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Boundaries of Freedom: Liberals, Patriotism, and Melting Pots

ISSUE:  Winter 1995

History does not usually breed rashness in those who feel obliged to study it. One learns a certain modesty from the record of the past, even as one learns how curiously personal that record is. And while the footprints that circle old hopes and older aspirations may not be fresh, they are almost always meaningful. For the past lives within the memory of each individual’s encounters with it. It possesses personal as well as public echoes, voices that link us to the most distant events and make those events as near and intimate as they originally seemed distant.

Not so long ago schoolchildren were expected to know the significance of certain months and days and years in combination with each other. October 19, 1781 is among the dates that lodge, like a hibernating bear, in my own memory. Not only did Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown mark the end of the Revolutionary War and the debut of America on the world stage, it also hinted at the future of a nation already different from any nation the world had known.

British troops would not leave that new nation for more than two years after the surrender, yet Cornwallis’ soldiers understood their capitulation as marking the end of an era. One hundred and sixty two years later, in the imagination of a schoolboy in the Bronx, that surrender was still alive—and alive in vivid technicolor. In parade uniform, the defeated army marches off to ships taking it from colonies England had expected to rule in perpetuity to the strains of an old military air, “The World Turned Upside Down.” And in my mind, America’s identity is permanently fixed—as much country of the imagination as political state. “Amerika,” Goethe would write, “du hast es besser.” Both Cornwallis’ army and the fourth grader I was in 1943 would have agreed with him.

Those footprints still circle the hopes they helped perpetuate. We adults sniff out the past even as we feel betrayed by it. The sense of a world turned upside down is once again loose in America. Spurred by opposition to a war in Vietnam, the last 30 years have witnessed a marked decline in patriotic sentiment in this country. Confusion about national goals walks hand-in-hand with millenarian hungers. As we boast of being the world’s only superpower, we are shocked to discover that, in spite of the decline and fall of the “Evil Empire,” the times are still out of joint.

Clinging to the mystical hope that our America will yet spring full-blown, like Athena from the head of Zeus, out of the glory of its own creation myths, those of us who recall a nation still possessed by history dream of more definable times in which to live out our days. Like aging voyeurs, we confess our embarrassing fantasies to each other: a friend speaks of a peculiar affinity for New England just after the witchcraft scare, when the old order began to recognize its days were numbered and ordinary men and women wondered if they, too, possessed the rights the Founding Fathers were to call “inalienable” less than a century later. Another would like to end his days in New York in the decade after the Civil War—a smaller, more optimistic city than the one he lives in today. Never again would wealth be as seductive as during that Gilded Age. And never again would we Americans view the mere possession of money as quite so innocent and enjoyable—red-faced mustachioed men with visions of naked women bursting from giant cakes like dolphins from the sea.

But no one can choose when he is to be born. And the times we live in chafe against the ideas we inherit. Maybe that’s why I now view patriotism as so enviable an emotion, as if it alone had the power to restore innocence and virtue throughout the land. I know that history needs perspective. Only one can learn to enjoy a time simply by surviving in it—and I have survived as a 20th-century man for 60 years now. That alone entitles me to look at this century as a singular reference point in my own sense of who I am.

It takes only a date of birth to love this century, but love of country—which is what I mean by “patriotism”—is trickier. Keyed to a delight in the unexpected, it retains an emotional geography of its own. Like adolescent love, it feeds the spirit’s passionate intensity. The first time I drove across the Panhandle, I broke out in a sweat at the sweep of land and sky. A bad poet might look at long sky and empty land as a copulation of emptiness. But I was no poet, good or bad—just another awe-struck American driving across that unbroken Texas landscape.

Yet landscape alone cannot explain love of country. It is not mountain and ocean and river but the idea of place one comes to feel patriotic about. Our nation is distorted both by those who claim to love it and those for whom it has evolved into the world’s bete blanc. Even our students of literature and history have grown cautious about the idea of place. Do they still read Henry Nash Smith’s seminal Virgin Land or R. W. B. Lewis’ splendid The American Adam? Not, I suspect, the way I read those books in the 1950’s, eager to make sense of a nation to which I wanted to belong.

If love of country is rarely scholarly, books like Virgin Land and The American Adam nonetheless guided people like me into America by inviting us into the landscape of its psychological interior. Never intended as patriotic forensics, those books made the idea of America real by making our sense of place vivid. A growing by-product of the current emphasis on race and gender and ethnicity is that the sense of place stands in danger of being lost. In a nation in which multi-national corporations and multi-cultural education are competing brand names, patriotism, too, can be dismissed as one more embarrassment of excess. Worse still, in the eyes of the American media—and without joining the ranks of those C-Span call-in junkies who speak of “media conspiracies” the way young boys in my childhood spoke of batting averages and ERA’s, those are the eyes we see through today—it is also boring, the one unforgivable sin left in our America.

* * *

Man of the left, homme de gauche, liberal—you can stick whatever tail you want on this donkey, and he’ll wear it willingly. Where confession is in order, one forgets questions of taste. I love this country the way I loved a girl named Marcia in the fifth grade—the passion naked, the secrecy agonizing. All I can remember about her today is her long blond hair and slightly flattened Eastern European nose that drifted like fog through my dreams. Only the task of trying to resurrect patriotism is more formidable than remembering boyhood lusts. Communal emotion offends nations in which unfettered ego is the rage. Love of country may be inclusive, but it can’t compete with the more modern gods of race, gender, and ethnicity. And where a sense of community is fragile, love of country is bound to seem superfluous. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” said JFK, “ask what you can do for your country.” Ask—but don’t expect easy answers. A rhetoric conceived in the Depression and shaped by a world war no longer says much to an America intent on every individual’s inalienable right to “do his own thing.”

* * *

Like competitive sports, patriotism thrives best when nations possess opponents of strength. Is there any doubt that the Soviet collapse redefined American consciousness? Without that threat, love of country atrophied even more quickly. Nor have attempts to replace the “Evil Empire” worked. The rhetoric of the Gulf War sounded hollow even to those who were sympathetic to George Bush’s aims. Military analysts paraded before us on CNN, yet the belief that Iraq was a minor enemy went unchallenged. The war did little to alter the idea that patriotism was an anachronism, kept alive by a hunger for an innocent America which, like those showings of It’s A Wonderful Life we are subjected to each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, only go to prove the obvious: society changes, while sentimentality endures.

That an emotion so dependent upon the historical sense has been stripped from history is not as ironic as it may at first seem. It’s not lack of accuracy that traps communal passion in historical debris. It’s the need to stand at history’s center. We Americans still insist on employing the language of priests to bless the work of day laborers. We still don’t believe that it’s too late for our kingdom on a hill. Until recently, spelling bees and soap box derbies were alive and well in America. Now they, too, are to be replaced by information highways and electronic hype. Even marketable innocence threatens to pass us by.

* * *

A man who is willing to identify himself as a donkey is a man who is willing to admit to being a liberal—probably not the least courageous thing I could write about myself at this moment in history. We liberals are supposed to find it awkward to admit to feeling patriotic. Not that it is we alone in whom the decline in the sentiment is measurable. Our conservative brethren are no better able to wrestle with that decline than we are. Pat Buchanan was not alone in discovering that waving the flag from a Mercedes irritates those same auto workers whose jobs he insisted he would save. Nor does the “Golly, what will we come to next?” rhetoric of another conservative Pat, the Reverend Robertson, still cut the patriotic mustard. A single look at the TV screen is enough to convince anyone that this is no Uncle Joe Stilwell leading his troops through the Burmese jungles to the strain of “Onward, Christian Soldiers!”

* * *

One needs a pen as controlled and an eye as sharp as Jefferson’s to describe how an emotion shopped around like a bargain on the Home Shopping Network has been overwhelmed by our national predilection for hunkering down within a hot dog and beer rhetoric. The hot dog and beer constituency is shrinking, but that is not the point. For years, our free marketers have urged us to keep an eye on the Nikkei. Only watching the Nikkei left us with neither the time nor the inclination to watch the backyard barbecue. A lesser art, no doubt—but one that didn’t question American singularity.

My conservative friends are always reminding me that American capitalism—as Harry Balough, ring announcer at the old Madison Square Garden, liked to phrase it—has “emerged triumphant” in its struggle with Marxism. Who can argue with that during a time in which Mao’s China veers like a crazed top on a buying and selling spree? Yet not even the most committed free marketer in our midst can tell me he has felt his heart stir at the sight of a free market flag.

A shameless, rhetorical note? Maybe so. And where patriotism is concerned, we liberals probably have no right to point the finger at conservatives. We have enough sins of our own to answer for. Consider the time and energy we spend placating juvenile Spartacists whose idea of politics is spelling America with a k—a left orthography intended to respond to a xenophobic right decorating car bumpers with “America! Love It Or Leave It!” Better to ask why we have so difficult a time with an emotion that once appealed to those we claim to stand with. Better to face the question of whether patriotism really is the anachronism we dismiss so casually. Better to wonder whether in choosing not to worry about it today we doom ourselves to the inevitability of having to worry about it tomorrow.

The truth is not that liberals are unpatriotic but that we can no longer even think about patriotism. Having made the word chauvinism’s blood brother, we have no choice but to accept the distrust it generates in our midst. Unwilling to discuss love of country, we are as eager as any other Americans to talk about sex, money, and personal hygiene. We, too, blithely open heart and mind to Oprah and Phil. We, too, learn to speak the speech of psycho-babble. We, too, hold forth on everything from seductive mother-in-laws to nudity on television. Yes, in the land of Tonya and Nancy, we liberals, too, would rather feel than think.

Only not about messily populist emotions. Or subjects so divisive and contradictory as to appear incapable of resolution. Easy enough for Americans to discuss sex and God with Oprah and Phil. Easy enough even to discuss the sex of God. But love of country calls for more dangerous journeys into those uncharted eschatological seas. So defensive are we about patriotism that we allow ourselves to be driven by fear of it into the arms of cliche.

* * *

The cliche is the manner in which liberal intellectuals have learned to echo Dr. Johnson’s well-known indictment of patriotism as “the last refuge of scoundrels.” It’s curious that in no other group is love of country less chic than it is among liberal intellectuals, and in no other group is the need to stay in fashion more important. Approved taste and voguish opinion are music to the ears of those Harold Rosenberg called a “herd of independent minds.” Johnson’s line does for them what cliches are designed to do—it keeps them in line by allowing them not to think seriously about what they do not really want to think about at all.

We Americans have always had a penchant for one-liners. Gore Vidal, Rush Limbaugh—name your own pundit of the week. The politics never matter so much as the Menckenian thrust. On both left and right, fashion defines and gesture rules. And even those for whom love of country is a fulfilling emotion cannot deny that it is provincial. Narrow issues, instinctive demands, plebeian tastes—provincialism, too, can easily be subsumed beneath the weight of naivete. That alone may account for the scorn patriotism generates in us, while pomposity accounts for the style of our mockery. Few of us are so lacking in a sense of realism as to think that we are the prisoners of starvation and wretched of the earth “The Internationale” sang of. Yet with our minds now bent beneath the yoke of ideas, we liberals, too, have learned to butter our bread with illusion.

And the more ridiculous the illusion, the more compelled liberal intellectuals are to inflict the discord of language on it. Because it must defend what is usually indefensible, all politics damage language. Yet Marxist politics left particular debts in that regard, if only because Marxism always took ideas seriously enough to want to control them. (Fascists have beliefs but no ideas.) And despite the efforts of Koestler and Silone and Orwell to teach us that our language had helped seed authoritarian terror, the debts have never been paid in full.

* * *

How curious that liberal intellectuals continue to deride national boundaries, even as those same boundaries continue to make sense to average men and women. In the 1930’s, the American Communist Party tried to broaden its appeal by adopting the slogan, “Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism!” Earlier attempts to market the CP’s spiritual confetti had been pathetic, but now the Party had come up with something catchy. Even the CP recognized that American hearts and minds beat to a patriotic drum.

We liberals might do worse than to take a lesson from the old CP. Narrow as it seems, patriotism should never be dismissed. Even when its appeal is limited, it is real and powerful. And it speaks to an audience which we must reach if liberalism is ever to be revitalized in America. Maybe parochialism has the power to turn patriotism into chauvinism in the blink of an eye. Yet we should take heart that it so rarely does—even as we demonstrate that love of country celebrates singularity rather than aggression.

* * *

It was Orwell who labelled patriotism a “defensive” emotion. That the finest political essayist of our century paid such close attention to patriotism is another reason why he remains a model for the rest of us. His writing about the contempt in which patriotism was held by left intellectuals is as timely today as it was in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The English left blinded itself to the actual lives of the people it claimed to speak for, as American liberal intellectuals do today. Because he understood why it exerted so profound a hold on ordinary people, Orwell saw the left’s scorn of patriotism as one more example of its inability to accept the world those people lived in.

But not even Orwell suspected that England’s postwar decline would have the effect of Americanizing Dr. Johnson on patriotism. England may no longer be important enough as a country for us to worry about what its people think, but our own American popular attitudes still possess formidable consequences. And that makes it even more difficult for us to admit that patriotism has probably received the press it deserves in this country since the end of the Second World War. No nation has produced a larger number of people able to pass self-interest off as love of country. A charlatan like Joe McCarthy could use love of country the way a Vegas shill uses odds. Games of chance in which the house defines the rules are games the house always wins. McCarthyism certainly helps explain why liberal intellectuals came to look on patriotism as a cancer of the spirit.

* * *

But if once understandable as a reaction to chauvinism, liberal suspicion of patriotism no longer makes sense. Love of country is necessary to the political health of nations. The emotion belongs to no group or party, yet we liberals still react to it with the same snide contempt with which we react to talk about “family values” and “reverse racism.” Like it or not, those terms address issues that are real to the majority of Americans. And why should love of country conjure up images of John Wayne leading the cavalry against the Indians? Why turn an admittedly provincial but noble emotion into occupied territory? Why weigh it down with rifle-toting conspiracy kooks for whom the Rockefellers and the Trilateral Commission threaten the dark mountains of Idaho? Why do we liberals insist on doing both ourselves and our cause such a terrible disservice?

* * *

My immigrant father never heard of Dr. Johnson, knew no Rockefellers, had no idea of what the Trilateral Commission was, and looked at the senator from Wisconsin with the same fear and loathing he would have looked on a moldy corpse overrun by worms. I like to think of him as a liberal, but it is more accurate to write that he loved this country and believed that the rights of labor were the rights of man—neither one a fashionable belief among most liberals today. Although he harbored a dream of owning his own store, he was what used to be called “a good union man” in the New York City I grew up in.

Orwell thought its inherent sense of “common decency” was the saving grace of the English working class. If that is the case, my father would have made a proper Englishman,

Yiddish accent and all. He was religious, but not learned. Or even particularly intelligent. (Among the myths children of immigrant Jews carry in their personal baggage is that of the father as Talmudic scholar, kept from God’s ear by the necessity of making a living. I had no such illusions: my father was a simple man with a propensity for worship who blessed this country.)

He had good reason to bless it, too. Had he remained in the Polish shtetl where he was born and in which he spent the first 28 years of his life, he would have met with the fate of his brothers and sisters and been turned into one more bar of soap to cleanse Aryan pores. If Europe did not have the Jew, Sartre wrote after the war, it would be forced to invent him. My father could have served as model for that blood sculpture.

But an ironic model. Even as he wistfully spoke of the shtetl he had emigrated from as der haym, my father hated Europe. Paradoxically, no matter how deep his love of America, it would never be the home to him it was to his sons. Home stands on the mind’s peripheries. Even empty of possibility and overrun by death, it possesses order and stability. A man can love what he cannot know and worship what he does not understand. Der haym was intimate and personal, its horror and dread tolerable because they were familiar. Had my brother or I told him he secretly hungered to return to Hostov, our father would have deemed us crazy. Europe held him in a vise of hatred—a familiar hatred, but hatred nonetheless. And that hatred, as Shylock understood so well, was Europe’s true coin of the realm.

* * *

Contrary to popular belief, love of country is rooted not in ideology but in a sense of the everyday, which is why Orwell was so right when he warned us not to confuse it with conservatism. For the immigrant Jews and Italians and the second-generation Irish in my neighborhood (the Irish were our WASPs, since we had no others and since they were to the language if not to the manner born), the emotion sometimes narrowed focus and condemned a man to faith in illusion. But it also forced him to consider alternatives to his life in America. My father knew that Europe had as little use for him as he had for it. Europe’s grievances with him, like his grievances with it, possessed a long and painful history. (Pound and Wagner and Celine, among others, all tried to give those grievances an aesthetic, but my scarcely literate father knew nothing about their efforts.)

Like so many other immigrants to this country, my father came to America to rid himself of “the old country” and the past it embodied. Because America allowed him that, he loved it with a devotion I found embarrassing. However unfashionable it has since become, the melting pot was as real to him as the Gillette razor he took such pleasure in shaving with each morning. Not that the term “melting pot” meant anything. He lived here. That was language enough.

* * *

One loves a country not only for what it is but for what it isn’t. And with patriotism, a little ignorance goes a long way. On the High Holy Days, my brother and I usually accompanied our father to synagogue. Prayer was in Hebrew, until the congregation rose to pray for the well-being of president, governor, members of Congress, and all “who wield just and rightful authority throughout the land.” At that point, Hebrew was abandoned for English. Listening to my father sound out words in a language he was never at home with, I would fantasize that, like the prophet Isaiah, his tongue had been scorched by hot coals until he was granted eloquence in the language of his adopted tribe.

God and country are a natural link. Even a war-horse agnostic like Orwell understood that. Whatever barriers of belief and background are between them, Orwell and my father were curiously alike. Orwell’s view of these United States was forever biased, but he would have understood that my father’s love of country was not mere rhetoric. He would also have recognized that my father had less idea of how this America worked than any man I have ever known. When he died on April 9, 1976, two months short of having lived here for 46 years, America was still as foreign as it was on the June day in 1930 when he set foot on the Lower East Side’s Orchard Street. But it was his country now, and he took immense pleasure in the options it offered his sons. Even the unlearned could learn to dream American dreams.

In this, my father was like millions of other working men, both native-born and immigrant. A degree of ignorance is an ingredient in all patriotism. It is not allegiance to country nor allegiance to democracy to which patriotism appeals. Few working men have ever heard of de Toqueville or Lord Bryce. For men like my father, love of country was a way to admit one’s debt to this swollen entity known as the United States of America. Its appeal was to boundaries of memory rather than to national boundaries. My father remembered Europe. Love of country was that simple.

The shtetl he grew up in had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until conquered by Cossacks (who pressed my father, then 12, into an 18-month stint in a labor gang) in the early days of the war. Hostov was awarded to Poland under the Treaty of Versailles, but such particulars of ownership meant nothing to my father. Who ruled Hostov was simply the enemy of the moment. The Austro-Hungarian Empire might have had a more benign idea of stewardship than Czar Nicholas or the fiery adherents of Polish nationalism, but for my father all Europe was steeped in a demonism that didn’t even attempt to mask its hatred of who he was.

* * *

People of my generation, now in their late fifties or early sixties, remain the emotional offspring of the Second World War. On Sept. 1, 1939, when the Poland my father fled was invaded by Germany, I was six years old. On Aug. 8, 1945, when the war ended with Japan’s surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri, I was 12. And between those two dates, my own love of country took shape.

Born three years after my father landed on these shores, I cannot remember when I first became conscious of being an American. What I can remember is that at six I was already conscious of not being European. World War II was personal even for children. Europe was a nightmare beyond distance—but not beyond the intimacy of blood. I used to stare at the stiff postcard photos of my father’s brothers on the foyer wall. The uncles I would never see who had remained in Europe were soldiers in the Polish cavalry. How quaint and slyly humorous the words “Polish cavalry” now seem, even as I resurrect those pictures in my mind’s eye, ornate sword hilts at their sides, peaked caps seemingly pasted to their Jewish peasant heads—already as dead as the Europe that would kill them, faces on the wall, absorbed by our century of horror.

Before America’s entry into the war, I rooted for England and France the way I rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. My father did not root. He ground his teeth and wept softly when he thought we were asleep at night, filled with anguish at a Europe in which the idea that men could begin again had simply never taken hold. The war was a struggle to defeat fascism. Or so we were told. But for me, it was a war to keep Europe at bay. Germany was simply the most recent example of an evil endemic to all Europe.

We children understood that if there were no such thing as a “good war,” there were necessary wars. World War II possessed a broad national consensus. In neighborhoods like mine, what little opposition to it that existed was mute. The war tested our ability to stand by painful choices. And no matter how they had been made, such choices were assumed to be collective—which was as close as I would ever come to believing a different patriotic cliche, Stephen Decatur’s “our country, right or wrong.” Love of country furthers action even as it constricts choice.

* * *

Maybe it doesn’t have the same smell of cliche about it as Dr. Johnson’s “the last refuge of scoundrels.” Yet “our country, right or wrong” is equally specious. In denying the moral complexity at the emotion’s heart, it fails to distinguish, as Orwell insisted we must, between patriotism and nationalism. America has never lacked its share of “good Germans.” And “our country, right or wrong” was the kind of slogan that sanctioned bullying chauvinism. But I had no way of knowing that during the war.

No war ever possessed clearer lines of demarcation. Years later, I would be shocked by an older friend and colleague, who, like me, was the offspring of Eastern European Jews, when he proudly told me he had been a conscientious objector during the war. I was reading Lowell’s Life Studies at the time, and I remember thinking that, however admirable it was for a Lowell to describe himself as “a fire-breathing Catholic C. O.,” it was not admirable in my friend. I know this is illogical. Yet a Lowell could refuse a debt to a country his ancestors had helped create in the belief that he was fulfilling a higher debt, while we more recent Americans lacked that option. By then, I needed no one to tell me about those bars of soap.

Ironically, my own opposition to the war in Vietnam would rub against the grain of my father’s faith in American singularity. To question the motives of those wielding “just and rightful authority” was somehow to indict his journey to these shores. Not that my father was unwilling to face the possibility that government had been wrong or to admit that this country had made mistakes. But to believe that this nation was capable of error was one thing, while to assume error was endemic to this nation was another. My father looked on blanket indictments of America in much the same way as he looked on storms and hurricanes, inexplicable aberrations in which nature itself was at fault.

For blind self-righteousness was what he saw in those who sought to transmogrify America into Amerika. He trusted this nation’s leaders enough to take their word on affairs of state. He wanted them to be right about Vietnam because they were, after all, the people who wielded “just and rightful authority,” the people he had prayed for. “They know more than you,” he would insist. Like most immigrants, when he gave trust he gave it absolutely. Right or wrong, the country that had taken him in was his country.

If my protests against the war made him uncomfortable, students chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!” enraged him. “Vos villen zah?” he would ask in Yiddish. What do they want? “Don’t they know they live in paradise?” He dismissed all claims that the war was immoral with contempt. Logic was logic and debts were debts. And love of country had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with one’s debts.

* * *

English patriotism, Orwell tells us, is “largely unconscious.” This is probably true of all patriotism, since love of country distinguishes itself from chauvinism and nationalism not through rhetorical strategies but as one of the few emotions able to move us beyond self-interest. For men like my father, love of country bubbled away in the now-unfashionable melting pot. What emerged from the Babel of tongues and chaos of ambitions let loose in this America was loyalty to the idea that ordinary people had the right to define their lives. America’s great gift lay in the sense of self-worth it inspired. Zuh zahn ah mensch. To be a person—what Europe had denied him. In der haym, body and soul were at risk. In America, as he would put it, “A man could learn to live.”

How odd that I have come to look on love of country with growing envy of immigrants like my father. It’s not only that America today seems desperately in need of the kind of bonding patriotism provides, or that I think my father was fortunate to have arrived on these shores when that pot was still expected to melt people into each other and into this nation. It’s that I now realize that I have become like one of those foot soldiers in Cornwallis’ army. I am told that I must march through a world turned upside down by the claims and counter-claims of gender, race, and ethnicity. That some of those claims are valid does not change my growing despair at the rising whine of difference blanketing this nation like a shroud, threatening to freeze us all into an unalterable and permanent separateness.

But even images demand logic. Pots were never meant to be collectibles, any more than baseball cards that smell of the chewing gum they were wrapped in were intended to be auctioned off at Sotheby’s. Don’t tell me what astronomical sums they bring. Pots are containers for cooking—no more, no less. And pots were designed to allow the juices to mix and the flavors to swap—all the juices and all the flavors. What more can be asked even of a melting pot? To blend is not to scorn. Nor is it to offer oneself up for scorn. To blend is to bring the flavors together.

My father was born in 1902 and I was born in 1933. It comes as something of a shock to remember that we are both men of this century. Better still, we are both Americans. It took me a longer time than it took my father to realize that love of country can embody pride in having been melted down. But I understand it now, enough so that I am willing to leave to others the intellectual hustling of race and ethnicity and gender. As for me, I’m content to be the elder son of that melted-down immigrant who understood why he felt such gratitude to this country. Sixty years into a turbulent century, being melted down in an unfashionable pot seems a more attractive prospect than merely grunting along, nose to the ground, one more whining body in the herd of independent minds.

For my brother


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