“What happened to the American Dream? It came true. You’re looking at it.”
—The Comedian, Watchmen (1986)
Supposedly, it is Abraham Lincoln who first used the phrase, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” when referring to his allegedly extra-constitutional acts during what historian Shelby Foote simply called “The War.” But as I watched the speech of Kzir Khan replayed over and over again after the Democratic National Convention during the past week, I was forced to wonder: It isn’t? As he shook his pocket prop Constitution at the screen and at the American people, that seemed to me to be what he was saying: “This is a suicide pact!” Or, in the words of the character Rorschach in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, “I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.”
It’s easy to point out that Mr. Khan’s constitutional interpretation was shoddy: the Constitution does not require that we open our borders to any who want to come into the country. If we still believe in following the Constitution, we still have sovereignty. But this episode, like so many others in our age raises a bigger question: can a nation composed of so many groups that hate each other continue to endure? The promise of liberal toleration is that it can. The political party system allows war by other means, and so far, we continue to allow for a peaceful revolution every four or eight years. But can that continue in an unlimited fashion? Are there no groups of people that the great American dream cannot assimilate?
It seems obvious to some that that dream is failing. This was, of course, the message of Donald Trump’s RNC speech. His promise was a restoration of the dream, though one assumes, as Peter Thiel noted in his convention speech, Trump knows that we cannot go back, only forward. And if we are to go forward, there must be room for course correction.
So let us ask frank questions. Are there some ideologies that the American dream cannot assimilate, and is Islam one of those? Is political Islam incompatible with the principles of freedom and toleration? Is all Islam political? If political Islam is incompatible with those principles, and if all Islam is political, then can it be allowed in America, or does the Constitution forbid banning it? If so, is the Constitution indeed a suicide pact? Were the seeds of destruction there all along? Is the promise of liberal toleration a lie?
Are all of these questions moot because we live in a post-constitutional age?
I won’t pretend to answer these questions. But we should rid ourselves of illusions. There’s nothing magic about American dirt. We cannot afford to continue deluding ourselves that everyone who crosses our borders will miraculously accept “our values” (whatever those are), and adopt the traditions of the Anglosphere.
When liberals insist that when the Founders wrote the Second Amendment they never imagined the invention of the AR-15, some jokingly respond that when the Founders wrote the First Amendment, they never imagined the importation of thousands of Muslims into the United States. But it seems less and less like a joke as time goes on. Nevertheless, our Founders surely never imagined relinquishing control of the nation’s borders and failing to defend the interests of its citizens.