Maybe a multicultural, multiethnic America is just not possible.

We are the country founded on “all men are created equal,” and over time, we have refined that by allowing women to vote, erecting a grand statue on which we beckon “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” passing the Fourteenth Amendment to guarantee civil rights, and adding in bits and pieces other expansions of the original ideal. No other country has such a developing charter, not even the social democracies of Europe. Pakistani immigrants to England are widely known as “Paki bastards.” Muslims in France are reviled. Black refugees from the war in Ukraine have struggled to be allowed entry to neighbor countries that welcome those who are not black. These ways of being are shameful, but the countries of Europe did not set about to be multiethnic and multicultural. We did.

The promise of American democracy means that people who come here from other places bringing other customs must surely be granted not just citizenship but respect. Emma Lazarus did not write “send me your huddled European Christian masses.” Her poem welcomed the poor and needy without reference to their ethnicity or religious belief. Her lines have been read that way by many, but not by me.

If I had the power to create the America I want, we would welcome people from all parts of the world, but the number would be limited and controlled; to expand our population beyond holding capacity would diminish our quality of life. It’s not just a national threat, either; too much expansion of the world’s population means widespread suffering of every sort imaginable. With numbers controlled, I would allow no bias, legal or tacit, in favor of Christians and Europeans. Hmong, Palestinians, Nigerians, Tibetans – all nationalities – would be equally eligible for visas. Muslims, Animists, Christians, people of any or no religious belief would be considered equally.

They would be welcome as they are, and would face no assimilation requirements other than a few common sense and fundamental  ones – learn English, demonstrate a knowledge of civics, and give up their most objectionable ways, such as requiring women to cover their faces, genital mutilation, severe corporal punishment of children. Such assimilation is necessary in order to achieve e pluribus unum.

The result would be a group of Americans from foreign countries (some recently, some in the past) with various religious and ethnic beliefs and customs. We have a country like that now, but it’s not working well. Hatred and violent interaction are all too common.

In my vision, we would exist as a Ven diagram in which every ethnic and cultural group overlaps with a circle containing absolute values  – equal justice, equal opportunity, fair taxation, educational opportunity, affordable medical care. There would be no white or any other kind of supremacy. We would respect the admirable aspects of every other ethnic group and know with our hearts that our differences are a source of strength.

But at this stage of our national evolution, tribal loyalty is the rule. Consideration of the common good is too often overwhelmed by shouting about personal liberty. Deranged young men use military-grade weapons to massacre children and minorities. The cry of “Jews will not replace us” echoes in the streets. A mob attempts to overthrow the elected government by force. Citizens of sparsely populated states have more powerful votes than those of densely populated states. “Elite” is a term of derision. The electoral college system allows losing candidates to become President. Voting is suppressed by right-wing governing bodies. The Supreme Court has become menacingly political.

To be sure, e pluribus unum has always been a work in progress, but at the moment, we seem perilously close to giving it up in favor of one or another deplorable ism. It’s not the first time we’ve been in this situation, but that is small comfort. Near death is near death no matter if has been survived before.




  1. Mary Jane Wilkie

    While I agree with you whole-heartedly, the issue nobody deals with is the REASON that people leave their homeland at all. This happens because of the ways we powerful nations have de-stabilized governments, used countries shamelessly as a source of natural resources to serve our gluttony for a life filled with more goods than we have the ability to use wisely, and supported rulers who exploit their own peoples. Like Egypt in the time of Joseph, we’re the country people turn to because they’re starving in their own lands. Except that Egypt did nothing to bring that about. We did. They don’t come to the US because they love US, but because their survival is threatened, and we’ve played a role in that.

    1. Nancy Garniez

      Alas, we set (present and past tenses) the model for much of the political as well as the industrial poison that overtly rules other countries. I am haunted by the Black teenager with whom I recently conversed about the importance of her voting: She refuses to vote because “liberty and justice for all” is a travesty.


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