What is unique about the US – and indispensable to the understanding of it – is that it is a country of the displaced and dispossessed: a nation which invented itself for the very purpose of permitting people to reinvent themselves, to take their fate into their own hands, to be liberated from the persecution and the paternalism of the old cultures they had left behind. Almost every American either is himself, or is descended from, someone who made a conscious decision to pull up his roots and take his chances in a land he had almost certainly never seen and which, until quite recently, offered no protection or security if the gamble failed.
And what a terrifying gamble it was: I had not realised until I visited the Ellis Island Museum that one of the conditions of entry to the US in the 19th and early 20th centuries was that the immigrant did not have a pre-arranged job. This was presumably to ensure that cheap labour gangs could not be imported to undercut indigenous workers. But the effect was that everyone who came to America had to be willing to take the risk of starting with nothing and making his own way in the world.
Can you imagine what the character (and the desperation) of these people must have been? To travel 3,000 miles in steerage, with all your worldly possessions on your back, to an unknown future – and all to escape from the demonic power of a state which had oppressed or demeaned or maltreated you? Not only is hatred and suspicion of over-powerful government embedded in the consciousness of ordinary Americans, it is inscribed in the Constitution, which provides, probably more than any document in human history, a literal embodiment of political values and a bond between disparate people which gives them a sense of national identity.
Read Janet Daily's full article here.