At the height of the George W. Bush years, a bit of a TomDispatch piece would sometimes be reposted at a right-wing website with a disparaging comment, and I’d suddenly be deluged with abusive emails (many homophobic) that regularly advised me to take my whatever and get out of Dodge. Though I was born in New York City, as was my father (my mother’s hometown was Chicago), the phrase invariably brought to bear was “go back to…” and the only question was where. There were small numbers of correspondents who insisted I should “go back to Russia” or even the Soviet Union (as if that imperial entity hadn’t imploded in 1991), but that rang a tad hollow in early 2003. So often, the country of choice was France (not exactly the worst place on Earth to be sent back to, by the way, if you value your morning croissant). In those days, as you may remember, France (like Germany) had refused to support the Bush administration in its glorious upcoming invasion of Iraq and so French fries in the House of Representatives’ cafeteria had been renamed “freedom fries” and French toast “freedom toast.” At the time, the French were sometimes referred to derisively as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” and the French-German opposition to Iraq labeled (in imitation of Bush’s “axis of evil” for Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) “axis of weasel.”
I still remember how viscerally I reacted to those angry emails urging me to leave this country of mine. In those days, I remember saying privately to friends that, if “nationalist” hadn’t been a curse word here (at the time, we Americans were invariably “patriots” or “superpatriots” and only foreigners were “nationalists” or “ultra-nationalists”), I would have called myself an American nationalist. Given the surprising way that phrase has entered our vocabulary in the age of Trump, I’d have to find another phrase today, but the essence of it was simple enough. This was my country. I had grown up dreaming of serving it. No matter what it did, or how I felt it betrayed me (or my idea of it), I considered it then — and consider it now — my responsibility and I simply couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Thirteen years later, with panicked or disgusted progressives talking about heading for New Zealand or Canada, nothing has changed for me on that score.