NEW YORK, July 15 (UPI) -- When I say "one nation under God," I can take or leave the "under God" part, but I'm a fanatic about the "one nation" part. Has anyone ever considered that we're possibly arguing over the wrong words?
The screwy thing about the self-righteous posturing of the past two weeks -- and, by the way, you can stop sending me e-mail with Red Skelton's interpretation of the Pledge of Allegiance, I already have 39,000 copies -- is that "under God" is at best just a throwaway line, which is why it wasn't in the pledge to begin with.
It just expresses a vague desire to acknowledge that, yes, the Big Guy is watching what we do. It was actually added to slam communist Russia.
But the "one nation" thing is the meat of the Hungry Man dinner, considered so important that the pledge hammers it home with the word "indivisible." I'll bet there are lots more people who disagree with THAT part of the pledge than there are people who bridle at the words "under God."
After all, we live in a nation in which hundreds of Indian tribes are claiming "sovereignty," hundreds of thousands of citizens are claiming they don't owe income tax, and Wesley Snipes -- to use just one example -- is building a 200-acre training camp in rural Georgia for his "security guards" who will one day become part of his royal guard of Amen-Ra.
Never has the country believed less that we are "one nation." We're divided ethnically, economically, geographically, sexually and politically. We have militias in Idaho, Texas and Michigan that want to found Chechen-style autonomous republics.
Every day a lawsuit is filed against a corporation or a government seeking damages for grievances that are sometimes hundreds of years old, like "slave reparations," basically setting up an "us and them" scenario in which the "us" are claiming separate citizenship and saying they're owed money, apologies or land by "them" (the taxpayers who aren't "us").
Half of us don't vote, and the wealthy live behind police gates and security walls. The president of the borough of Brooklyn recently ordered the pictures of George Washington taken out of Borough Hall because he's "an old white man" who doesn't have any relevance to America today.
Ancient words, in short, have little meaning, whether they're words about God or words about a republic with liberty and justice for all. The idea of America, although 226 years old at this point, is still just an experiment. We're still the only country in the world that believes in treating every race, religion and immigrant group exactly alike -- or do we?
When Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of France's National Front Party, forced a runoff in the recent elections, there was massive condemnation from this side of the ocean. And yet his two biggest issues were uniquely American: he wanted to crack down on criminals, and he wanted to cut off all immigration, especially Muslims who immigrate from northern Africa.
A few weeks later, Pim Fortuyn, the gay sociology professor who had become amazingly popular in the Netherlands, was assassinated on the eve of elections that were expected to give his political party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, a major role in the new Dutch government.
Fortuyn's two main issues were the same as Le Pen's: he wanted tougher criminal laws, more prisons, and a stop to "the Islamization of our culture" -- and this in a country that is currently admitting only 40,000 immigrants a year. "This is a full country," he said.
These two men were vilified as right-wing extremists in the American press -- ridiculous terminology, because "right-wing" has very little meaning in the context of European parliamentary politics. (Fortuyn was a sociology professor, for God's sake. On many American issues, he would rate as an extreme liberal.) The implication, increasingly common in the American press, is that anyone opposed to immigration is a nut, and that closing your borders is an act of racism.
That's what we believe in America, but we're the ONLY country that believes it, and we should be more polite about allowing other countries to disagree with us. Ninety-nine percent of the countries in the world believe that immigration weakens society and destroys cultures. Forget Islamists; France doesn't even want GERMANS moving in.
This is especially the case with small countries like the Netherlands, with just 16 million people, or Denmark, with just 6 million. Denmark had a labor shortage in the 1960s and started admitting Turkish workers, many of whom never left. The Danes became alarmed and started aggressively sending them home, sometimes giving them huge financial incentives to leave.
If the same thing happened in America, we would condemn the Congress as being racist. But, in fact, Denmark has a small homogeneous population that they want to preserve ethnically and, yes, racially. They have bloodlines and traditions dating back 1,200 years, and they think that's what allows them to have relative peace and prosperity. They didn't dislike the Turks, they just knew that they wouldn't "fit in." It's not a crime.
It's their way of remaining "one nation."
But that policy is impossible in the United States. Ever since 1873, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was struck down, there have been numerous court decisions saying that race-based or religion-based immigration policy is wrong. Our original immigration policies allowed only Europeans to immigrate, following the same theory practiced in the Netherlands and Denmark: if they can't assimilate, they can't immigrate.
But we got lucky. People of many races DID assimilate, and up until the 1980s they were more or less happy to do it. But since then many ethnic groups have adopted a sort of "separate but equal" attitude that has generally been supported by Congress and legislatures in the form of bilingual education and other multi-cultural policies. In some cases -- for example, the ethnic Chinese who live in urban Chinatowns -- they've even continued to support their native countries politically. (President Bush had zero support in Chinatown for his crusade to get the spy plane back last year.)
That's why the words "one nation" are so important. The pledge, after all, is a pledge of allegiance, which means loyalty. You can't take the pledge if your first loyalty lies more with Mexico, or China, or an Indian tribe, or an armed camp in Georgia. If we truly want to make the pledge mean something, we could easily drop the God part -- God can take care of himself -- but make everyone pony up on the only idea that will hold us together.
(John Bloom writes a number of columns for UPI. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site at joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)