Center for Equal Opportunity

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E Pluribus Unum

At last week’s prayer breakfast, President Trump made fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poor ratings as his replacement on Celebrity Apprentice, but he also said this:  “So in the coming days, we will develop a system to help ensure that those admitted into our country fully embrace our values of religious and personal liberty, and that they reject any form of oppression and discrimination.  We want people to come into our nation, but we want people to love us and to love our values — not to hate us and to hate our values.” The President’s remarks about Mr. Schwarzenegger were gratuitous, but he’s right about the importance of all Americans, immigrant and native-born alike, needing to share certain basic values if our country is to work well.

I have no doubt that, between tweets, the President reads my weekly email from the Center for Equal Opportunity, so I thought I would share with him (and you) a column I wrote on this topic in 2000.  I still stand by it, and hope that the President and his administration find it useful as they work on ensuring better assimilation.  (Later on, I fleshed out this article in Congressional testimony I gave here.)Here’s the column:

E Pluribus Unum
America has always been a multiracial and multiethnic country. But saying that it is, or should be, multicultural is very different. The ideal was, and still should be, that you can come to America from any country and become an American — but that means accepting some degree of assimilation. It is not diversity that we celebrate most, but what we hold in common.

The same is also true for native-born Americans. All of us can claim equally to be Americans, but all must acknowledge a shared set of beliefs and mores.

America has always been diverse. But telling an elementary school that it cannot insist on teaching children standard English, or English at all; or telling a college that it cannot focus on Western Civilization; or insisting that an employer accommodate work habits it finds to be unproductive; or condemning social strictures as judgmental — well, all this may celebrate diversity, but it denigrates the common standards that a free society must have if it is to flourish.

Still, it will not do simply to condemn diversity, any more than it will to embrace it indiscriminately. There is much diversity that is valuable or at worst harmless. Workers and students from all backgrounds have contributed enormously to our national life, and who cares what food they like? Some diversity is good, and some bad.

Accordingly, it makes sense to set out some rules essential for a multiracial, multiethnic America and that all Americans should follow — wherever they or their ancestors came from, whatever their skin color, whatever their favorite food or dance. Here are my ten, aimed as much at the native-born as the newly arrived.

1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity. It may seem odd to begin the list with this one, but actually it’s not. On the list of things we don’t tolerate, intolerance deserves a prominent position. If we are to be one nation, we cannot criticize one another’s skin color and ancestors.

2. Respect women. Just as we do not tolerate a lack of respect based on race or ancestry, we also demand respect regardless of sex. Some subcultures — foreign and domestic — put down women. That is not acceptable. This doesn’t mean that men and women have no differences or that we all must be ardent feminists. But it does mean that women must be treated respectfully, and that where the law requires that they be treated equally — as it frequently does in this country — it be followed.

3. Learn to speak English. This doesn’t mean that you can’t learn other languages, too, or keep up a native language. But you and your children must learn English — standard English — as quickly as you can. And, if you expect to be accepted, you should avoid speaking another language when you are with people who don’t understand it.

4. Don’t be rude. Some people apparently view it as unmanly or uncool to be polite. But that is just adolescent sullenness. Customers, coworkers, fellow students, strangers — all expect to be treated courteously, and rightly so. Not every culture is a stickler for taking turns, queuing up, and following the rules (see next item), but Americans follow the British here.

5. Don’t break the law. If you want to participate in this republic — if you want a say in making the rules and electing those who make them — you have to follow the laws yourself. That means, among other things, that you can’t use illegal drugs, which is just as well since there is no surer way to stay at the bottom of the heap or to find yourself there in a hurry.

6. Don’t have children out of wedlock. Moral issues aside, illegitimacy is a social disaster for women and children alike (especially boys). Here again, it is a sure way to stay poor and raise poor children. Perhaps in some countries it takes a village to raise a child, but in the United States it takes two parents. That said, the pathology of illegitimacy is more widespread among some native-born groups than among some immigrants.

7. Don’t demand anything because of your race, ethnicity, or sex. You have the right not to be discriminated against because of these factors, and it follows that you also cannot demand discrimination in your favor. The sooner you can stop thinking of yourself first as a member of a particular demographic subset, and instead as a human being and an American, the better. This is true for both individuals and groups. The demagogues of identity politics promise nothing worthwhile.

8. Working hard-in school and on the job — and saving money — are not “acting white.” And, for whites, it is not being a nerd or a dweeb. America owes her success to a strong work ethic and to parents instilling that ethic in their children.

9. Don’t hold historical grudges. There is not a single group in the United States that has not been discriminated against at one time or another. But we are all in the same boat now, and we have to live and work together. Your neighbor’s great-great grandfather may have tried to kill or enslave yours, but we are a forward-looking country and so we cannot afford to dwell on the past.

10. Be proud of being an American. You can hardly expect to be liked and accepted by other Americans if you don’t love America. This is not a perfect country, and it does not have a perfect history. And there are lots of other countries that have good qualities. But there is no country better than the United States. If you disagree, then why are you here?