02/09/2014 08:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Patriotism Is for Suckers

Just ask the government of Malta. The title of the New York Times article about their current policies on citizenship and immigration says it all:

"Give Malta Your Tired and Huddled, and Rich"

The Maltese government is now selling citizenship. For about $1.5 million, you can buy a passport and become a citizen of Malta. This also gives you the ability to travel, live and work in any member country of the European Union (not a small benefit). Malta offered a slightly different sort of welcome a few years back, when African boat people arrived on its shores to see painted signs reading: "Blacks Go Home."

My intent here isn't solely to criticize Malta, or the other countries in Europe and elsewhere that have somewhat similar policies that advantage the wealthy when it comes to acquiring citizenship. Countries certainly have the right to take into account their own interests when it comes to immigration policies, at least to a reasonable degree. But this issue raises some larger questions.

The forming of a national community and the adoption by its members of a coherent, meaningful national identity is a fundamental part of being a stable, successful country that its citizens accept as legitimate. And when it comes to immigrants, a country like the U.S. expects, rightfully, that immigrants take certain steps to become part of the larger community, just as the larger community must take steps to welcome and integrate immigrants. This is a two-sided process, one that requires compromise, consensus and great care as people of very different backgrounds, coming from all over the world, become, as President Obama has often called us, "a single American family." If becoming Maltese or anything else is as simple as writing a big fat check, the entire process becomes completely corrupt in that society.

In our country, new citizens are asked to do certain things to become American: learn English, pass a citizenship test, swear a loyalty oath. We demand that they demonstrate their patriotism, their commitment to our country and our broader community. On the right wing, these demands go even further.

As demonstrated by the controversy over a Super Bowl ad in which Americans sang a beautiful, patriotic song in our common tongue as well as other languages, it's apparently not enough to learn English. Allen West and his ilk on the right wing (and remember that Reince Preibus equated "the right wing" with the Republican Party in the dustup over an MSBNC tweet), demand not only that immigrants become patriots, but that they never again utter a word in their native language. Mr. West: Where do you get the idea that because a person sings "America the Beautiful" in, say, Spanish, that they are also unable to speak English?

What's going on in Malta might not have much to do, you may be thinking, with the Super Bowl Coke ad and Allen West. However, these are all part of a larger disconnect regarding how people view the obligations of the wealthy and the obligations of every one else. Patriotism and sacrifice are supposed to be shared among the members of a nation. It's supposed to mean something to be part of a national community, whether one is born into it or adopts it after immigrating to a new land. It's supposed to be about joining a family.

When new immigrants take the oath of American citizenship, they are giving up something. They are asked to renounce their political loyalties to their homelands. It may be symbolic and unenforceable, and it certainly doesn't (and shouldn't) preclude them from maintaining a feeling of connection to the place of their birth, but it is a powerful sentiment and a loss.

I know the U.S. hasn't adopted the immigration policy of Malta, and I doubt it will. But it's just one more example out of the gazillions we've seen in recent years that there is one set of rules for the ultra-wealthy, and another for everyone else. Whether it's the "dignity of work" being something that everyone should have, except the one percent, or the idea that the one percent should be above criticism because, well, they just work harder, this disparity is all over the place, and those two examples are just from this week.

I believe in a concept of citizenship and nationhood where we really are all in it together. The idea that a country would allow multi-millionaires to jump the line and purchase membership in a nation is sickening. My ancestors came here, for the most part, with little to offer this country in the way of liquid cash. They could never have purchased their citizenship. But I am profoundly grateful to this country for taking them in, from saving them from the fate that awaited them in Eastern Europe, for making them Americans and giving me the chance to be one.

I guess I'm old-fashioned, I think that patriotism and citizenship and having one set of rules shouldn't be just for the suckers who can't pony up millions. I think they should be for everyone.