On September 28th 2022, I finally took the Oath of Allegiance and became a US citizen. For most immigrants that is a blessing and relief from the uncertain status of carrying a ‘green card’. Having lived in the US for over 30 years, it was for me a decidedly problematic experience.
I am an Irish citizen and love Ireland. It has a rich ancient culture stretching back at least 5,000 years. At the beginning of the 20th century Ireland shook itself free of 600 years of British rule and created a thoughtful, sophisticated and functioning democratic system. To become an Irish citizen you make a simple declaration of fidelity to the Irish nation: I undertake to faithfully observe the laws of the State and to respect its democratic values.
So I have serious problems with the Oath of Allegiance; it is long, badly written and aggressive in tone. Rather than requesting faithfulness and adherence to core democratic values, it required me to, renounce and abjure all fidelity and allegiance to any foreign … state or sovereignty and, defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies. Further, I had to swear to, bear arms on behalf of the United States. Notice how negative and belligerent it sounds. Why doesn’t it want me to be a good person and a good citizen?
I am meant to defend the US constitution—have you read it? It only makes sense as an interesting historical document, not as a living model for good governance. Long, convoluted and obviously written by a male elite who supported slavery and suppression of the native population, it is in dire need of renovation.
The limited constitutional amendments are a mess. Most are archaic and create massive ambiguities destined to cause confusion, misinterpretation and conflict. Amendment II: do we really need a Militia bearing Arms to secure the free State? Amendment XIII: should a person convicted of a crime be allowed to be treated as a slave? The last amendment, the 27th in 1992 (30 years ago) is a rule about compensation for Senators and Representatives. What!
In contrast, Ireland has amended its constitution via referendum 32 times since 1937—about once every three years. Most recently it approved abortion rights and same-sex marriage. TDs or representatives are elected through proportional representation so that every vote makes a difference. The Senate (members elected and appointed very rationally) cannot block legislation indefinitely, so laws do get passed! A true democracy represents the people’s wishes; it evolves and adapts to changing situations without losing its core values of truthfulness and respectful debate. Is that true of the US system?
Don’t get me wrong, I love many aspects of America: its amazing landscapes, its innovative and entrepreneurial spirit and the basic decency of most people. But the US democratic institutions are inherently defective and most of the population seems unwilling to face those defects and do something about them.
According to the Democracy Index which tracks political institutions and freedoms, the US has steadily declined in democratic indicators since 2006. It recent score is 7.85 out of 10; it is considered a flawed democracy. Ireland’s score is 9.00 out of 10, a full democracy.
With the Oath of Allegiance, I renounced my fidelity to a full democracy and embraced one that is severely flawed. I’ve made that choice. Now all I can do is to use my single vote to try and make things a little better.