From a new American

Once, when I was a kid back in Britain, I was watching Superman II on TV. At the end, with General Zod vanquished, the music swells and the Man of Steel flies into shot holding an American flag out in front. I remember sitting there and thinking to myself: “My God, I’m proud to be American!”

Which is weird because I wasn’t. Or at least I wasn’t until yesterday, when, in a ceremony in St. Paul, I became one.

On Independence Day, I wrote about a speech given by Abraham Lincoln in his famous debates with Stephen Douglas. In it, Lincoln explored what July 4th meant and how it should hold meaning for all Americans; not just those who could claim an ancestor among the Continental troops at Lexington or Yorktown, but also the brand new ones like me.

“[W]hen they look through that old Declaration of Independence,” he said:

…they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as through they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

On a previous Independence Day a few years ago now, I wrote a little more about what those self-evident truths mean in practice:

…the American Experiment is, to me, about liberty: the liberty to live your life as you see fit and to pursue happiness in your own way, as long as it doesn’t impede anyone else’s pursuit. The flipside of this is responsibility, which can be scary. But only by remaining forever a child, with the government as the parent, can a person avoid some measure of that.

It has often been said that the United States is not a country formed, like many others, on the basis of a shared language or ethnicity. Its basis is these ideas. It is because this basis is so inclusive that I don’t think “My God, I’m proud to be French!” when I watch that bar full of people singing the Marseillaise in Casablanca. It would be a bad thing for the United States if it abandoned them.

It was exciting to be in that room with 950 other new Americans yesterday because of their enthusiasm. There was an appreciation of the fact that we were now citizens of this great, wonderful country.

Sadly, I often feel as though I love this country more than many of the people who were born here. Superman no longer fights for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” Would a Superman movie made today end with Kal-El — an immigrant to the Midwest himself — waving an American flag? I doubt it. And you’re not going to have kids around the world watching and thinking: “My God, I’m proud to be an American!”