Marci McDonald July 7 1986


Marci McDonald July 7 1986




Marci McDonald

Like so many immigrants reaching America’s shores, she arrived in New York harbor unheralded and scorned. Emerging from the belly of the French naval frigate Isère, she was at first snubbed by the city’s bourgeosie and dismissed in a New York Times editorial as “useless.” But over a century, the story of the Statue of Liberty has become a metaphor for the progress of the nation itself. She was dispatched in 1885 originally as a tribute to the people of the United States by a freedom-

tribute to the people of the loving French republican named Edouard-René Lefebvre de Laboulaye. But on the way to her 100th birthday party celebrations this week, the 151-foot “Mother of Exiles,” who welcomed the world’s tired, poor and “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” has become Americanized herself. In the process, she has emerged as the ultimate icon in a new outpouring of American patriotism.

As the hoopla surrounding the centennial shows, the

Statue of Liberty is as capable of inspiring awe in today’s jaundiced high-tech times as it was a century ago, when it was raised as testimony to the engineering brilliance of its age. In the years since, the Lady of Liberty has been glorified and commercialized, promoted as the inspiration for war bond sales and ex-

ploited to peddle garbage bags and boxer shorts. Her mammoth torch has embodied the dream of freedom and a fresh start to generations of oppressed immigrants. And she has lived to see that dream—like her 30 tons of copper skin— grow scarred and tarnished. Twice the statue has been taken hostage: once by antiwar Vietnam veterans in 1971 and six years later by Iranian students.

Faith: Now, de Laboulaye’s lighthouse madonna embarks on her second century as a product of that distinctly American experience—the cosmetic make-over (page 16). This week she unveils her $70-million revamped look in a $10million extravaganza that, in its sheer scope and unabashed self-congratulation, is uniquely American. With the help of a cast of thousands, the statue’s wildly publicized renovation has come to symbolize America’s own refurbished faith in itself as a nation (page 12).

Some see that new patriotic mood as a natural reaction to the humiliation Americans felt for two decades over their defeat in Vietnam, the Watergate scandals and the Iranian hostage crisis. Suddenly, the postwar Goliath had found itself humbled both at home and abroad. Its cher-

ished ideals and institutions had been called into question. “There was a sense that this powerful, proud nation had lost its moorings and couldn’t control its own destiny any longer,” said historian Norman Ornstein of Washington’s conservative American Enterprise Institute. When Ronald Reagan exhorted the nation to stand tall once more, Americans swamped him with the gratitude of their votes for making it respectable to feel good about the country again.

Strains: That resurgence of national pride has revived old notions of frontier toughness and unleashed a new wave of machismo rhetoric and aggressive policies which

had their most controversial outlets in the 1983 invasion of Grenada and last April’s bombing of Libya. Said Ornstein: “With Reagan came a sense that we’re not going to be pushed around anymore by these two-bit, Third World nations.”

But Ornstein also sees the strains of the new nationalist fever in Congress’s increasing calls for protectionism. That pressure currently endangers Canada’s lumber industry and free trade talks with Washington. But the real targets of the current “Buy American” TV campaigns are Japan and other developing nations that have knocked U.S. products out of global competition. Said Ornstein: “The way the trade issue has been framed is to play to that patriotism. The Democrats are saying, ‘We want America to stand tall on world markets again.’ ”

Historian Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, points out that such outbursts of boosterism have appeared throughout American history whenever the country felt threatened. Indeed, despite Reagan’s feel-good message and the current health of the U.S. economy, Americans remain uncertain about their long-term economic futures.

Gnawing at the national subconscious are the unpleasant reminders of a 45-per-cent drop in the U.S. share of global gross national product over 20 years, the emergence of the country as the world’s major debtor nation last week and the realization that the $200-billion-plus budget deficit could cripple the dreams of generations to come. Said Charles Doran, director of Canadian studies at Washington’s School for Advanced International Studies: “Patriotism is a kind of entertainment right now—a way of getting away from fears and anxieties.”

Indeed, Doran sees Reagan’s call to rally round the flag

as a brilliant political stroke. By giving Americans confidence in their country and institutions again, he can win their backing for policies that would otherwise be hard to swallow—notably, a military buildup at the expense of social programs. Said Doran: “Patriotism is necessary to get that kind of support.”

But the results of that diversion are not always as harmless as the glitz of a Liberty Weekend. As veterans of the Second World War remember, unbridled patriotism can sometimes wear an ugly face. Hints of that, in their most benign form, have emerged in the pressure on Reagan for a new immigration policy that would prevent a new generation of foreigners from seeking the American dream—in particular the record numbers of legal and illegal immigrants pouring over the U.S. border with Mexico.

Myths: Canadians had a taste of patriotism’s darker side last year when the U.S. Immigration Service barred author Farley Mowat from American soil—ostensibly because he once threatened to shoot down U.S. military planes with a rifle—and baseball fans in New York last fall booed the Canadian national anthem. In fact, Canadians’ constant awareness that at any moment the boisterous giant to the south could turn into what novelist Margaret Atwood has

termed “the Dreaded Menace” may be one reason why they have been so historically suspicious of patriotism at home. A blowout of unashamed flag-waving is regarded as unlikely and the notion of a statue summing up Canada’s identity and aspirations is inconceivable. The nation did not have its own flag until 1965 nor control over its own constitution until four years ago. Said Tom Axworthy, who holds the chair in Canadian studies at Harvard University: “Canada is a country peculiarly without myths or heroes. We’ve been so regionalized that we’re only starting to develop our own mythology now.”

Scholars trace the difference in attitudes back to the birth of the nations themselves. The United States won freedom from Britain’s grasp in a bloody revolution that forced it to define its identity—in a declaration of independence that glorified its exceptional national purpose. Nearly 100 years later Abraham Lincoln did not shrink from referring to his country as “the last, best hope of earth.” Canada, on the other hand, declined the invitation to revolution—both from the Americans and the French. ^ Born of a compromise be3 tween English and French £ founders, it evolved only gradually into a nation. With no need for instant self-defini1 tion nor any sense of moral mission toward the world at large, it became not so much a nation as an entity, afflicted, as some see it, with a permanent identity crisis.

Dynamic: Sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset of California’s Stanford University blames those origins for producing two distinctly different national characters. In a 1985 study of the two countries, Lipset found Americans more individualistic and innovative—imbued with a sense of their own moral place in history. Canadians were collective and traditional, readier to accept government’s authority with moderation and passivity. Agreed American-born historian William Berman of the University of Toronto: “It’s very hard to get Canadians mobilized or energized, while I don’t know of a country more dynamic or pulsating than the United States.”

But the patriotic decibel level does not mean Canadians have less affection for their nation. “There’s a quiet and deep attachment to the notion of being Canadian,” said Doran. “But Canadians don’t think it’s posh to express it too noisily or forcefully.” Still, those differences may have resulted in a perfect recipe for two countries sharing a continent. As Americans unabashedly indulge themselves in a patriotic spree this week, Canadians can celebrate the national differences which make good neighbors.^