Real Americans

Mosammat Rasheda Akter (center), originally from Bangladesh, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance while holding her daughter after becoming a US citizen during a naturalization ceremony at the New York Public Library, July 2018

Joseph O’Neill in the New York Review of Books:

Jill Lepore’s new “little book” is a historian’s attempt to mobilize her knowledge to political effect. Last year Lepore published These Truths: A History of the United States, a monumental and brilliantly assembled work of political history that “is meant to double as an old-fashioned civics book, an explanation of the origins and ends of democratic institutions.” The ideological essence of that work has been distilled in This America: The Case for the Nation. In a New York Times Op-Ed that accompanied its publication, Lepore urged Democratic presidential candidates to “speak with clarity and purpose about what’s at stake: the liberal nation-state itself.” Lepore went on:

The hard work isn’t condemning nationalism; it’s making the case for the liberal nation-state.

This is an argument of political necessity and moral urgency. So far, Democrats haven’t made it. Instead, in much the same way that they gave up the word “liberalism” in the 1980s, they’ve gotten skittish about the word “nation,” as if fearing that to use it means descending into nationalism.

Whether it is electorally efficient, in the short term, to revamp our use of the word “nation” is of course debatable. But the argument, as I understand it, is that icebergs of nationalism have been an ever-present, indeed defining feature of American history; and that to avoid them we must resolutely navigate by our best national ideals—“a revolutionary, generous, and deeply moral commitment to human equality and dignity.”

More here.