I’m not a patriot. I’m just a citizen.
A citizen who pays taxes on time, and watches out for people attempting to cross busy streets by way of blinking crosswalks placed as memorials to those once killed by a sports sedan driven by someone in a hurry.
I haven’t been a patriot for a very long time. Not since Vietnam, when a leading general was caught in the crosshairs of a confusion so profound that he actually said:
In order to save the village we had to destroy it.
Who benefited from that transparent oddity? Certainly not the general, for he unintentionally revealed the damage our patriotic vainglory does to common sense. Long ago sense was made uncommon so that money could be made instead.
Love it? Leave it? Uh-uh. Those are words contrived by people who love too little and prefer shaming others. I don’t try to figure out what makes trollers troll. They’re products of perverted notions of superiority; that’s all I need to know about them.
I haven’t been a patriot because I’ve read a lot — such as Alan Bullock’s “Hitler: A Study in Tyranny,” which contains this quote:
The corruption of people is to behave in an inhuman way.
And I’ve read Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style of American Politics,” which contains this quote:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated … how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority.
He wrote that more than 50 years ago. The missing words in the quote above were a reference to Barry Goldwater’s Republican nomination to the presidency.
A few years after that I began to spend what money I had on traveling, first to Italy and then to Sicily, where the only family I know came from, and after that to Germany, where the rest of my family came from — and I began to see that a good life could be lived well and honorably without patriotism.
Europeans everywhere built museums dedicated to displaying the consequences of man’s inhumanity to man. I can’t remember them marching with flags accompanying men dressed in military uniforms. Television didn’t blare new car and dishwasher ads offering sales on Armistice or Veterans or Invasion days.
In Holland, everyone I met had a day job they really didn’t care much about except for its delivery of health care and enough money to allow them to study opera or languages at night or build ship replicas or make furniture for their neat, small homes.
I’ve just come back from a village of 1,200 people — wheat farmers, pig raisers, almond and apricot growers — in the center of Mallorca, a breakaway part of Spain much like Sicily is from the rest of Italy. In this small place are three car and tractor repairers, a drunk artist, three blacksmiths, and two carpenters.
An airline pilot and an oncologist and several government people and teachers work in Palma, the capital city, and come home every weekend and some weeknights when they need to help out their widowed and aging mothers and fathers.
A barber by the name of Pep (the shortening of Josep in the native Mallorcan language) taught me how to build stone walls with ancient hand tools. He built his own house high on a hill overlooking the village, stone by stone.
My baby, Deborah, and I lived in that village for seven straight years. Almost every summer night we drank in the central plaza until the Mediterranean cooled its oven enough to let us go home and sleep at 2 or 3 a.m.
We’d been gone for a bit more than five years from that village. On this visit everyone in the village who knew us well enough sooner or later would ask us, “Que pasa con este Trump?”
Sometimes I would assure them that he was being contained by a surprisingly inept and disabled legislature that couldn’t enact his fantasies into law, and a threatened intelligence community, and a swelling up of angry and committed progressives, and armies of mostly young in the streets… and… so on and so on.
But they didn’t seem convinced that a tyrant could be overcome by accident and anger.
They’d lived through Franco, as Italy had lived through Mussolini and Germany through Hitler. They knew that exhausted and defeated people often enough give up and surrender to what they believe is an inevitable reality, an undefeatable enemy. Patriots here, now, seem to welcome misery as a necessary prelude to some deliverance from their pain.
I’ve learned not to pledge my loyalty to flags, gods or to groups of people whose only tools are anger. I’ve learned to be loyal to friends and people whose ideas make sense to me at 2 a.m.
Almost a year before we left on this latest trip, a giant rock was thrown into the windshield of our 15-year-old Honda by an unknown who must have had nothing better to do overnight. Our mechanic recommended two guys who’d come out to replace the spider-webbed glass.
They were Cheech and Chong, one Mexican American and a raggedy somewhat younger guy. They were late, and when they finally arrived it was in an ancient Chevy van, its engine clattering loud enough to wake up the neighbors. Jose said he’d only just bought it. He made jokes about it, said something like it’s a Mexican’s ambulance.
I liked them. We talked about what was going on in the country, how badly it was fucked up, how nothing being advanced by either party seemed real. I asked them if they were going to vote. The brother said yes, and I asked for whom.
I asked him what in this world would make him want to do that.
He answered, “I just want to see how bad this shit gets.”
Now, even Trump supporters can see how bad it got, though many of them remain loyal to the haters who have control of this nation.
Does knowledge of this disaster have anything to do with salvation? Will Constitutions and judges and character and principles — morals? honesty? — be enough to keep us from killing each other?
I don’t know. But as Pep, my barber friend told me this summer, in his own language, “Jah, no me moch’t d’aqui.”
It means: I won’t be moved from here.