CitizenThe United States of America is not above reproach, and clearly not without fault either. But I’m sick and tired of hearing my fellow Europeans pontificate about American policy and culture in moralising lectures during which their countries are portrayed as leaders somehow trying to show America how to be ‘progressive’. (What they mean by ‘progressive’, of course, is actually ‘collectivist’, ‘statist’, ‘left-wing’.) As a British citizen living in America, I’m immeasurably fond of the place and, if anything, I believe it’s other nations who stand to learn most from the United States.

But Randi cheered me up.

Reader Frank Carillo mentioned James Randi earlier today in response to Stephen’s ‘Weird Wednesday’ article yesterday. Randi is a great author and lecturer, and leading skeptic. He’s also from Canada and is as fond of America as I am, appears to be somewhat libertarian or libertarian-leaning, and decided to become a US citizen in 1987. He describes this decision superbly in his newsletter of July 2005:

“The strength of America has always been that we have freedom of belief, among other privileges, designed for us by those who founded this nation. The Constitution of the United States of America was designed to protect the minority from any tyranny put forth by the majority, and to guarantee to all citizens such things as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Remember that catchy phrase? If we obey the laws of the land, and do no harm to others, we should — by that Constitution — have the right to make those decisions which are personal, and to make them without intrusion from the government. That’s a really great way to look at life, in my opinion.

“In fact, that’s the reason that in 1987, a Canadian citizen living in the USA, I applied to take US citizenship. That was brought about by an earlier unpleasant event. In 1973, I’d been touring with the Alice Cooper “Billion Dollar Babies” show, and while in Niagara Falls, Canada, I discovered something about my country that both disappointed me and brought about my decision to become an American. In mid-show, going backstage to change my costume at the locker-room where we’d been placed at the venue, I found a group of thugs prying open lockers and throwing personal belongings — including my own — in every direction. The destruction was heavy, and I of course objected strongly. I was backed up against a wall — at gunpoint — and told that I had no right to be there. I was escorted out of the building.

“No, I couldn’t object to the law. That was the law. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) — the equivalent in Canada to the FBI in the USA — were searching the artists’ property for evidence of drugs while those artists were supposed to be onstage, and though they found nothing, they destroyed that property and simply left all the trash where they’d thrown it. I was able to get back into the building, unseen by the police, through a side entrance, and I hastened onstage on cue, though not garbed as I should have been.

“The following day I arose early and went to the local newspaper office. After much shuffling back and forth, I got to see a feature writer and explained what had happened the previous night. The reaction was a surprise: I was clearly informed that the newspaper wanted no trouble with the RCMP, that the story was already written, that the police action was not part of that story, and that I had better treat the situation as a learning experience. I’m a quick learner:

“I chose to be an American.”

I’m often asked if I will also someday become a citizen of the United States. Right now, I’m a lawful permanent resident – I have a Green Card – meaning that I can stay and live and work for the rest of my life if I like without much further paperwork or hassle. Stories like this and the despicable anti-Americanism in Europe make me determined to think more seriously about becoming a citizen. (A fellow Irishman in the media, late night talk show host Craig Ferguson, recently did so also, as did a prominent fellow Brit before him, Christopher Hitchens.) I haven’t decided anything. Citizenship seems a mere formality, and I’m not into formalities.

But as a way that I can show my rejection of the ideas governing other countries, as a way I can ‘sign up’ to the principles of the fairly libertarian U.S. Constitution, and as a way I can show solidarity with the people I live and work with every day, I may end up being honoured to do so. As Ayn Rand, an immigrant to America from Russia, is quoted:

“I can say – not as a patriotic bromide, but with full knowledge of the necessary metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, political, and aesthetic roots – that the United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.”

The greatest? At least in theory, yes. In practice it’s a privilege to be here helping to live up to those great American ideals.