At The New York Times, political scientist Yascha Mounk, a native of Germany, writes about taking the oath of citizenship.
One of the things I most admire about the United States is its fierce attachment to the Constitution. Americans have as deep a commitment to democratic institutions, and as active a civil society, as the citizens of any other country in the world. If the defenders of democracy don’t make it here, it is doubtful that they will make it anywhere.
But one of the things I most fear about the United States is that the veneration of the Constitution is always in danger of turning into complacency. While the country’s system of checks and balances gives Americans the tools to safeguard their freedoms, the Constitution cannot defend itself. The defenses it puts in place will work only if citizens are prepared to use them.
As this realization dawned on many Americans in the past months, and a valiant fight for the soul of the country got underway, I felt increasingly self-conscious about my status as a “resident alien.” While I had plenty of opportunity to speak to Americans, I could not speak as an American. And that is why the election of a dangerous demagogue to the presidency of the United States made me more, not less, determined to take on citizenship. Now more than ever I want to be a fully paid-up member of this society — and fight for the survival of liberal democracy alongside my new compatriots.
The oath of citizenship moved me more than I had expected. For a moment, I choked up and found it difficult to get the words out. But then my voice took on a new resolve: proud and determined, I swore to “defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
After the ceremony, I did not go to a park with friends. I did not have any champagne. I did not try to get a cop to give me a ticket in celebration of my newfound freedom. Instead, I did something that millions of others cannot do without fear: I joined a protest in Boston against the revised executive order on immigration.
The couple of dozen people who had assembled on a clear, cold afternoon, holding signs like “No More Families Torn Apart” and “Immigrants Are America,” did not make for a very impressive crowd. The police barely paid us any attention. Nor did anybody else.
The moment felt no less meaningful to me. For the very first time, I was standing up to the unjust actions of my government. And for the very first time, I could say, as an American, that the executive order — and the larger worldview it represents — violates our values.