You will have no doubt noticed that the tone and level of civility in public discourse has declined notably in recent years. I think the drivers of this shift are complex and largely operate at the societal level. Any particular individual is a symptom of the problem, rather than being any kind of cause. Of course, we can all exacerbate (or salve) divisions and, at some level, have to live with those decisions that we make on a micro level, every day.
This afternoon, I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. I had been looking forward to the ceremony for several weeks – of course on an individual level, but also as a social scientist.
As expected, it was emotional for many who were there. And, it was quite a group – extremely diverse on every metric you can think of. I remember that, when attending my final interview appointment, the waiting room was like a United Nations gathering. This sense of the world coming together was enhanced at today's ceremony. We were told that, among the 50 people being sworn in, 25 countries were represented. Two thoughts, in particular, came to mind:
First, the event was a very visible (and visceral) demonstration of the extent to which immigration is embedded in this country – central to everything it stands for and will achieve, going forward.
But second, I think the emotion of those being naturalized demonstrates the value of U.S. citizenship to those who come from countries around the world that are, relatively, in a much worse state. Of course, there was relief because a long and complicated process had come to an end, which provides security. But, I think there was also a sense of security (pride?) that comes from belonging to something larger than the individual and that has meaning – an idea or project that represents a greater purpose.
The more I think about this second point, in particular, the more I think that all Americans should witness one of these ceremonies at some point, so they do not lose sight of what this country means to the rest of the world. I would start with those who seem so opposed to immigration (for whatever reason), but I would extend it to everyone in this massive country. John Oliver was very good on this topic last Sunday:
If nothing else, a broader understanding of the immigration process in this country provides common ground that all Americans should be able to support. And, as such, it forms the basis for a little more agreement and a little less conflict.
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