After the attacks, Toyota displayed a digital version of the U.S. flag on its electronic billboard in Times Square. And why not? The Japanese company employs tens of thousands of Americans who serve millions of American customers. More than half the vehicles Toyota sells in the U.S. are built in North America.
Toyota was perfectly justified to wave the U.S. flag to show its support for the nation, Toyota customers and Toyota employees. The bigger question would have occurred if Toyota had sat on the sidelines: It would have been appropriate to ask how a corporation so integrated into the U.S. could ignore a national and global tragedy. In waving the flag, Toyota did the right thing.
Let's hope the new wave of American patriotism, born of such sadness, will inspire a new generation; that would be a lasting tribute to a day of devastating loss. But let's keep the issue separate from the matter of buying American.
There's a simple reason why "buy American" is unlikely to gain much momentum: It's hard to know what the decree means when Toyota Camrys come from Kentucky, Ford assembles some of its Focus models in Mexico and a German company makes the Jeep Liberty. (And when many U.S. flags come from places such as Taiwan.)
Americans are consumers of a global free market, focused more on brands and value than on location of factories or headquarters. We bet many newly patriotic young Americans don't think of Sony as a Japanese brand; it's simply a great brand. That's good.
Patriotism is good. And it will co-exist nicely with the free market.