In 2006, Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs, then with CNN, made a splash when he declared, “Let’s be clear. I don’t think there should be a St. Patrick’s Day.” Why the hell should we be celebrating anything other American holidays, he asked, anticipating the rise of Donald Trump’s economic and ethnic nationalism by a decade. Ever since returning to cable after a brief sojourn in Space (Space.com, that is), Dobbs has trafficked in populist attacks on illegal immigration (and most forms of legal immigration, too).
Today is, of course, St. Patrick’s Day and many cities across the country mark the day with a parade that blocks traffic and congregates drunks who have not one drop of Hibernian blood pulsing in their veins along with alcohol metabolized from green beer. I’ve celebrated St. Patrick’s at least once in some of the “Irish” cities in the country (Boston, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago) and many times in New York. The essential fact about St. Patrick’s Day in America—and especially St. Patrick’s Day parades—is that it’s not at all about being Irish, despite trappings that indulge in the worst sort of Darby O’Gill and the Little People-style ephemera. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade wasn’t held in Dublin or Belfast, but in Manhattan, in 1762. In fact, it took until 1903 for St. Patrick’s Day to be more than a Catholic holy day of obligation in Ireland; the first St. Paddy’s Day parade in the Old Sod took place the same year.
Stick that in your $4.35 leprechaun clay pipe (+ shipping) and smoke it. The point of the 18th-century parade in New York was to show solidarity in the face of English social, economic, and political power. It turns out nothing is more purely American than ethnic identity politics. Remember that when Cinco de Mayo rolls around and on Pulaski Day (look it up), and remember it, too, on Columbus Day as well. One of the ways we show that we’re truly American is by recalling real and imagined hardships that our ancestors faced and over which they triumphed. And by letting others join in the legacy, even if that legacy is reduced to drinking until you puke.
That’s a lesson worth remembering in the 21st century, especially the day after President Trump, who wants to put America first, just hosted Ireland’s prime minister and read what he took to be an old Irish proverb but actually seems to be some doggerel written by a Nigerian banker.
“As we stand together with our Irish friends,” said Trump, “I’m reminded of proverb, and this is a good one, this is one I like. I’ve heard it for many, many years and I love it. ‘Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue. But never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.’”
It’s OK, President Trump. Everyone—and everything—is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
In 2010, Reason TV documented why immigrants come to America: