During the snowstorms that overtook much of the Northeast over winter break, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark tweeted the following on his Twitter account in response to an urgent plea from a citizen to help her 65-year-old father so that he would not hurt himself:
“Please @BigSixxRaven don’t worry bout ur dad. Just talked 2 him & I’ll get 2 his Driveway by noon. I’ve got salt, shovels & great volunteers.”
Booker selflessly answered the call of duty — as has been his habit since entering public life — and shoveled the driveway, a seemingly small but not unimportant service in re-establishing Newark as a great metropolitan city, built upon a safe community and a strong economic base.
Utilizing the powers invested in him as Newark’s highest ranking officer and those granted him by a hard-working public, pushed forward by a sense of purpose unique but not uncommon in the history of our republic and tempered by a call to service too often ignored, he has sought to revive a particular culture within Newark. He wants a city with residents who take pride in the land they call home, the neighbors they call friends and the work they must undertake to realize a dream long held, but a commitment unfulfilled.
In these efforts, Booker understands what we know to be true but is all too often forgotten by politicians: Love of community ignites love of country. Social feeling is not a currency that can be used up but is in fact a muscle to be exercised and exercised again. Patriotism without provincialism, without a connection to the local, without a community to love and be loved by, is at best meaningless, and at worst, a taint on our politics.
Our discourse encourages too much patriotism without love of the patria.
On the hard right, patriotism has become a reactionary furor against stuff they don’t like, or, worse yet, a farce, a self-parody, a self-reverential wink at the absurdity with which they cynically salute and dogmatically wave a flag they fail to honor by their actions.
But making the melting pot that is America work is a challenge to be met and overcome, one that has been met by generations of Americans and will be met by generations more. It should not be seen as a threat to our nation’s being but rather a reason for its being, all of us together in the trench hole of democracy, fighting to preserve it in a world whose experience suggests the project cannot succeed. To succeed, though, we have to believe in our country, something those on the hard left — those who haven’t had a local community to love or have abandoned it for a Ryan Bingham-type existence — mock.
It is an ironic but, perhaps, inspired historical note that Booker’s Newark is located in New Jersey, the state that suffers most from a lack of investment by its citizens and, perhaps equally problematic, a misguided support.
The outside world knows New Jersey through its experiences in the state and the ways in which the state is portrayed by the media. Flights into Newark International Airport, Tony Soprano’s drive down the turnpike, Governor James McGreevey’s shamed retreat from public life and in the year 2010, perhaps most importantly, Snooki’s antics on “Jersey Shore.” The popularity of Snooki, “The Situation” and their fellow beach bums from Seaside Heights has established the dominant meme associated with New Jersey: Guido Culture, and has transformed attempts at mocking my home state from the occasional jab — “uh, what exit on turnpike?” — to a recreational sport more popular than Facebook stalking.
As late-night talk show hosts mock the fair state and term it the “armpit of America,” those of us from it have largely been silent, accepting these jokes as truisms and in turn, mocking our state and its culture. While there is room for laughing at our foibles and dreaming up attempts to socially engineer certain cultures in the state out of existence, such mocking must go hand-in-hand with a pride in our state’s accomplishment and a belief in the goodness of our folks. We need an outspoken, public, loyal opposition that criticizes its current trajectory, economic and cultural, but toasts and touts it wherever they go. Efforts at renewal based in personal reinvestment in the state are as important if not more so than those efforts to reform the state’s finances. Without this informed patriotism, governmental reforms are meaningless.
New Jersey’s is a case that can provide a warning for the other 49: Love your state or lose it.
All that patriotism requires and all it can be is eagerness to keep the founding principles of the nation intact and incorrupt. And to preserve undiminished the people and the land. And when national conduct reduces a state from white sandy beaches by the sea, historic towns where battles were fought both north and south and world-class universities to an oil and petrochemical refinery state with guidos running amok, it is one’s patriotic duty to stand up and to oppose. But you can stay seated for Princeton, which doesn’t matter.
Adam Lior Hirst is a senior in Branford College.