National Identity at the Heart of the American Campaign

Throughout the game, we whistled and cheered for them breathlessly. We also insulted them in the vilest way. Nothing could be done. During the final minutes, the Detroit Pistons were still winning. They beat the Miami Heat by 1 point (93-92). Nevertheless, these [teams] played it out on the floor in the vastness of the arena, the largest indoor stadium in the city.

That was Dec. 23. Here, basketball is a little like the French Clog Dance, an important cultural affair. The Miami Heat is one of the star teams of the National Basketball Association. As we are in the audience, we have wisely taken their part each time it was necessary to boo pitiful Detroit. NBA matches are not just sports, [or] basketball of the highest caliber. They also have a role similar to a local carnival. Immense television screens flash the score and action in multicolor and real time, and with music.

But the key [to basketball’s popularity] wasn’t on the arena’s floor. It was in this multi-ethnic Floridian public: Latinos, African-Americans, whites, Asians, blazers and tank tops alike. The little visiting French person can’t help but to think hard: What do these Americans have in common? What national novel, what shared memories? This time, the response was on the ground, before the match. When a 16-year-old high school student, microphone in hand, at the top of her voice, tackles the first notes of the Star Spangled Banner, the national song of the United States, one movement stirs the public: Everyone stood. When one of the Heat’s star players, an African-American, then presents a young, white Floridian soldier dressed in uniform, justly honored for his bravery in an overseas war, the same spontaneous movement: Everyone stood.

Too Many Immigrants, According to Trump

This American patriotism, constantly renewed, is the condition of a living multicultural society – this one soiled, in a constantly renewed way, by the racism of the trigger-happy, white policemen. Questioning the national identity could be at the heart of the presidential campaign of November 2016. It dominates the Republican pre-primaries. King of reality TV and luxury real estate, Donald Trump set the tone: A surplus of immigrants threatens America.

Trump suggests sending about 11 million illegal immigrants back to the other side of the Rio Grande. He suggests closing the country to Muslims. The builder of the East Coast casinos has swerved to the right of the other candidates for the Republican nomination. Behind the theme of immigration [lie] the anger and the fears of a white, rather old, middle-class male manhandled by globalization.

In The Miami Herald, pro-Democrat political analyst E.J. Dionne wrote, “Which political party loves America? Not the United States that once existed, but the flesh-and-blood nation that we all live in now.” Dionne’s answer is the three candidates for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’ Malley and Bernie Sanders, [who] “all stand up for the rights of a younger America — today’s country — that is less white, more Latino and more Asian (and, yes, more Muslim) than was the U.S. of the past.”

The Republican Party has become a party of protest. It exploits the theme of “decline” (real or not). It denounces the loss of vigor of an American empire that threatens the emergence of other powers. It refuses [to acknowledge] the complexity of [this] globalized world. It opposes more than it proposes. It is a disruption on the political scene. Since the 1980s, the Republicans carried American optimism and trust in the future loud and clear. The Democrats often cultivated a more skeptical attitude, even a reasoned pessimism. In 1980, the Republican Ronald Reagan brought the country out of a financial crisis, embodied, rightly or wrongly, by the Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Minorities Vote for Democrats

Today, the roles are reversed. Despondent Republicans fight immigration. The Democrats, confident, accept the United States as it is and collect votes from ethnic minorities, [who are] generally attached to the values of family, religion and work. On Dec. 15 in Washington, Barack Obama received 27 immigrants who had just taken the naturalization oath. An inconceivable scene in France: in the building of the National Archives, which shelters the founding texts of American democracy, the Democratic president delivers a course on the newcomers’ duties.

“And as of today, your story is forever woven into the larger story of this nation … [Because even as you’ve put in the work required to become a citizen], you still have a demanding and rewarding task ahead of you — and that is the hard work of active citizenship. You have rights and you have responsibilities,” warns Obama, who, in a powerful speech, again cautions:

“The truth is, being an American is hard. Being part of a democratic government is hard. Being a citizen is hard. It is a challenge,” — that is, to be faithful to what makes this country “more than just a piece of land, but an idea.” Obama proceeds to say that it will be necessary for the new citizens to defend this idea because democracy is never guaranteed and never stops fluctuating, even in America. In sum, American diversity requires a form of patriotism … Q.E.D.?*

On Dec. 25, honor was saved: The Miami Heat beat the New Orleans Pelicans 94-88. Phew!

*Editor’s note: Q.E.D. refers to the Latin quod erat demonstrandum, meaning that that which one sets out to prove has been proven.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply