The comments in response to my post about Michele Bachmann’s dual citizenship suggest some people are confusing two different issues. The mere fact of potential dual citizenship, or citizenship ascribed to you by a foreign state, is not an issue. Millions of Americans are in that situation, often without their even knowing it. That was, in fact, one of the causes of the War of 1812 (“Once an Englishman, always an Englishman”). You could call this “passive” dual citizenship, and it cannot be cause for censure since the people involved have taken no affirmative steps to put themselves in that situation.
The problem is “active” dual citizenship: when one undertakes certain actions to turn a potential or theoretical dual citizenship into reality, such as voting in a foreign election, serving in a foreign military or government, acquiring a foreign passport, or registering with a foreign government as a citizen. Such moves used to be known as “expatriating acts,” meaning that simply by undertaking them you signified your intention to give up U.S. citizenship. As John Fonte explained in his thorough examination of the issue a few years back, this was the case until 1967 when the Supreme Court under Earl Warren (surprise!) overturned nearly 200 years of settled law in a 5–4 decision, ruling that Congress couldn’t expatriate anyone without his having expressed the specific intent to renounce his citizenship.
Representative Bachmann’s press release argues that her case is in the first category — that she simply acquired dual citizenship without any action on her part simply by getting married. She writes, “I have never exercised any rights of that citizenship,” and I believe her, insofar as she’s referring to voting or acquiring a passport or whatever. But this was not a case of passive dual citizenship; as she herself notes in the press statement, “we just recently updated our documents.” In other words, they formally registered themselves with the Swiss government as dual citizens.
This isn’t a matter of being proud of one’s heritage. As anyone who reads my stuff, or spends ten minutes with me, knows, I’m proud of my Armenian origins. But any political connection to the Republic of Armenia would be utterly inappropriate. The exception, of course, would be if I chose to actually move there and renounce my American citizenship, throwing in my lot with Armenia’s people, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part. Other American grandchildren of Armenian immigrants have done just that — Raffi Hovannisian, for instance, who was Armenian’s first foreign minister, or Monte Melkonian (whose maternal grandmother came from the same small town as mine), who gave his life for the liberation of Karabagh from the Turks. But in the absence of such a decisive act, no American has any business maintaining any sort of political connection with a foreign nation.
Let me stress again that I like Bachmann and respect her. But, as political psychologist Stanley Renshon has written, dual citizenship “poses a dilemma for the United States. It has traditionally taken in immigrants with the assumption that they would eventually become anchored to an American identity and nationality over time. In the past this was a reasonable assumption. It no longer is.” If even our nationalist politicians succumb to the post-modern myth that citizenship is just one among many affiliations, and not an especially important one at that, then we really are doomed.