What is “American?”

What is “American?”


B: On occasion one hears a politician or some public figure say that a certain behavior, action, or policy is “un-American,” which is an attack he makes based on an appeal to what he feels American heritage is.  Usually – or at least in my experience – it has to do with what he views as a lack of sufficient freedom and/or justice being accorded certain individuals or groups of people; I suppose this ultimately comes from the (perhaps) once-unique position America held in the world as a “land of the free” and requiter of injustices, and these things all may have been seen to be provisions of the U.S. Constitution.  And yet this term comes up repeatedly in political debates not necessarily because there are certain people who don’t believe in freedom or justice, but because there are differing interpretations as to what things constitute freedom and justice.

One readily sees the quandary we get ourselves into when this term is thrown around without a precise definition; there are probably about as many definitions of what constitutes something “American” as there are Americans.  Ultimately it may mean just about anything a person wants it to; it then becomes a political buzzword used purely for emphasis without any real meaning of its own.  I don’t claim to have the “one true meaning” of what “American” means, and I doubt that anybody could authoritatively pin it down.

A: I suppose we could vote on it.  Wouldn’t that action in itself be “American?”

B: Some might take issue even with that.  For instance, I might claim that it’s my right to define “American” the way I want it, and that people can’t vote on this my right, so’s to give rule by an oppressive majority.

It seems silly, in my mind, to argue about something so impossible to agree upon, and that really doesn’t necessarily matter: what’s important is not necessarily the vague idea of what’s “American,” but rather what is right, or consistent with eternal truth – which, of course, is what I said about the motives of the Founding Fathers.  In other words, it doesn’t matter if something is “American” or “un-American;” what matters is whether it’s the right or wrong thing to do, as it pertains to granting people of the general public more or less freedom.  It’s more important that American heritage would be tied to always doing what’s right anyway, not to what may be consistent with whatever it is people think that “American” has always stood for.

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