On the morning after the inauguration, as I walked through a gray and damp campus, a car turned the corner and headed towards me. It was a bright red German sports number. New and shiny. The driver had opened his sunroof and was flying an American flag through the opening, the kind of flag that has the gold fringes all the way around. There was an eagle at the top of the flagpole, so it looked like something improvised, something hastily taken from a high school auditorium or county courthouse. In my life, I have seen a thousand versions of that flag. Altogether, this was a pretty striking scene.
As the car drew nearer, I heard Toby Keith’s “Beer for my Horses” – the unofficial anthem of the newly installed Trump administration – echoing down the street. We’d found each other, it seems, in mid-song. “Justice is the one thing you should always find,” I heard Keith sing, sounding (as always) as if he had marbles in his mouth, “You got to saddle up your boys. You got to draw a hard line.”
The car hesitated as it passed by, as if the driver had taken his foot off the gas. I saw a figure lean over, one hand on the steering wheel, to take a closer look. At me. Sure, there was a bit to laugh at – this was, in local parlance, such a perfectly executed “North Providence lean” that I almost applauded, the way one would cheer a gymnast sticking a landing – but the experience was mostly meant to be menacing. Something about the lean and the hesitation told me that. So I stopped walking and stood still, offering a grim, returning stare until the car had turned the next corner, heading even deeper into our campus.
In tone and in execution, this defiant parade of one car through the core of a progressive campus located on the liberal east side of a blue city in a blue state was quite something. It was immediately, viscerally different, I thought, from what we’d seen before the election, from that battered old white pickup festooned with handmade signs, sometimes parked like a foreign legion outpost in front of the university bookstore. The pickup was the province (I always thought) of a lonely old kook, at home with the jewelry vendors, the panhandlers, and the scrambling students who gather on Thayer Street. But the scarlet sports car, with its snapping flag and its jingoistic soundtrack, was a challenge. A threat. A blood cry. It heralded something dark.
The days and weeks since have been a blur, but I wanted to share this here before too much time had passed. A brief memoir of the aftermath, it is a part of a bigger effort to go local, to go to the ground, and to document everything. To leave, for the future, a thousand pieces of evidence of what comes now and what comes next. Whatever you remember, whatever you see, make sure you write it down. And find a place to archive it.