— U.S. Citizen Abroad (@USCitizenAbroad) August 3, 2013
— U.S. Citizen Abroad (@USCitizenAbroad) August 3, 2013
The posts referenced in the above tweets are interesting and are “food for thought” for those American Abroad considering renouncing U.S. citizenship.
On Being An American.” I trashed a draft blog of my own “on being an American” which I was struggling with before the Fourth of July. I was searching for words to express the feeling Victoria captured so eloquently below which I am sure has resonated with Americans abroad.
And Victoria’s post – On being an American – includes:
I had an epiphany the other day. I may have spent most of my adult life outside the U.S. but I was born and raised here in Seattle. No one can take away the first 20 years or so of my life. I am an American and will always be one even if I decide to forgo the pretty blue passport. Cutting ties by relinquishing/renouncing will mean cutting my ties to a political community but here’s the kicker: America is so much more than that.
There is a nation beyond the government and perhaps it’s time to start putting the people above the state. Yes, if I renounce I would no longer be an American citizen, but I would still be an American by culture, blood, language, and inclination. I am part of the collective memory of this country and no one on this planet (not the US Congress or the President or the homelanders) can take that away from me.
And they can’t take it away from anyone else either. To the Canadian/American reader who left a comment about how distressed she was about giving up her U.S. citizenship, I’d just like to say that as far as I’m concerned she’s an American as long as she wants to be one with or without her U.S. passport. So she won’t be able to vote anymore in US elections. Big deal. It’s not like American citizens themselves do that with any regularity.
Thinking about it this way makes me much more serene about the whole business. What do you think of this motto for those of us thinking about renouncing? “Forget the state and just be a child of the nation.”
America is clearly more than the government. That said, the question of “What is America?” is different from the question of “What is an American?”
The question is:
What does it mean to be an American? It must have some meaning if one is “an American as long as she wants to be”. This implies that “being American” is somehow different from the political community or the country as a larger entity. What exactly is “the nation beyond the government” and what does it mean to be an “American”?
Is it really true that “renouncing citizenship” means only cutting ties to the political community? Isn’t the problem that Americans abroad have no ties to the political community to begin with? There are no ties to cut.
I believe that Victoria is saying that the act of renouncing U.S. citizenship should not “diminish your personal identity”. True enough. If you want to think of yourself as an American that’s fine. Nobody can take that away from you. This is important. Why? Because the Obama “Witch Hunt” against U.S. citizens abroad has forced people to reevaluate many of their fundamental assumptions. Few Americans abroad still view the United States as “that great citadel of freedom and justice”. Few Americans abroad see themselves as “tax cheats” because they have offshore accounts. As a former professor of mine once said:
“Citizenship is part of who you are.”
If you cease to be a citizen, do you cease to be less of who you are?
Some believe that if they cease to be U.S. citizens they will become less of what they believed they were. Many Americans abroad are experiencing a crisis of identity. Who are they? What is the United States of America?
But, again, what is an American? Does it have a meaning? Is it anything you want it to be?
Thinking about his reminds me of an earlier post by FoxyLadyHawk titled:Why I will not renounce
What is exceptional about America is not that the people are better, or that the government is wiser, or even that it is the richest and most powerful nation in the world – for now. Empires rise, and inevitably they fall. What is exceptional is the form of government, based on the documents we all know about: the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, powerfully reiterated by the Gettysburg Address. What is exceptional is the system of checks and balances, and the means of amending the Constitution, which were designed to keep the government in check and maximize the freedom of the people to live their lives as they please.
America is exceptional because it is the only country that was built on an idea, and that idea implies a promise. The idea is that all men and all women are created free and equal and that a proper government is one made up of freely elected peers, in which any citizen – * any * citizen – may run for public office. The promise is that because of that idea, anyone has the right to do whatever he or she chooses to do in order to improve her lot in life and live as she wishes, beholden to no monarch or officer or class structure for her future or her fortune. She is not promised happiness – only the lifelong freedom, the natural-born right to pursue it in her own way.
It’s interesting to go back and read the comments to the above post. It’s almost two years old. Have people’s views changed?
The “Why I will not renounce” analysis assumes that America is a true democracy. A democracy where citizens participate it the political process. A democracy where where candidates represent the interests of the voters and not the political parties. Surely true democracy requires more than the right to vote. Incredibly there are certain situations where U.S. citizens abroad do NOT have the right to vote.
What does this suggest about being an American? Is it that as an American you are a member of an elite and privileged group who is free and able to choose what one wants in one’s life? This is not true for Americans abroad. Furthermore, this does not separate the idea of being “American” from “America”.
Is it really possible to renounce U.S. citizenship and still be an “American”?
In his 2013 State of the Union Address President Obama commenting (if he knew what was in his speech) on the meaning of citizenship said:
We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.
In fairness, I would say that he does try to separate the idea of “citizenship” from government or the political community at large. Is he suggesting that all American citizens are somehow American? He doesn’t say that if you are NOT a citizen that you are not American. But, would renouncing U.S. citizenship make you less of an American?
Patriotism and being an American
Must one be patriotic to be a real American? Could renouncing U.S. citizenship be an act of patriotism?
So, what is an American?
I don’t know. The answer to this question is way above my “pay grade”. But, it does seem to me that that there must be some meaning (beyond paying taxes) to be being “American”. If you think of yourself as American, it might be worth considering what that means.