Field Notes: ‘This is patriotism’

People hold candles and signs at a vigil on Ashland Plaza on Jan. 6. Drew Fleming photo
January 21, 2022

I see flickering candles in the gathering darkness. I’m following those lights.

By Diarmuid McGuire

“This is patriotism.”

Those were the words of Dick Barbara, a retired teacher from Medford, as he stood with his wife, Jeanne, and an American flag at the rear of a crowd on Ashland’s downtown Plaza Thursday evening, Jan. 6.

“I’m tired of seeing the right co-opt our flag for their version of patriotism,” Barbara continued.

The rally that drew the Barbaras from Medford came on a day when lines of political polarization sharpened across the nation. Current President Joe Biden appeared in the Capitol Rotunda, a shrine of American democracy and scene of mayhem just 12 months ago, to denounce Donald Trump, the “former president” and Fomenter in Chief of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.

Biden pulled no punches: “For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.”

The Fomenter immediately shot back: “Biden, who is destroying our Nation with insane policies of open Borders, corrupt Elections, disastrous energy policies, unconstitutional mandates, and devastating school closures, used my name today to try to further divide America.” (The eccentric capitalization is his.)

Objectively (yes, that matters), evidence has accumulated over recent months that the Janu. 6 attack on the Capitol was part of an attempted “self-coup” (“autogolpe” in Spanish, a language in which the term gets frequent use) on the part of defeated candidate Trump, aimed at overturning the recent election and maintaining himself in office. Democrats and progressives support this view, referring to the Jan. 6 event as an insurrection. Republicans and Trump adherents typically prefer to call the incident, that cost the lives of several Capitol police officers and rioters, “no big deal.”

Whatever we call it, the self-coup continues, apparently building toward 2024, and democracy seems to have no answer. Trump continues repeat the preposterous claim that the 2020 election was rigged. Republican legislatures across the country are enacting voter suppression measures and disempowering nonpartisan election officials. Meanwhile the conspirators behind January 6 are walking free, our President is speaking out but taking no meaningful action, Congress is paralyzed by a couple of Democratic Quizlings and the punditocracy is issuing warnings unaccompanied by specific action plans (e.g., “Jimmy Carter: I Fear for Our Democracy,” New York Times, Jan. 5.)

This is all deeply troubling. Frankly, I’m terrified. I suspect that many of us in Ashland have that in common.

But there is hope. Yes, I see flickering candles in the gathering darkness. I’m following those lights.

First, we live in a state whose voters and legislators have not gone completely insane. As Rep. Pam Marsh pointed out to the Ashland Plaza gathering on Jan. 6, our Oregon House voted unanimously to expel a Republican member who facilitated an invasion of the State Capitol on Dec. 21, 2020. Although Oregon Republicans have not, for the most part, challenged Trump’s Big Lie, they have also not challenged Oregon’s voting practices — which are among the most inclusive and most secure in the nation.

Second, we have among us democracy defenders like Teresa Safay and Terrie Martin of Indivisible who organized the Plaza event. Teresa, Terrie and their fellow OR-D2 activists (representing Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District) have been fighting Trumpism since the reality-show real estate mogul ascended to the White House five years ago. People are listening, including the several hundred who showed up on the Plaza.

Finally, we have political leaders who are determined to make democratic government work. Two of them spoke that night: State Senator Jeff Golden and Rep. Marsh. Both are working tirelessly (well, perhaps they get tired sometimes) to address issues that shape our lives: the impacts of wildfires and smoke seasons, our endemic housing shortage and the critical need to shelter neighbors displaced by wildfires, the climate collapse that translates into catastrophe for farmers, fire refugees and ultimately all of us. Only a government of all the people can satisfy the needs of all the people: security, health care, education, housing, transportation infrastructure and more. To the extent that local and state leaders like Golden and Marsh succeed in Salem, Trump’s demonization of government and attack on democracy collapses in Oregon.

As for the rest of us, leadership means nothing without an engaged community. To paraphrase a patriot from another era, we have just begun to engage.

(Full disclosure: I am permanently engaged to Rep. Marsh.)

Email occasional columnist Diarmuid McGuire at

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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