In a recent interview with CNN, former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin made a crucial mistake in word choice that earned her a lot of flak from many news sources.
The interviewer prompted Palin with the question, “Donald Trump said this week that Jeb Bush should speak English and not Spanish when he is campaigning in the U.S. Jeb Bush’s response was that Trump doesn’t value tolerance. What do you make of that debate?”
“It’s a benefit of Jeb Bush to be able to be so fluent in Spanish because we have a large and wonderful Hispanic population that is helping to build America,” Palin began.
However, that tune didn’t last long, as Palin commented, “On the other hand, you know, I think we can send a message and say, ‘If you want to be in America, a.) You better be here legally or you’re out of here, b.) when you’re here, let’s speak American.’”
Initially Palin’s response comes across as merely harmless ignorance, but in truth it is incredibly offensive and plainly absurd.
It shouldn’t have to be said that Palin was referring to American English, but the careful distinction makes all the difference. ‘American English’ is a confusing title, because it assumes that the language is tied to the United States in some concrete way rather than just being a compilation of dialects and words that are spoken in the country.
That is to say, The United States is not legally bound to any official language.
It is true that our legal documents are written, and state affairs are conducted, in English, but we are not bound by law to continue to do so.
If the citizens of the United States wanted to, at any time, they could start writing all U.S. laws in Arabic.
The purpose of never defining a single “American” language is because the United States has historically been meant to be a safe haven for anyone who needs refuge from tyranny.
In this respect, Palin’s reasoning is reversed from what the founding fathers most likely intended. According to Palin, minorities should conform to the standards of the majority.
However, if we resurrected James Madison he would say that any majority could easily lead to tyranny so we probably shouldn’t force English on our minorities.
Palin and Trump are not the only two in this country calling for the eradication of anything non-American. In fact, in 1996 a bill was passed in congress with a majority backing to make English the official language, but it didn’t make it through the Senate before the end of the session.
In 2010, Oklahoma passed legislation to make English the official language for conducting all government business in the state.
However, that is not a free pass for someone walking down a Tulsa street who overhears a conversation in Spanish to tell those people to speak Oklahoman.
What doesn’t add up in this argument is the premise that you have to speak English to be an American resident.
Pass a law making English the official language, then you can suggest that all U.S. residents speak English.
As members of the party famous for telling government to stop overstepping its bounds, one might think that Palin and Trump would have a problem with the government telling people how to speak.
Hablaría español si me diera la gana.