While preparing to walk in New York City ― or, as it turned out, given the staggering crowds, to stand in one spot for long periods ― in support of the Women’s March (which would set protest records nationally), I had a specific urge. I wanted to carry the flag. I’m talking about the stars and stripes, the one that “o’er the ramparts” flew. Although I could indeed have gotten my hands on a flag, I had no idea how to get a pole for it and I certainly wasn’t going to drape it over my shoulders. In its own way, it was a ridiculous idea, given that, at almost 73, I probably would only have lasted a few spare minutes actually carrying a flag on a pole.
Still, the idea meant something to me for a simple enough reason: this country is mine. I’ve always loved it even when ― as in the Vietnam era ― I was so angry with it for what it was doing; even when, as in these last 15 years, I disagreed with just about everything its leaders did in the world. In the end, I’m rooted here in ways that go right to the heart of things.
My grandfather was an immigrant. A runaway, he made it to this country in steerage class with only a few cents in his pocket, initially sharing a bed behind a stove with someone who used it when he didn’t. It was a typical story ― though, sadly, perhaps far less typical if Donald Trump (in the great tradition of American nativism) has anything to do with it. Though he died when I was quite young, I was deeply proud of him and of what he did and how he got here. My grandmother was the daughter of immigrants. She helped make me who I am. Thanks in part to her, I’ve always felt a deep responsibility for this country ― both for what it is and especially for what it isn’t. This website, TomDispatch, is an expression of that. For the last 15 years, it’s focused regularly on “what it isn’t,” a body of work I consider my late-in-life service to this country.
Here’s the thing with that flag. It’s a potent symbol, it’s mine, and I’ll be damned if I’ll give up the most crucial symbols of my country to Donald Trump. So I have my version of patriotism that’s bone-deep, but I must admit that I’m moved by TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan’s version of it as well. Her particular embrace of this country makes me want to say to those so much younger than me and in despair: don’t let Donald Trump make you reject what’s basic and best about America. Do that and, despite yourself, you’ll be aiding and abetting the crimes of the Trump regime (which will be plentiful in the years to come).