The ultra-anthemic "We Take Care of Our Own" marches in with one of Springsteen's most martial rhythms — a kickdrum on every downbeat since "Badlands." And you better believe it has some of the same "trouble in the heartland" concerns, too. But then there's that chorus: rousing, uplifting, and positioning "We Take Care of Our Own" to not only be Springsteen's most misinterpreted song since "Born in the U.S.A.," but misinterpreted in precisely the same way. With its imagery of flying flags, it's practically begging for it.
And there are takers. The L.A. Times' Randall Roberts describes the song as "an affirmation of national glory," with a chorus that reveals the song to be "about the country and hardship, but also about community and pride." The Atlantic Wire cheerily reports, "it's really, really good. This is to be expected, because it's Springsteen, and also because the song involves flags, loyalty oaths, and going through life with a heart-as-big-as-all-outdoors."
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I'd argue that there are more than two ways to view the title. Aside from the ironic interpretation, it can also be heard as an accusation: we don't take care of everyone in this country; we take care of our own. With a subdivided America suffering from paralyzing partisanship as well as racism, homophobia, xenophobia... who exactly consitutes "our own" has become a far narrower subset than everyone who lives under that flying flag. As Bruce sang in "American Land," "The hands that built the country we're all trying to keep down." In that sense the phrase "we take care of our own" suggests bailed-out banks giving management bonuses, the wealthy giving tax breaks to the wealthy, "Marriage Protection," and a Federal Emergency Management Agency that shockingly appeared to view an American city as "other" in its response to Katrina.
Which leads to a darker connotation of "We take care of our own," a phrase often invoked by groups wanting to keep outsiders out, to justify violent, illegal, or immoral acts. Chew on this, from a 2009 article in The Nation called "Katrina's Hidden Race War," about a white "militia" shooting at least 11 African-American men "in the days after the storm, when the city fractured along racial fault lines as its government collapsed":