Even Michele Bachmann underestimated the jingoism of the American right this week, as she came under fire for exercising her option to have Swiss citizenship. Mark Krikorian, who directs an anti-immigration group, wrote in National Review Online: “Dual citizenship isn’t simply a matter of convenience, a way to make travel easier or a sentimental tie to the Auld Sod. It’s a formal declaration of divided allegiance, civic bigamy, if you will.” Reading that, I had one of those moments when another person’s worldview flashed in front of my eyes and I realized how differently we see things. “Allegiance” is just not a word I apply to my relationship with my country, certainly not undivided allegiance.
That allegiance (which is to say, that loyalty, devotion, and fidelity, to use the words that appear in Merriam-Webster’s definition)–that commitment–is shared with the commitment I make to all living things; to humanity as a whole; to the truth, as best as I can perceive it; and to the aims of liberty and justice for all, which is the only phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance that ever moved me. Maybe I am not using the word “country” the same way Krikorian, or the State Department, uses it. The government? The people? The land?
I guess Krikorian’s view is not new to me. A good friend of mine took the attitude that when one’s country is at war, it is irresponsible to do anything but support that war. I was bewildered, but could at least see that he was setting aside a special case. Not all that special, since the US is almost always at war, but still, there was a theoretical space for peacetime dissent there. He is no longer alive, so I can only wonder what he would have made of the idea that being a citizen of two countries at peace with each other is inherently disloyal.
Divided allegiances do mean one may have to make a choice. In fact, if you look at it as broadly as Bachmann’s compatriots on the right are doing, one faces these choices constantly. When my country disregards the well-being of living things, for example, by insisting upon its “right” to pour a dangerous amount of carbon into the atmosphere we all share, do I go with my country or the biosphere? Easy: the biosphere. If my country required me to kill someone I didn’t think had done anyone any harm, would I go with my country or my religious convictions? Easy to say, hard perhaps to carry out: my religion.
I’m not sure what Krikorian imagines a dually-faithful person does at such moments–throw bombs? Being that his country has chosen a Democrat as its leader, he, also, must find that his country does something every day that appalls his principles. What does he do at such times? He’s a columnist and heads a think tank, so I assume he does what a lot of us do: he protests and he argues. What I don’t see is how either of these things threaten the United States. It’s an axiom of my understanding of democracy that they strengthen it. Maybe that is why I tend to think of my relationship with my country not in terms of allegiance, which seems to smother disagreement, but in terms of affection, hope, and responsibility.