E Pluribus Unum?
In 1994 while addressing the Institute of World Affairs in Milwaukee, Al Gore said that the city’s multiculturalism showed that America “can be e pluribus unum- out of one, many.” Infamously inverting the United States motto, the current political climate laden with discrimination, intolerance, and xenophobia shows that Gore may not have been entirely incorrect in his blunder.
Queens Midtown Tunnel, NYC, Photo courtesy MTA
Today, politics are less defined by economic or ideological concerns and rather, focused on questions of identity and belonging. Politicians either promote the interests of marginalized groups (such as ethnic minorities, immigrants and refugees, women and their reproductive rights, and the LGBTQ community), or, channel their efforts into protecting their version of a traditional, national identity and upholding patriotism, which is often, unfortunately, inexplicably tied to race, ethnicity, and religion.
Groups have come to believe that their identities—whether national, religious, ethnic, sexual, gender, or otherwise—are not receiving adequate recognition, either righteously so, or believing underrepresentation through a diluted lens of entitlement and prejudice. Fostering an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, the current political climate pits these groups against one another rather than encouraging the unification, the idea of e pluribus unum, that our nation was founded on. To further complicate the issue, the “us” and the “them” under attack are no longer clearly defined or limited to being simply foreigners or Americans.
American Political scientist, economist, and Stanford Professor, Francis Fukayama states, "People will never stop thinking about themselves and their societies in identity terms. But people’s identities are neither fixed, nor necessarily given by birth. Identity can be used to divide, but it can also be used to unify. That, in the end, will be the remedy for the populist politics of the present."
It is immigrants that built America, shaping national culture and narratives, and bringing with them their ideas and talents. Throughout history, the United States has been host to numerous waves of immigration and, continuously, has not been the kindest to immigrants seeking opportunity and asylum. Yet, the story and legacy of American history is one of global exchange and innovation stemming from the migrant experience.
Photo courtesy National Park Service
Undeniably one of America’s greatest assets is immigration, and the resulting diversity is immortalized in textbooks, museums, landmarks, and US currency. However, this integral piece of American history and our citizens’ ancestry is too often contradicted in what we see and hear in this age of identity politics. It is not enough to simply talk-the-talk and point to monuments of liberty and freedom. Rather, we must extoll America’s legacy of tolerance among ethnic groups and to remember the true meaning behind our nation’s motto.