I may be a curmudgeon, but I generally feel that taking pride in a place, position, or status you were born into is an act of inane vanity. My father scolded me for this feeling the last time I saw him. He was aghast that I didn’t proudly go out of my way to tout my love for country–a country that for most of his life was not his own.
He made his way to America from England to drive a tour bus. He grew up poor, with a drunken, abusive father and a mother who couldn’t afford to feed all her children. He spent some of his childhood in a workhouse. This much of my father’s story we’ve confirmed with his relatives.
America was his escape. “America is so big. There isn’t space like this anywhere back home,” he’s told me. At some point, I assume, my father had a green card, but for a long time he was here illegally. He found inspiration in the typical American things I’ve grown to loathe; he thought Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton a genius. In England,“You can’t just walk into a store and get a refrigerator,” he would explain to me, “or a car.” They don’t have anywhere to keep them, so they have to make them. Here, you can get what you want, when you want it.” My father left my mother (his wife) to be a cross-country truck driver.
He donned cowboy boots and a cowboy hat and took up working as he thought an American should, driving across the open plains, always on the move. He didn’t seem to have a problem with his fellow truckers .They embraced his accent and his blind love of America. Eventually my father took a citizenship test. Despite spates of being in trouble with the law, drinking, drugging, moving stolen goods, he was never deported.
The truth is, I don’t love my father. I don’t really know my father, never really have, never will. But from what I’ve learned about him over the years I can safely say my father wasn’t and probably still isn’t someone I’d consider a good man.
I visited him with my fiancé in 2009 and he was complaining that my half sister had taken up with an immigrant (read not white), a professional footballer who had “of course” screwed up his career doing something stupid. “That’s what you get with those kind of marriages,” he told me, “interracial marriages.” My then girlfriend and now wife is black as is my daughter if she chooses to identify that way. My father, when I knew him, was also a pathological liar.
He claimed to be in touch with every major British rock star on a regular basis, he told my wife and me he chats with Mick Jagger on Sundays, was in touch with Pete Townshend to help him with his autobiography and played on a soccer team with Dudley Moore. The latter is true; there are pictures.
Over the years I learned to take bits of what my father told me and store them away. If they could be confirmed I’d believe them; if not, they were almost certainly fabrications.
No matter what kind of man my father was, though, America is a country that would not exist without all kinds of immigrants, it is a country that offers new starts, freedom and liberty. And I wouldn’t exist without my father. If my father–a man who could not be called admirable–deserved a second chance in this country, then certainly so do translators from Iraq who risked their lives to aid America; so do families from Syria who have had their country torn to shreds by a dictator America propped up, so does anyone in need who has read the tablet held by Lady Liberty and felt a surge of hope that there may be safe harbor somewhere.
On Saturday night I felt pride in being a New Yorker, in knowing that my friends, colleagues, neighbors and representatives were fighting as one to reject the unconstitutional, dangerous and poorly written executive order to ban Muslims from certain countries from entering the country–the executive order issued by a man who claims New York as his home but who spends more time in front of a television and surrounded by gold plating than he does with real New Yorkers.
I’m used to dealing with men like Trump, men who live in their own worlds, who think they have the power to shape reality and dictate reality to others. My father couldn’t help himself, and neither can Trump. Both have pathological personalities. But that does not mean we should take pity on him. I don’t pity my father. He never earned my trust. And President Trump has done nothing to earn our trust.
To all the voices crying out to “give him a chance,” I can only say we gave him a chance. In less than a week Trump has issued executive orders that appear to have been given as much thought as a child might give to an annoying homework assignment. American lives are in danger, decades-old international relationships are at risk, the safety of the country is in jeopardy and so is the very constitution that makes this country great–all because America got sweet-talked by a celebrity with no self control.
That won’t fly in New York, a state of immigrants, by immigrants and for immigrants. A state where we take the founding principles of this country deadly seriously, a state that at the moment has leaders strong enough to stand up to Trump, smart enough to know the law and brave enough to risk political backlash for standing against his Muslim ban.
But that may not last forever. Don’t take New York’s leaders at their word that they will protect this state’s, this nation’s values from a man who is quickly proving to be the deranged tyrant many feared he would become. Hold them accountable. Demand they stand with us all in the fight. Look not just for their promises in sound bites and press releases, or on the stump. It isn’t good enough. Demand that they be right there with you on the front lines, protesting the degradation of this country’s core values. And remember who was standing next to you, who was leading the charge and who was sitting in the office trying to read the tea leaves. New York is great because we know what matters and we hold each other accountable to ensure those values are being protected.