The Minnesota farceur
The residents of Minnesota have a reputation, buffed by Garrison Keillor, of being dour, stolid Scandinavians, but I detect in them an antic sense of humor. Surely that must account for their great gift to the Congress, and the nation, the Hon. Michele Bachmann.
Representative Bachmann made some remarks this week at a “Tea Party Express Forum,” including some suggesting that the nation’s schools teach history no better than they teach grammar:
"Other than Native Americans who were here, all of us have the same story." She described “us” as the descendants of "a risk-taker from their home country, doesn't matter what the country is, but they took a risk, and they came here."
"And they knew when they came here they weren't coming for a welfare state. They were coming here for the thrill of writing their own ticket. Who did we attract? People that wanted a better life and were willing to do what it took to get it."
Others have commented on the signal omission of African-Americans. Even in the tea party, I think, it must be better to ignore the descendants of slaves than to suggest that the happy darkies were lining up to write their own tickets on the Middle Passage.
But it wasn’t just kidnapped Africans whose arrival here was less than voluntary. We were initially, like Australia, a set of penal colonies, and people convicted of minor crimes such as theft and prostitution were sent here, the better to remove the trash from Britain. It was so commonplace that Daniel Defoe has Moll Flanders sentenced to transportation to the colonies as an alternative to hanging.
Some came here an indentured servants in a kind of limited slavery. Some were wastrel younger sons and bankrupts. In later centuries, once we were an independent nation, some came here, sensibly, to dodge the draft in their home countries.
We would do well to keep in mind Paul Theroux’s sardonic remarks about the Old Dominion in The Old Patagonian Express: “ ‘We’re English,’ say some citizens of Charlottesville, Virginia, referring to the fact that their ancestors abandoned soot-grimed mining towns in Yorkshire and made enough money raising pigs to set up as gentry and keep Jews out of the local hunt clubs.”
Some indeed came here as risk-takers eager for a better life, but many of our ancestors arrived on these shores simply because they were not wanted somewhere else.