The treatment of expatriates by the Government of the United States often defies explanation. It is burdensome, often frightening and usually threatening. It is also marked by confusion and lack of comprehension. In short, the attitude of some Americans toward the plight of expatriates is mystification, outright antipathy, or shoulder-shrugging “so what”–or all three. I am going to suggest that these things may be best understood by seeing it as analogous, at least, to behaviour which may be described as “religious.”
The U.S. effectively has what may be termed a “state religion.” Conor Cruise O’Brien calls it the “American Civil Religion” (following Rousseau). Its core is “Patriotism.” It has a deity (originally represented by “Lady Liberty”, but in more recent years by The Flag), tenets, rules and forms of worship. Its proponents behave very much like religious persons generally.
When I was a child of five, I began each school day with a little “religious” ritual. We would sing “America”, recite the Lord’s Prayer (King James’ version) and, of course, pledge allegiance to the Flag. Indeed, during my childhood years, the words of the pledge were altered to include the now controversial “under God”. This was a simple form of worship for a more simple time. Other simple forms included Memorial Day ceremonies at local town and village squares, local Independence Day celebrations and even boy and girl scout meetings. In time, however worship would encompass thousands of people in sports stadiums, enormous flags that would require troops of people to carry, celebrity singers of “America the Beautiful” and “To Anachreon in Heaven..”, oh sorry, “The Star Spangled Banner” (same tune), and military fly-overs.
This isn’t worship? Well, it’s a pretty good imitation. 50 or 60 thousand people with their hands over their hearts looks a lot like religious ritual–or would to an uninformed observer who didn’t know exactly what they was going on.
And of course there are the “saints”. “Land of the Pilgrims’ pride” celebrates the first real Americans, the first American “saints” (and indeed, the Pilgrims termed themselves “saints” in the traditional religious sense). Never considering, of course, that some descendants of these very “saints” would be driven out of their homes because they remained loyal to the Crown between 1775 and 1783.
But for sure there is “Saint Washington” (so sublime a saint that his monument has no graven image), “Saint Jefferson”, “The Sainted Father Abraham”, and so forth. All properly worshipped, each with his sacred shrine in Washington.
And there are the hymns. “America,” “America the Beautiful,” “Columbia Gem of the Ocean” …a particular 1991 recording of American patriotic hymns has a total of eighteen (but three would likely have to be discounted, because they are Confederate hymns). Even this collection does not include things like “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Over There..” I’ve been a Canadian for fifty years and, besides the national anthem, I can only think of two patriotic songs, “The Maple Leaf Forever,” and “Mon Pais…” (a third might be Stompin Tom Connors’ “The Hockey Song.”)
You need these hymns for the same reason you need the rituals, to keep people “in” the faith. The greater the emotional involvement, the more encompassing the faith.
And, of course, there are tenets of this religion. “The U.S. is the very cradle of freedom. “ ”The U.S. observes and upholds the rule of law.” “The U.S. is the exemplar of democracy.” And so forth. But above all, Patriotism holds that the United States is the greatest country that has ever existed. Ever. Sing it: “This is My Country, grandest on earth.”
And, having drunk this kool-aid from childhood, the average American cannot imagine why any person would not want to be an American. As proof of that particular pudding, there are the thousands upon thousands of “illegals” who would want nothing so much as the green card that will start them on the road to full U.S. citizenship, the most wonderful status available to any human being on the face of the earth. (And in addition, there are thousands more would-be illegals marshalling on the southern border of the United States).
All other citizenships pale by comparison. All are inferior to the glorious American nationality.
So why, in the name of all that is “holy”, would anyone ever consider giving up American nationality. This is what produces a reaction of “mystification” on the part of many, probably most, Americans. The United States is “My Country, grandest on earth,” so giving up its citizenship is beyond comprehension.
Antipathy and Punishment.
But there is another “religious”response. All religions are familiar with what can be called “heresy” or “apostasy”. And fully expatriating, divesting oneself of U.S. citizenship, aside from being incomprehensible, is clearly “heretical” and “apostastic.” What is more, it is very threatening to the true believers, especially if perpetrated by persons who were given the “kool-aid” at an early age and had the opportunity to drink it into their adult years. They must be extremely misguided at the least, deranged at the extreme. Because, in practice, expatriates have done what no reasonable believer could possibly have done: denied the tenets of the faith, denied that the U.S. is the “grandest” country on earth. What is more, they have advanced the heresy that other countries may be much better places in which to live.
For heretics, no punishment can be too great, no pain too exquisite. The medieval and renaissance Christians punished heretics by burning them at the stake, an absolutely horrifying punishment, employed because it was believed that fire purifies..
So, if expatriate Americans suffer, no problem. It’s a punishment fully justified by their heretical denials of the greatness of the United States, that inherent belief attested to at every football game in America by thousands who keep the faith and know the truth. If those who want to leave are forced to jump through hoops, again, no problem. Like those heretics who were purified by fire, the apostatic expatriate may be purified by delay. Then he or she will hopefully return to seeing the light. (As it was believed the purification by fire might, at last, “save” the heretic).
No. No punishment is too great in the defence of the faith.
Dialling down the burden–the shrug..
There is one more dimension on which the American state religion sheds light and it is this. Many religions, in varying degrees, demand “service” to the deity. In some instances that demand is so extreme that “service” becomes “servitude”, and it seems to me that the American state religion demands something approaching “servitude”.
“Service” involves a wide degree of “choice” and personal freedom and integrity, “servitude” is a situation in which the deity may demand much of the “server,” up to and including the surrender of life, without allowing much in the way of choice. The United States has always seemed to me to be on that end of the scale. Now I will admit to a personal bias here, since I have always resented the fact that the U.S. thought that I should be “pursuing happiness” in places like Nha Trang or Da Nang. I was not entitled to plan my life, had no choice as to whether or not I wanted to pursue my happiness in a land war in Southeast Asia. Servitude, pure and simple.
I was fortunate. I was able to avoid that awful mess. Legally. But it bespeaks a mentality. The United States is the greatest nation on earth. Citizenship in such a nation is so incredibly valuable that absolutely anything can be demanded of the citizen. Hence the nonsense: “Ask not what your country can do for you…”
For this mentality, the subjection of citizens to “internal” taxation when they do not live within the borders of the United States makes perfect sense. In effect, the prize of citizenship in the greatest country that has ever been has to be paid for. The United States is not required to actually do anything in return for tax monies collected–“Ask not what your country can do for you…”–as one political thinker would have required. Servitude in worship of the deity makes perfect sense to those who have drunk the kool-aid.
The United States is not the greatest country on earth in any particular other than obscene wealth and military muscle. It regularly scores relatively low on “pursuit of happiness” scales. For the living of ordinary life, the U.S. is inferior to any number of other countries on the planet.
When I was eighteen, I entered one of those countries (Canada) as a student. I very quickly realized that I was in a better place, a kinder, gentler, caring place. My fellow students were able to start planning their lives without having to think about giving up a minimum of two years to the great god (or goddess) of the state. By the time I had entered my second year of “university,” I knew where it was that I wanted to live and it was not the U.S.
I have been a Canadian in my mind ever since, and in reality for nearly 50 years. The United States is an alien government as far as I am concerned, and were it not a thug and a bully, it would actually observe the rule of law that it gives mere lip service to. One of the rules of that rule of law is that you do not get to create legislation which, (by any expedient pretext) allows you to reach across your territorial border and touch people and things in other countries. Instead the American thug visits upon me unlawful taxation requirements and the possibility of crippling penalties. And this is completely justified–in American eyes–because “servitude” requires that the “server” provide whatever is demanded.
Those Homeland Americans who have drunk deeply of the kool-aid will not care that this “servitude” is something they do not have to share. After all, not everyone was drafted. But the accepting of burdens, any burden at all regardless of whether or not it is shared, is a perfectly legitimate demand made by a state which is god.
Understanding of the clear wrongness of all of this is beyond those who worship at the shrines of Lady Liberty and The Flag. They don’t even recognize their military defeats, so how likely is it that they will admit to international wrongdoing.
Rather than being surprised by it, we should expect confusion and mystification when we want to leave. Rather than imagining that we will avoid it, we should expect punishment. Rather than hoping Americans will see how wrong they are, we should expect that they will shrug their shoulders and return to worshipping the Flag.
It’s their Faith. And faith, according to St. Augustine, is irrational. By definition.