Monday night, the monthly legislative meeting of my hometown Riverdale Park, Maryland’s Town Council started off, as usual, with the pledge to the flag. A little less than two hours later, the Council voted 4-2 (with one abstention) to extend local voting rights to two categories of non-citizen residents (illegal and legal immigrants), and to 16-year olds to boot.
As RealityChek readers know, I wasn’t surprised by the final result – although the margin of defeat was narrower than I expected. Still, especially in light of the Pledge of Allegiance recited solemnly by Council members supporting this amendment to the Town Charter, and their backers in the audience, the voting decision was a (vigorous) head-scratcher. For it raises the most profound questions about to what exactly those in favor of non-citizen voting are vowing their loyalty.
As I wrote in that previous post, this form of voter expansion is completely inconsistent with arguments made – and with good reason – throughout American history since the era of the Founding. These arguments have held that a successful democracy cannot be created or maintained unless it’s based on a community of deeply shared ideas about democratic governance. In turn, it’s impossible to preserve this community and allow significant immigration flows unless newcomers receive extensive exposure to these values. Hence longstanding requirements that voting on the federal level be restricted to citizens, and that the naturalization process take several years. (As explained also in the post, the Constitution empowers the states to set election rules within their borders, and both historically and currently, some have decided ignore these claims and to permit non-citizen voting.)
Instead, the new Riverdale Park voting eligibility criteria specify that an applicant be a resident for a mere 45 days. Of course, even this threadbare requirement will be difficult at best to verify for illegal immigrants (along with their very identities). And it is utterly far-fetched to suppose that these verification goals can be achieved adequately with same-day registration of these voters.
But just as important, a 45-day local resident who could well have crossed the U.S. border not long beforehand cannot possibly be well-versed enough in the nation’s democratic values to qualify for the franchise – which is after all a right to make decisions with long-term implications for the community’s well-being. As for non-citizen legal U.S. residents, they either have not been present in the United States long enough to pass the national tests for citizenship (which include a five-year residency requirement), or they have chosen not to become citizens – and therefore join the national democratic community.
Is there any reason, however, to believe that the national residency requirement is inappropriate to apply on the municipal level? If so, none of the supporters of Riverdale Park voter expansion has mentioned it, and there’s no evidence that the subject even came up in discussion of the proposal among Council Members.
I sent my RealityChek post on the subject to all the Town Council members before the vote. Only two replied, and neither of them supported the amendment. In fact, I’ve only seen a single reference to the subject of a community of beliefs – in a lengthy and largely emotive ramble on non-citizen voting published by my Council Member, Aaron Faulx, in the April issue of the Riverdale Park government’s official bulletin. According to Faulx, “Our shared beliefs need to evolve toward inclusivity and engagement.”
He didn’t explain what he believes comprises these shared beliefs currently, much less why they’re flawed. But the shared beliefs he prizes are hollow at best and dangerously inadequate at worst. “Inclusivity” per se, after all, says nothing about substance. As a result, it seems to assume that even individuals who actively oppose each others’ most fundamental political and even philosophical principles can for any significant period of time work together to promote any version of common well-being – much less one bearing any resemblance to that which has served the nation so well for so long, though of course not perfectly. How on earth can that work? The only reasonable answer is, “It can’t.”
And if inclusivity per se (and its logical follow-on, “engagement”) cannot be treated as absolutes, then they inescapably need to be supplemented with some form of content. And just as logically, it can’t reasonably be assumed that those unfamiliar with this content (through usually through no fault of their own to be sure) can instantly or quickly become familiar once they enter any political community – national, state, or local – from the outside. Some period of orientation – i.e., assimilation – is essential. And on a more practical level, some effective way of determining that the assimilation process has been completed is essential.
Reasonable people can disagree on the specifics of all of these procedural standards. But what is thoroughly unreasonable is insisting that they, and the institution of citizenship that necessarily incorporates considered procedural and substantive considerations alike, be dispensed with in the name of a mere shibboleth – whether “inclusivity” or its cousin, “diversity” – that has in and of itself has no organizational capabilities whatever. Even sadder is the seeming refusal of the “inclusivists” to recognize or admit that these related concepts of citizenship and voting rights have for decades (not long enough, to be sure!) been available totally irrespective of race, gender, or ethnicity.
So no wonder I found these “inclusivists’” recitation of the pledge to the flag Monday night so utterly ironic, and indeed bizarre – and why you should, too. For their stated views can only logically mean that they’re pledging allegiance not to a national political community worthy of the name, but to a certain tract of land and whatever agglomeration of individuals happens to be occupying it at any given moment. Why even continue to bother?