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Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, Donald Trump, a One-Man 9/11?

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

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.

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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 in me, 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). Tom

Loving America and Resisting Trump
The New Patriotism
By Frida Berrigan

So reality has inexorably, inescapably penetrated my life. It didn't take long. Yes, Donald Trump is actually the president of the United States. In that guise, in just his first weeks in office, he's already declared war on language, on loving, on people who are different from him -- on the kind of world, in short, that I want to live in. He's promised to erect high walls, keep some people in and others out and lock up those he despises, while threatening to torture and abuse with impunity.

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Still, a small personal miracle emerges from this nightmare. It turns out that, despite growing up an anarchist protest kid who automatically read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States alongside the official textbooks, I love this country more each day. So I find myself eternally upset about our new political reality-show, about a man so thin-skinned he lashes out at everything and so insulated in his own alt-reality that no response to him seems to matter.

Above all, I am so mad. Yeah, I'm mad at all those people who voted for Trump and even madder at the ones who didn't vote at all. I'm mad at everyone who thinks the sum total of their contribution to the political well-being of this country is voting every two or four years. I'm mad at our corporate-political system and how easily distracted people are. I'm steaming mad, but mostly at myself.

Yep, I'm mad at myself and at the Obamas. They made empire look so good! Their grace and intelligence, their obvious love for one another and the way they telegraphed a certain approachability and reasonableness. So attractive! They were fun -- or at least they looked like that on social media. Michelle in the karaoke car with Missy Elliot singing Beyonce' and talking about global girls' education! Barack and a tiny Superman at a White House Halloween party. Michelle, unapologetically fierce after Trump's demeaning Access Hollywood comments came to light. I loved those Obamas, despite my politics and my analysis. I was supposed to resist all his efforts at world domination through drones and sweeping trade deals and instead I fell a little bit in love, even as I marched and fasted and tried to resist.

Falling in Love With My Country

Now, we have a new president. And my love is gone, along with my admiration, my pride, and my secret wish to attend a state dinner and chat with the Obamas over local wine and grass-fed beef sliders.

What's not gone, though, what's strangely stronger than ever, is my love for this country.

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I didn't love the United States under Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or Bush the First. I was a kid and they were names on protest banners and headlines in the news. My parents were the Catholic peace activists Liz McAlister and Phil Berrigan, and I grew up in an anarchist collective of Christian resisters. My parents and their friends went to jail repeatedly and resolutely. We demonstrated, rallied, and railed at every institution of power in Washington. Those presidents made the adults around me angry and agitated, so they scared me.

I didn't love the United States under Bill Clinton either -- I was young and in college and opposed to everything -- nor under George W. Bush. I was young and in New York City and still opposed to almost everything.

I started calling myself a "New Yorker" three years after moving there when, on a sunny Tuesday morning, airplanes became weapons, tall towers fell, and 3,000 people died. I emerged from my routine subway ride at 14th Street, unaware and unscathed, to stand still with the rest of the city and watch the sky turn black. I spent the rest of that day in Manhattan with friends trying to reach my parents and following the news, as we all tried (and failed) to come to grips with the new reality. Once the bridges reopened, we walked home to Brooklyn that evening, terrified and shell-shocked.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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