The story of the Old Testament is of a people chosen by God who continually reject him. Again and again, the Lord calls His people back and sends messengers calling His people to repent. Finally, the Lord sends them into exile. Their temple is destroyed, and they are scattered. Still, God remains faithful to His people even then. God keeps His promises. God keeps his covenant.
There is a civic, religious strand that runs through American culture that suggests we have some divinely intended covenant. Our nation is on the planet for something great. It was once a manifest destiny to stretch from sea to sea. Then it was that we were set apart as the torch bearers of liberty in the world, bringing light to darkness.
What set our nation apart was that we were not tied to blood and soil, but to an idea and truth. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The United States had always been a nation of many different people working together to advance liberty and reveal those self-evident truths. Our two-fold motto is “In God We Trust” and also “E Pluribus Unum,” or “out of many, one.” Anyone could come here, and so long as they committed themselves to the idea of America, they could become American. Our demand on them was then to contribute to advancing American society.
We, as a nation not tied to blood and soil, could chart new paths through history. We had no aristocracy. The merit of men raised them up in society. The poor man with a good idea could best the rich man with a bad idea. The immigrant who came from nothing could die a wealthy American. Each generation then committed itself to our American covenant.
Something though has gone wrong. No longer are we a nation that looks to America the idea, but to America the blood and soil. If you don’t sound like us, don’t have the right skin tone, don’t have the right religion, or are from the wrong part of the world, some would say you cannot take part in our American covenant. The American dream is to be restricted.
Beyond that, those who would restrict this covenant to those already here would then build up protectionist walls to stop competition, capital, and merit from freely flowing. That protectionism breeds aristocracy. The United States becomes like Europe. The irony here is that many of the people embracing a blood and soil nationalism do so to preserve our unique American identity. But in doing so, they become exactly like the European nations they are trying to avoid us becoming.
As the nation moves forward through the present turmoil, we should recommit ourselves to policies that embrace our American covenant of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We should open our shores to any who come here through legal processes and make plain those processes, ending long bureaucratic delays in obtaining citizenship. We should secure our border, but we should also encourage the best and brightest throughout the world to not just come to America but to become Americans and commit themselves to our great experiment in individual liberty.
More importantly, we should again embrace the idea that we are better than other nations because we are not a nation rooted in blood and soil, but a nation rooted in an idea, a meritocracy, and an experiment in the advancement of individuals. When we make this nation about what it was and not what it can be, we break our founding covenant. When we make America about the collective or the mob and not the right of the individual to succeed or fail on his own in freedom, we break our covenant.
“A republic, if you can keep it,” said Mr. Franklin. We fail him and our founders when we uproot our flag from America as an idea and plant it among blood and soil, anchored to visions of former glory.