I recently had the wonderful opportunity to observe a U.S. citizenship naturalization ceremony in New York. Eighty people from 47 countries took the oath and swore their allegiance to the United States in a very moving ceremony (topped off with videos from President Obama and the Lee Greenwood song "God Bless the USA"). I saw the beaming pride in the faces of these new citizens who were ecstatic to officially become part of the greatest nation on earth.
One could feel the patriotism and optimism as these new citizens hugged and kissed relatives and congratulated each other. I was there with a bipartisan group of House and Senate legislators courtesy of the Faith and Politics Institute but I wish more could have joined us to escape not just the physical confines of Washington but the grinding partisanship and tribalism that plagues our political system.
Each new poll shows more and more Americans disapprove of Congress, don't trust their government and lack basic confidence in its ability to help them lead successful lives and ensure the U.S. remains the greatest country in the world. Confidence in government is difficult when there is so much uncertainty about basic government functions such as the looming possibility of another government shutdown. The foundation of our political system is that public and elected officials should view themselves as trustees of the American people, as fiduciaries who occupy their positions to carry out the wishes of their principals, the American people. The system is built on faith, trust and consensus building and I'm sure the new citizens I met in New York, who have bought whole heartedly into our system, expect our government to function as such.
Frankly, after my personal experience witnessing new American swearing their allegiance to the flag, it struck me that we ought to encourage all our legislators to see a naturalization ceremony to remind them why people come to America in the first place. The hope and optimism of these new Americans, some of whom will start businesses or join the military or raise families, is so refreshing and yet incongruous with the tone of the debate within Washington. The current lack of public trust in Congress and government is the result of a combination of the failure to act on a broad variety of measures, including the funding of the government, or measures like the farm, transportation and immigration legislation. When it comes to debates on these issues of course there are going to be big differences of opinion and in this fiscal environment tough choices make for tough votes. But that doesn't make Congress's inability to address these issues any less disheartening to American citizens new and old.
Our government has a lot to do to earn back the trust of the American people and live up to the expectations of our new citizens. I wish that many more legislators had been able to see this naturalization ceremony. Their spirits, sagging from the effects of non-stop partisan bickering, would have been lifted as mine were by these new citizens, delighted to be part of the American experience and looking optimistically toward a future filled with positive possibilities.