Bruce Lawson’s personal site

3 questions about American culture

I’m watching the UK news about President Obama producing his birth certificate, with increasing incredulity. The problem appears to be that he hasn’t satifactorily demonstrated that he was born in the USA. But to whom has he failed to demonstrate it? I find it hard to believe that he’s never shown a birth certificate before when standing as a governor or senator (or whatever it is).

A further question occurs to me. Why can’t someone born outside the USA become President? Given that the USA is basically a nation of recent immigrants, why couldn’t a naturalised citizen become the leader? Why the discrimination?

And, while we’re on the subject, how come a country that separates religion and state has Christmas as a national holiday, but not Hannukah or Eid or Diwali? And “In God We Trust” as a motto?

I should add that I love visiting the USA and am not snarking. I’m genuinely interested.

21 Responses to “ 3 questions about American culture ”

Comment by Justin Long

Well, according to the constitution, The President must be a natural born citizen. It’s just the rules. This is the only position that is required to show this documentation.

He had demonstrated it, but people believed it was a conspiracy by the democrats to get him into office, and there was some religious conspiracies going on. He demonstrated, but people didn’t believe him, and wanted him to go public with it.

And there is a very obvious non-split between church and state. People pray in a christian style before just about everything, they pray to “god” and other. It’s an idea that is kinda strived for, kinda not.

Hope that helps!

Comment by Eric Meyer

As to point #2, the U.S. Constitution forbids it—more precisely, Article II, clause 5 restricts who can hold the office to “natural born” citizens, which is open to a little bit of interpretation but pretty definitely doesn’t allow naturalized citizens born in other countries to serve as President. Thus Arnold Schwarzenegger, to pick one example, cannot be President.

This could of course be changed via Constitutional amendment, but it has not been so far and I’m not aware of any serious effort along those lines.

I don’t know about #1, and I can’t explain #3.

Comment by devolute

It’s because one of those people from the scary countries will come in and take over.

You ever seen that film ‘Infernal Affairs’? It’s like that.

Comment by Eric Evans

The problem appears to be that he hasn’t satifactorily demonstrated that he was born in the USA. But to whom has he failed to demonstrate it?

He has demonstrated it numerous times. Among reasonable people, there is no doubt here.

If you pay attention to US politics for long enough, you’ll notice Republicans attacking an incumbent Democrat with the same accusation over and over, no matter how many times it has already been debunked. And, each time it is brought up again, a larger percentage of Republican Americans believe it to be true.

Search for historical polls that show the percentage of US population that believe Obama is a Muslim, or that he was born outside the US. You’ll find the numbers get larger and larger.

Comment by Kristine S

On the question of a US citizen I can answer and though I lean left I do agree with this one.

Because someone could come to the US w bad intentions, rise in politics and get into the most powerful office in the land and while being born here does not make it assured you would not do the same, you would be less likely to do it for another country. (Maybe for power, but not likely for the benefit of say China over the US)

Now I am not saying that is why they originally enacted it, but I believe it to be a good thing and would not like to see it changed.

On the BC issue – First he did produce one.. just not the long form… to which the extreme right wanted to make hay of because they play to the fear of those in the far right.. so ..

As for Obama, it is a way to distract xenophobes and south will rise again types with a veiled racist distraction. You would never come out and say I do not want a black president, but you can say I do not want this “Muslim” from another country as one.. in the end they are saying I do not trust this black man… and for all who comment after me .. Oh yes you are.. Just finally be honest and say it.. You are saying you are distrusting of this black man with an arab/muslim name..

As Bill Maher said, paraphrasing, at this point – he is a good father, good husband, lives a good life in general.. there is no reason to believe he is anything, but a good American UNLESS you have xeonophobic (read racist) tendencies in which you have a need to other Barack Hussein Obama IN THE TERMS OF a black man with his African father and Muslim sounding name(though he is Christian and I am often amazed how these same people who accuse him of being Muslim forget how they accused him of being too Christian during the primaries)

Sadly – we have a certain group of Americans here who believe that anything they see on TV is true and do not do their own research, find real facts and so they believe the Rush Limbaughs, FOX news bits and Trumps who tell them that their President might not be an American instead of thinking.. “Hey how ludicrous in the scrutiny one goes through to become a candidate that this would even be possible”

It is sad.. but our country has lost its desire for academic inquiry and therefore its need to find truth.. so it believes whatever is dished out to them..and in this case Xenophobic Fear Based Disguised Racism..

Comment by sroucheray

@ Eric Meyer, that’s why Arnold Schwarzenegger, not being able to stand for US presidential, may think of becoming… the future European Union President

Comment by Stephen Shankland

Religious freedom in the USA dates back to a time when the question was which version of Christianity you believed in. There’s all manner of religious material embedded in the official workings of the country–swearing-in ceremonies using Bibles, lofty quotations about God inscribed in buildings, that sort of thing. Obama raised eyebrows when he merely acknowledged athiests in his inaugural address. Anti-papist sentiment wasn’t generally the virulent sort that infected English history–a capital offense–but JFK remains the only Catholic president, and that, too, raised eyebrows. Jews weren’t generally allowed in Harvard until World War II. Things like this that are deeply embedded in culture change very slowly.

As a US citizen born abroad, I always considered the natural-born requirement for presidency a good policy because it meant when I was growing up, I faced no parental pressure for attaining the highest public office.

Comment by Eric Meyer

Since the U.S. Constitution doesn’t specify the meaning of “natural born” citizen, your question is open to argument, Bruce. So far as I can tell, most scholars say yes on the grounds of jus sanguinis but it’s possible to argue otherwise.

Of course, since the Constitution doesn’t in fact define the meaning of the term, one could also argue that the office is open to any U.S. citizen who was “natural-born”, as in born in a natural way. That could potentially rule out in vitro babies, clones, and those born in artificial wombs to support The Matrix, but still leave the office open to immigrants who could prove they were born naturally.

(Note: nobody I know of is seriously making this argument, me included.)

Comment by Devon Young

As for separation of church & state, I think the constitution only says that congress cannot establish a religion for the nation or prohibit any religion. It says nothing about supporting particular beliefs, which is different. I’m no scholar on the subject though, so I might be forgetting some detail.

Comment by Kristine S

PS Yes I should have added the constitutional parts.. but was thinking you were wondering why we have not changed it.. 🙂

Comment by Justin Long

@Bruce.

Yes, in certain cases. If they were born elsewhere, even just for a 2 month trip, then no, not under current rulings. But military bases overseas are considered American soil, so John McCain, the republican candidate, was born in a Military Base in Panama, so is considered a natural born citizen.

But say if I was born in France, then no, I’d not be considered a natural born citizen (jus sanguinis – law of blood; instead of jus soli – law of soil)

Comment by mike

it’s pretty simply explained- and a widespread phenomenon, really. Say it often enough, bullshitters will begin to believe their own bullshit. No other explanation is needed.

Some people fervently pray to imaginary gods to strike the scary black man dead. That kind of person cannot be swayed using anything resembling common sense. Why this appears to the world to be uniquely American I’m not sure, because you see evidence of this sort of delusion all over the world if you read the news.

Comment by Jared Smith

I live in the most conservative area in the nation. I know of nobody that is a “birther” or thinks the original documentation was not sufficient. It’s mostly drivel from a few wackos driven by media hullabaloo.

The US concept of separation of church and state is quite interesting. It actually is not required in our constitution. The 1st Amendment of the constitution simply requires that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Of course much legal precedent has further defined the government’s relationship with belief and religion. This does not (at least yet) mean there can be no religious influence within or from government (thus we still have “In God We Trust” on currency, can pray at some government functions, etc.). Nor does it mean (as you suggest) that all religions must be given equal treatment. The fact is that most of our nation’s history and governmental systems are founded or based upon Christian foundations. The balance of respecting and maintaining these foundations while also not infringing the rights of those that do not prescribe to them will continue to be an area of interest and contention.

Comment by absolethe

I was about to say the same as Jared Smith, but then I remembered I’ve had conversations with people swayed by the media hype…the memories of which I’d deliberately repressed for obvious reasons.

I had almost this exact conversation with my mother, for example:

[Random chatter about human nature and current events]
Me: “I just don’t get people…”
Mom: “Me neither! Like what scares me is this conspiracy about Obama.”
Me: “Huh?”
Mom: “You know, like, how he won’t show his birth certificate.”
Me: “Ummm…”
Mom: “It’s like that shows there’s something wrong. Otherwise he could prove it.”
Me: “He HAS.”
Mom: “What?”
Me: “He HAS. He produced a certificate of live birth from Hawaii.”
Mom: “But–“
Me: “Seriously, we can go upstairs and find it on the Internet in less than 30 seconds–right now, I guarantee it.”
Mom: “…But…then…why do they keep talking about it on Fox News?”
Me: “EXACTLY. You’re right that it’s scary, but THAT’S the scary part.”

Comment by Tab Atkins

1. There’s no general requirement that elected officials show their birth certificates before they’re allowed to take office. It may be required by various random bureaucratic procedures, but it’s not an overall requirement for anything, particularly Congress or the Presidency.

2. The limitation on being a natural-born citizen was baked into our Constitution when it was drafted, to prevent the British from taking over our country again (by voting the King as President, for example). Nobody cares enough to change it, since it would require a constitutional amendment, and that’s a big deal.

3. Re: Christmas as a federal holiday, we’re inconsistent like that. Re: “In God We Trust”, blame McCarthy and the Red Scare. We adopted the motto in 1956 (before that we didn’t have an official motto, but “E Pluribus Unum” was our unofficial one).

Comment by lisa wilkins

Ditto to Jared Smith.
Most folks believe the separation between church and state is in the Constitution (I’ll blame the inept state of our educational system for that), but it was actually just a very famous and well quoted letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Assoc. “… their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Birth Certif: it’s common that the long form be the only form submitted. So yeah, the birthers were a few nuts, but he should have just released that when asked in the first place.

The real fun is yet to come. He still hasn’t released any of his academic records and there are people who are chomping for those to be released. Again, those are usually made public when running for office, not after. But I’m sure they’ll be as exciting as the (non) event of the long-form b.c being released.

Comment by Michael Johnson

Reiterating absolethe’s point, Obama has failed to produce a birth certificate only for the media. I feel confident he proved his citizenship upon applying for the office of President. This, why does he have to show it to the media? Besides that, it’s a matter of public record. If the media was really convinced, they could go to Hawaii’s Department of Public Records (or whatever) and request to see it.

The fact that Obama might have a piece of paper claiming to be a birth certificate or not doesn’t prove anything. I could probably request and receive his birth certificate, as the required information is public. When I had to request a new copy of my birth certificate I didn’t have to provide any information that someone who knows me wouldn’t have or be able to find.

As far as the religion issue, I believe the founding fathers were all Christians. They at least had Christian values. As has been mentioned, Christianity was the only religion they considered at the time, but they didn’t want people to be persecuted based on which version of Christianity they believed, as happened in England. So the First Amendment to the Constitution begins with “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Of course, since they were all Christians, Christian beliefs pervaded how the did things.

Finally, as to the natural born citizen bit… My daughter was born in Canada to a Canadian citizen (while I’m a U.S. citizen and live here), so I have looked into it a fair bit. As far as I know, if one or both of your parents are U.S. citizens that reside in the U.S. (or intend to return, I have a cousin that falls into that category), it doesn’t matter where you are born. If you are born on U.S. soil, you are a U.S. citizen (this includes military bases). It gets interesting if one parent is a U.S. citizen and the other not. Then you get to be a citizen of both until you’re 18, at which point you get to choose (I believe…my daughter isn’t 18 yet so I haven’t checked that bit out out closely yet). I also imagine if you are born in the U.S. to foreign parents you might be a citizen of their respective countries. That depends on the countries.

Comment by Dogmeat

and my response is: HOW LONG did it take to make the Jamie Reid font? and if you didn’t make it, where did you get it?

Dogmeat

because i’ve been looking for years

Comment by Aaron Bassett

With regards to the birth certificate, “birther” movement my take on it (as a non-American) is that this seems to be a common tactic in American politics. You throw out a negative about someone, asking them to refute it. If they won’t or can’t, well obviously it is true then. It is a tactic often used by Glenn Beck, so much so that some internet pranksters setup GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com.

This site exists to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990.

Why won’t Glenn Beck deny these allegations?

The site itself is gone now, but a quick search for “Glenn Beck Rape” will show how effective it was, AC has a more in-depth article about it.

Comment by Dustin Wilson

Just completely disregard the Obama birther crap. Most people over here do anyway. There’s people who believe no one ever went to the moon or that the world’s only 6000 years old. They’re going to believe things regardless of whether or not they were educated any differently.

There’s a good argument over whether or not there’s separation of church and state in the US. That concept started long before Thomas Jefferson in this country, but that phrase itself was indeed lifted from a letter by Thomas Jefferson. This sounds like it has nothing to do with any of your questions, but it does. Just wait for it. On the argument on whether or not it exists just reading the clause of the Constitution would show that it does, however not directly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This clearly applies only to the federal government, but the Supreme Court later finally ended the argument over whether it also applied to the states. What that means is that the government can’t make any preference for one religion over another. That also applies to non-religion as also clarified by the Supreme Court. Because the government can’t prefer one religion over another it obviously effectively creates a separation of church and state. That’s what Thomas Jefferson’s letter was stating. So, the motto “In God We Trust” on all US coinage could actually be in violation of the First Amendment. That’s probably one for a later court battle.

Actually, there should be no argument over what the definition of “natural born citizen” is just like there shouldn’t have been any argument over whether or not Obama was an American citizen. You can find out what that means just by reading the phrase.

“Natural born citizen” in the United States means exactly what it says — anyone naturally born a citizen of the US. However, in the US there’s two ways that can happen. Someone can either be born a citizen because one or both of their parents are American citizens or they can be born on American soil — jus sanguinis and jus soli respectively. I believe in the UK only the former applies. The second one came about when former slaves needed to be established as citizens by birth, so it was included as part of the Fourteenth Amendment. Today the Fourteenth Amendment is abused by illegal immigrants who arrive and have children who are instantly American.

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