worshipping the government, just like North Korea?

Choir director: No, I —

Cathy: Aren’t you just normalising the ugly wave of nationalism and bigotry which has swept over the country since the EU referendum?

Lord knows that overt displays of patriotism do not come naturally to most British people. Many on the Left in particular seemed to discover their inner patriot for the first time when they watched the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and only then because director Danny Boyle turned half the show into an all-singing, all-dancing Mass in worship of the NHS and centralised, government-provided healthcare.

But this needs to change. Cold, hard circumstances mean that the quintessentially British “softly softly” approach to patriotism is now inadequate when it comes to forging and maintaining a unified, vaguely harmonious society.

Even if Brexit hadn’t come along and revealed (not caused) a split right down the middle of the country in terms of outlook and values, high levels of immigration combined with a laissez-fair “integrate if you want to or stay in your own enclaves and ghettoes, whatever works best for you” attitude from the government mean that the United Kingdom is nowhere near as united as it should be. Throw in the recent Scottish independence referendum, the rise of Islamist extremism and the West’s failure to celebrate, defend and transmit our small-L liberal enlightenment values, and the net result is that our national body is very badly frayed indeed.

At times like this, unifying symbols matter hugely. Just ask the European Union, which has spent countless taxpayer pounds and launched dozens of initiatives in a desperate (and largely futile) attempt to inculcate a sense of European-ness strong enough to justify the vast institutions and creeping supranational government being built in Brussels. The EU has a flag and an anthem for a reason, and it has nothing to do with friendly trade and co-operation between autonomous nation states.

The United States, so long a successful melting pot for immigrants from all over the world, succeeds because it unapologetically promotes and celebrates its values and culture in a way that make new arrivals want to embrace the traditions of their new home, even while often carefully maintaining and cherishing their historical traditions too.

My wife grew up in a border town in south Texas, only miles from Mexico, where a huge percentage of the population are first and second generation immigrants, both legal and also some without legal rights of residency. Yet nobody in that town thinks twice about honouring the symbols of America, and nearly everybody considers themselves to be American and takes pride in being so. Everyone stands for the national anthem at sports games. All of the children recite the pledge of allegiance at school in the morning, and those first or second generation immigrant children do so without feeling that honouring America in any way diminishes their attachment to their other respective cultures.

In Britain, however, even displaying the Union flag causes some post-patriotic progressives to break out in hives or worry that they are about to get caught up in a BNP rally. And decades of constitutional vandalism by successive governments have resulted in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland rightly being given more devolved powers and space for home-nation patriotic self-expression while England has remained constrained in this regard, the result of which is that many British people outside of England no longer view the UK national anthem as “their” anthem.

Meanwhile, the Times Educational Supplement frets:

For schools, the problem remains of how to ensure that populist political initiatives to create shared citizenship are not be at the expense of embracing diversity.

In the US, courts notwithstanding, for years many children have had to salute the flag and recite the oath of allegiance every morning. The aim, supposedly, is to unify, yet it is inevitable that such exercises also exclude and exacerbate divisions. In France, for example, millions of children have family links to other countries including, of course, the UK. Are they supposed to renounce these links – or feel less “French” because of a failure to do so? Academics speak of governments imposing “societal cultures” and devaluing what they call, rather grandly, “differentiated citizenship”. They contrast the simplistic appeal of unity with celebrations of cultural diversity and philosophical values, such as equality of opportunity, that transcend nationalities.

What corrosive nonsense. The progressive blob would have us do away with E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one – and replace it with “out of many, even more”. They would have diversity be the only value worth celebrating, and practically discourage us from creating and celebrating deeper, transcendent connections between people of different backgrounds. And such is their faith in the god of diversity that they believe that liberal democracy can survive such a Utopian experiment.

The wonderful thing about these Kentucky school children singing the national anthem together is that they are E Pluribus Unum in action. Many may be native born, but some are doubtless immigrants or the children of immigrants. Many are likely Christian but others are of different faiths or none. Some are conservatives and even Donald Trump supporters while others are liberals who perhaps shed tears when Hillary Clinton delivered her concession speech in November 2016. They are rich, poor, black, white, male, female, Caucasian, Hispanic, gay or heterosexual. And yet however important those identities may rightly be to them, still they are able to come together in harmony to deliver a beautiful performance of the Star Spangled Banner. All of them are American.

This is a lesson that we in Britain urgently need to learn. We do not need to copy the United States in every respect, nor should we. But we should recognise that unifying symbols matter deeply if we want to maintain a cohesive society built on the liberal values for which Britain has long stood. And if not the national anthem, we need to identify and promote other unifying symbols, and withstand the manufactured outrage of those who would have us frantically celebrate our diversity until our increasingly atomised society crumbles completely beneath our feet.

We must stand up to the post-patriotic progressives and their destructive motto Diversitas, Heri, Hodi, Semper and instead re-embrace E Pluribus Unum.

 

Note: The high school choir members who take part in the KMEA All State Choir Conference in Kentucky do this every year, a wonderful annual tradition. Here is last year’s performance at the same venue.

 

Pledge of Allegiance - Stars and stripes

Pledge of Allegiance

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Time For An English National Anthem?

God Save The Queen - Sex Pistols - 2

We don’t need to change our national anthem, or create a separate one for England. We just need to make much better use of the one we already have

Is it time that England asserted herself by choosing a new national anthem of her own, separate and distinct from “God Save The Queen”, which supposedly represents our whole United Kingdom?

MPs seem to think so – the House of Commons has just voted in favour of an English national anthem, with a strong movement emerging to make Jerusalem England’s new anthem. But was Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins right to table the motion in the first place, and would we be right to ultimately adopt his idea?

In short, no. Much as this blog is generally in favour of full parity between the four home nations – best expressed through a federal structure brought about as the result of a full constitutional convention – calls for a separate English national anthem are particularly unhelpful at this time.

Our United Kingdom is already fraying at the seams. Having narrowly avoided dissolution as a result of the Scottish independence referendum last year, now is hardly the time for further measures which emphasise the relatively slight differences between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And no matter the temptation to poke swivel-eyed Scottish nationalists by meeting their quasi-religious fervour with a matching level of English nationalism, any step in this direction is likely to do more harm than good.

Is “God Save The Queen” a great anthem? Sadly not. Though as one commenter said on the BBC Daily Politics last night, it would have sounded less turgid sung lustily and at twice the speed, as apparently it once was. But there is no escaping the fact that Britain’s national anthem is a dusty and somewhat dull affair, especially set against the rousing, martial Marseillaise, the strutting, operatic Italian anthem or the ever-inspirational Star-Spangled Banner.

But much that is “wrong” or unsatisfactory with “God Save The Queen” can be remedied by performing it better. That means much less Lesley Garrett warbling away in a high soprano, and more beautiful arrangements like the heart-stopping Benjamin Britten version which has been given a new lease of life in recent years at the Last Night of the Proms:

 

The hushed opening, stately and noble tempo and beautiful harmonies, slowly building to an impassioned climax in the (too rarely heard) second verse, “Thy choicest gifts in store…”, actually make those who have only ever heard bad recordings of our national anthem stop and reconsider its merit.

And this sense of a fresh look is possible with contemporary performances too. We all know how the Americans pinched the tune to our national anthem and rebranded it as a patriotic song entitled “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee“. Well, in the right hands it can sound incredibly moving – again showing that we British fail to make the best use of the source material at our disposal.

Consider Kelly Clarkson’s beautiful performance of “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee” at President Obama’s second inauguration in 2013:

 

It is quite possible to listen to this beautiful arrangement – with Clarkson accompanied by the US Marine Corps band – and get quite emotional, before thinking “wait – I recognise that tune!”

Yes, that amazing performance which had you on your feet was none other than “God Save The Queen”, re-branded and given a glitzy makeover by a people who are a bit less hesitant to wear their emotions on their sleeves. Once again, we could learn a thing or two from our American cousins.

But of course, there is no escaping the fact that the words of Britain’s national anthem are written to glorify one person – the monarch – rather than our country itself, or her people. For some with republican leanings, it is impossible to get past this obstacle, whatever their other feelings on the subject. I can sympathise with this position. But as someone who greatly admires the Queen, has enormous respect for our country’s history and heritage but who increasingly thinks that the monarchy should be gently separated from our constitution once the second Elizabethan age is over, I still sing our national anthem with pride, thinking of my country rather than just my Queen.

The temptation to meddle – to change things, supplant or supplement them – is always going to be present, because nothing we do or create will ever be perfect. But “God Save the Queen” has been with us since 1745. It is very much a part of our history. In the past year alone it has seen us through two world wars, a cold war, as well as technological and social revolutions which have utterly transformed Britain – nearly always for the better.

Could we adopt Parry’s “Jerusalem” instead? Yes, of course. Nobody doubts that it is a fine composition, with a century of its own history and lyrics – it is a setting of a poem by William Blake – in its favour. It also has the advantage of glorifying a country, or at least an idea of a country, which is what national anthems are if anything supposed to do.

But is the satisfaction we might feel by doing so worth adding to the factors which are undermining our United Kingdom from within and without? Is taking what would be a very bold step toward the reassertion of separate English identity worth potentially destroying our union. I do not think so.

Should we change our national anthem, or create a new anthem specifically for England? Absolutely not. Not now. We should just make much better – and more musical – use of the anthem we already have.

God Save The Queen - Musical Score

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Happy And Glorious

“You are part of the fabric of my life. The mother of our country. At age five I remember watching your wedding procession driving past with my family all eagerly leaning out of the window of a family friend’s flat. Of course our big celebration was our street party in West Drayton. I am the same age as Prince Charles and I remember from early on pictures and newsreels of Charles and Anne being shown to me as they grew. Through these I followed your travels around the world. As a 1960’s fashion model I modeled hats outside Buckingham Palace the newspapers imagined Princess Anne would wear. Your travels, events and duties have been threads that have run throughout my life” – Sandra Vigon

This tribute, offered by a Telegraph reader on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II becoming Britain’s longest reigning monarch, is poignant and undeniably true.

Every British person born over the past six decades has known no other monarch, seen no other figure represented on their currency, celebrated no Christmas without the Queen’s annual message to her people. In hundreds of small ways, the Queen is part of the fabric of both our individual lives and also our shared national life.

Presented with a blank sheet of paper, nobody would design a hereditary monarchy as the preferred mechanism for producing a ceremonial head of state. And yet it has worked tolerably well for Britain, particularly these past couple of centuries.

The head says that a federal system with an elected head of state would make far more sense – fairer, logical, more egalitarian and less of an anachronism than the curiosity which is the British monarchy. The head says that pledging allegiance to a person rather than a flag or a constitution is quaint at best, and downright dangerous at worst. The head clamours for a constitutional convention and the bold re-imagining of the twenty-first century state. But not so the heart.

The heart is glad for what we have, odd though it is by modern standards: the capsuled history of our country represented by a single person of flesh and blood. The heart looks with pride and gratitude on the lifetime of service dutifully performed by Queen Elizabeth II – a role never democratically bestowed, but fulfilled far more faithfully and proficiently than can be said of many an elected official. And the heart shudders to think what would become of Britain if our head of state was drawn from the same pool of glib, superficial careerists as many of our politicians.

The day will come – not, we pray, for some years yet – when we will have to face these issues and reshape our country for a new age, looking the future square in the eye. But not today. Today, we can be thankful for a duty faithfully discharged for 63 years and counting. An anachronism, yes, but still an example to us all.

Congratulations, your Majesty.

God save the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II coronation

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