The Collins English Dictionary defines Anglo-American as something “of, or relating to, relations between England and the United States.” Merriam Webster, the Oxford English Dictionary, and plenty of legal volumes give similar definitions.
But Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, didn’t bother to pick up any of those books.
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the National Sheriffs’ Association that their office "is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” the Hawaii Democrat cried racism and went off. He said the term was a dog whistle. He said it was part of a larger effort “to pit Americans against each other." He asked, "do you know anyone who says, ‘Anglo-American heritage’ in a sentence?"
The answer is an immediate and obvious yes.
Do you know anyone who says “Anglo-American heritage” in a sentence? What could possibly be the purpose of saying that other than to pit Americans against each other? For the chief law enforcement officer to use a dog whistle like that is appalling. Best NO vote I ever cast.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) February 12, 2018
Schatz should meet former President Barack Obama who, while still in the Senate, appealed to the heritage of “the Anglo-American legal system” during a floor speech in defense of the principle of habeas corpus. And Schatz should meet the editors of the New York Times, who use the adjective to describe everything from tourism to national security.
Certainly, those journalists and that president aren't racist. Neither is Sessions.
The attorney general was simply referring to the English common law which serves as the literal foundation of our system of government. What Schatz and his outraged company forget is that self-government has always been the exception, not the rule, of human history. Our democratic experiment has been so successful precisely because of those Anglo-American principles he now finds objectionable.
When the revolutionaries signed the Declaration of Independence, they did so because they believed the king had violated their rights as English men. In other words, they believed the king had trampled liberties they were owed because of their Anglo-American rights. The revolution and the subsequent founding can be understood, in part, as a restoration of that status.
The British Magna Carta, that original legal encapsulation of individual liberty, serves as a cornerstone for the U.S. Constitution, that later expression of Anglo-American principle. Though genius, the Founding Fathers weren’t original. They didn’t invent the idea of representative government, the idea of a supreme common law, or judicial review.
They borrowed them from Great Britain. They reworked them in the colonies. They made them better in America.
That heritage can be seen in the way law enforcement ought to interact with the people. That’s exactly what Sessions detailed while discussing the sheriff, an authority appointed by the community for the safety of the community. “Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people's protector,” Sessions explained, “who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process.”
Writ large, those are the same Anglo-American principles which manifested themselves in the special relationship between England and the United States that rid the world of Nazism, that later crushed Soviet communism, and that still makes democracy possible.
Of the nearly 200 countries on Earth, more than half claim to be democracies. Some are better than others but each, in some way, emulates the Anglo-American government. They didn’t find a model for individual liberty in Russia. They didn’t look for the blueprints of legal systems in China. They looked to Great Britain and the United States.
The drummed-up hysteria over Anglo-Americanism is harmful because it threatens to undercut all of this. Instead of condemning the principles that literally make possible his job in Congress, Schatz should read a book.