Magazine article The American Conservative

The Great Struggle of Our Era

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Great Struggle of Our Era

Article excerpt

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," wrote poet Robert Frost in the opening line of "Mending Walls."

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And on the American left there is something like revulsion at the idea of the "beautiful wall" President Trump intends to build along the 1,900-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico.

The opposition's arguments are usually rooted in economics or practicality. The wall is unnecessary. It will not stop people from coming illegally. It costs too much.

Yet something deeper is afoot here. The idea of a permanent barrier between our countries goes to the heart of the divide between our two Americas on the most fundamental of questions.

Who are we? What is a nation? What does America stand for?

Those desperate to see the wall built, illegal immigration halted, and those here illegally deported, see the country they grew up in as dying, disappearing, with something strange and foreign taking its place.

It is not only that illegal migrants take jobs from Americans, that they commit crimes, or that so many require subsidized food, welfare, housing, education, and health care. It is that they are changing our country. They are changing who we are.

Two decades ago, the Old Right and the neocons engaged in a ferocious debate over what America was and is.

Were we from the beginning a new, unique, separate, and identifiable people like the British, French, and Germans?

Or was America a new kind of nation, an ideological nation, an invented nation, united by an acceptance of the ideas and ideals of Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and Dr. King?

The Old Right contended that America existed even before the Revolution, and that this new nation, this new people, wrote its own birth certificate, the Constitution. Before Washington, Madison, and Hamilton ever went to Philadelphia, America existed.

What forced the premature birth of the nation--was the Revolution.

We did not become a new nation because we embraced Jefferson's notion about all men being "created equal." We became a new people from our familial break with the Mother Country, described in the declaration as a severing of ties with our "brethren" across the sea who no longer deserved our loyalty or love.

The United States came into being in 1789. The Constitution created the government, the state. But the country already existed.

When the Irish came in the mid-19th century to escape the famine and the Germans to escape Bismarck's Prussia, and the Italians, Jews, Poles, Greeks, and Slovaks came to Ellis Island, they were foreigners who became citizens, and then, after a time, Americans. …

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