The winter Olympics are underway in Beijing. While less dramatic than the 2008 Beijing summer games, it is still the premier international athletic competition. Every nation competes for its share of medals, a testament to its collective athletic prowess and, by implication, its national commitment to success and, even, martial virtue.
As a competition among representatives of nations, the meaning and symbolism of the Olympics have been getting murkier. There is a newish trend where athletes act like free agents, competing for countries with which they have either no connection or merely an ancestral blood tie.
Two Chinese Americans, freestyle skier, Eileen Gu, and figure skater, Zhu Yi, were born and grew up in the United States. But, as the Beijing Winter Olympics came into view, they each switched their citizenship and decided to compete for Communist China. The more popular Gu, who won a gold medal, has been circumspect about her identity and loyalties, stating in one interview, “When I’m in the U.S., I’m American, but when I’m in China, I’m Chinese.” Indeed.
This kind of talk turns the old metaphor of the melting pot on its head. It is, however, a perfect expression of today’s embrace of diversity and multiculturalism among the cosmopolitan and fashionable elites. These values, prominent only in the United States and Europe, deny the tangible, cultural reality of western nations and their historic peoples.
Now, overwhelmed by immigration from the Third World, Western nations are permitted only to be ideological propositions and marketplaces. It is considered déclassé, and even racist, for Americans to celebrate their ethnic, historical, and linguistic ties. Rather, Western nations are not allowed to impose duties or meaningful distinctions between visitors and lawful residents, nor between newcomers and citizens.
We have seen a similar breakdown of solidarity between communities and athletes in professional and college sports. Professional athletes are rarely from the towns for whose teams they play. Like the IBM middle managers of yore, they move and are moved where the job takes them. Similarly, college athletes in many cases are barely even students, let alone products of the states where the large public universities they play for have signed them. With little connection between fans, communities, and the athletes themselves, sports of all kinds have been losing fans in droves.
In some cases, switching national teams is just an extreme manifestation of the monomania required to compete in the Olympics. American Becky Hammon grew up in South Dakota. But, when it appeared she would not make the American team, she quickly became a Russian citizen and competed for them in 2008.
In a mirror image of this phenomenon, the United States has sped up citizenship applications for highly talented foreigners here on visas, including “a Polish kayaker, a Chinese table-tennis player, a triathlete from New Zealand, a Kenyan distance runner, and an Australian equestrian, among many others . . . ”
What Good Is a Proposition Nation,
When the Proposition Is Self-Hatred?
While America has long attracted immigrants because of its prosperity and opportunities, it is something new for athletes to leave the United States and give up their citizenship, simply to compete in the Olympics.
This change is a product of the increasingly empty content of our so-called proposition nation. For older Americans like Joe Biden, it is merely highfalutin’ language one can’t quite remember, “you know the thing.” For younger Americans, the message is more simple: The country was once terrible, but is slowly getting better. They are only allowed to celebrate heroes who exposed our collective flaws.
No one knows much about Dwight Eisenhower, George Washington, or Neil Armstrong. But everyone knows about Martin Luther King and, more recently, George Floyd. To the extent the nation has a symbolic identity, it is a negative one—as a bastion of racism, oppression, and imperialism. It is perhaps not totally surprising that these two young Chinese Americans preferred to associate with a “real country,” one proud of itself and on the rise, where its people share a common culture, blood ties, and a long historical memory.
The word “nation” after all comes from “natio,” meaning “birth, origin; breed, stock, kind, species; race of people, tribe,” literally “that which has been born.” The American nation was not always so devoid of content. Our art and stories used to celebrate the pilgrims and pioneers, the founders and the cowboys. Even when new branches were grafted onto the old stock of Anglo-Saxons—whether through the large waves of German and Irish immigration in the 19th century, or the Southern and Eastern Europeans of the early 20th—these newcomers became Americans without divided loyalties.
Both the existing Americans and the newcomers understood that they must eventually merge into a single people, or there would be big problems.
Dual Loyalties in the Age of Dual Citizenship
Not so anymore. Not only do our elites reject the idea of an American people, they also reject even the idea of singular American citizenship. After all, a great many are global capitalists, who move around with nearly the same ease as their capital. Today, Americans from dozens of countries are now permitted to have dual citizenship. To ask the most obvious question, what happens if we have a war with one of these places?
The modern phenomenon of dual citizens is a contradiction in terms. The oath of citizenship says, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”
This situation is not all the newcomers’ fault. They are assimilating into the confused, increasingly leftist America that emerged over the last 40 years. Their confusion is the fault of America’s elites and also the American people, whose misplaced notions of hospitality and anti-racism have rendered them unable to insist on reciprocal displays of loyalty and respect from new Americans. Instead of faith, confidence, and commitment to a singular American identity, Americans have been seduced and then hobbled by an antithetical and corrosive vision of multiculturalism.
This is particularly problematic in the case of China. China is a hostile power, a nation on the rise, and is almost a completely homogeneous ethnostate. Its elites routinely buy property, obtain university degrees, and otherwise use the West to advance their collective welfare as a people. Since China’s collective aims for power include economic and public relations victories, the embrace of a Chinese political identity among ethnic Chinese born and raised here is a loss for American power and prestige. At the extreme, we must be concerned about spies and saboteurs.
The Olympics, at its best, manifests the difference between globalism and internationalism. Globalism destroys identities through a great mash-up, where economic interests are the driving force, and people, just like jobs and goods, must move where the economic winds take them.
Internationalism, by contrast, involves cooperation and competition among distinct nations with unique peoples and traditions. The competition is enhanced by the particular identities of the teams. For winners of the international Olympics, the wins are not merely for the athletes, but also the collective joy of their home countries. Remember the “Miracle on Ice.”
When Olympic athletes can pick and choose country affiliations as readily as professional and college athletes now switch teams, it destroys the international nature of the competition. Worse, when those moves demonstrate a lack of commitment to the nation’s political principles, where citizens are only minimally connected by blood and history, it is a sign of a far worse, widespread and more consequential disloyalty—one that will prove more relevant as we reach the end of the “end of history.”