We Are All Romans

The current presidential campaigns in France and the United States are bizarrely focused on national identity, as if this were the most important issue in play. But not all French people descend from the Gauls, just as not all Americans descend from the Mayflower pilgrims.

Among the French candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy is the staunchest proponent of excluding all those who are not “pure bred” from the national community, despite the fact he has Hungarian, Greek and Jewish roots. But in an attempt to match the Front National, who has preached this message of purity for 50 years, Sarkozy now divides the nation into French people whose ancestors were Gallic, and the others. Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump is pushing a comparable “nativist” rhetoric. After explaining that Obama was not American, then implying he was Muslim, he is now suggesting that all Muslim and Latin-American immigration should be stopped. For Trump and his followers, American authenticity clearly means white and Christian.

We can understand, without accepting it, that these identity-based stances — similar to


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