Our flag has been getting a lot of attention. From waving the flag to burning it and displaying it alongside a rainbow flag. A few years ago, when football players refused to stand up during the National Anthem, Donald Trump, President at the time, entered the conversation (via Twitter) to say that those players should be fired.
Earlier, as president-elect, he tweeted after a flaming protest: “No one should be allowed to burn the American flag; if they do, there must be consequences, perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!”
His comments gained momentum from Americans who strongly agreed, but they also ignited another side of the First Amendment debate.
In 1969, the United States Supreme Court ruled that flag burning is protected as free speech. That never sat well with a lot of Americans, and in 2005 an amendment was passed in the House to make flag burning illegal. However, it failed in the Senate, and even Republican Senator Mitch McConnell opposed it.
“The vast majority of Americans honor the flag, and with good reason. Some would go so far as to amend the Constitution to protect the flag from those who would burn it. While I share and admire your patriotism, tampering with our First Amendment, even for the dignified purpose of protecting the flag, is not a position I can support.
McConnell continued: “Weakening our First Amendment could also set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the Bill of Rights. If we successfully create an exception to one basic freedom, perhaps those who seek to restrict our Second Amendment rights—the right to bear arms—will create another. Or the right to own private property, as expressed in the Fifth Amendment, could be attacked.”
Regardless of how we look at the flag, it is a critical point for the people who feel betrayed by it, the people who are inspired by it, the people who fear it, and the people who support it.
The flag was burned in Ferguson, Missouri, by people who felt that the United States does not provide the same protection of liberty and justice and see it as a betrayal of that promise.
A university has removed a flag where a student displayed it on the porch of its campus because to passing foreign students it represented a form of nationalistic patriotism that does not welcome them. He scared them and the university agreed.
When it is agitated or desecrated, people rally to one side or the other to defend what it means, what it doesn’t mean, what it stands for, or what it stood for. The only common thread we don’t tread on is that “Our flag represents the United States”. freedom.”
So the question is: What is American freedom?
That is not easy to answer. American liberty, even as described in our Constitution, is a vague construct. Freedom to do what, exactly? Do you live free? what if my free is imposed on you free?
Freedom of worship? What if your beliefs negate my beliefs?
Freedom of expression? And if that speech promotes the restriction of the freedom of others?
Freedom from government tyranny? Sure… but, the government was also created to keep us free from…government tyranny.
I’m not trying to be pedantic here, but there are puzzles inherent in the very concept of the freedoms we defend. All we can really believe in is an idea of freedom, but ideas are not always clearly defined. What we believe in is not a particular set of principles, but the feeling we have when we consider our own personal identification with that idea. Good or bad.
Which brings us back to the flag…
A national flag is a symbol of that nation. It is a visual statement to identify the temperament, history, ideology, and people that make up that nation. The US flag represents, in the form of stars, all 50 United States and has 13 stripes that represent the original colonies that rebelled against Great Britain. The history of that revolution, democratic representation, our sovereignty, along with the constitution that binds those states with inalienable rights is woven into that fabric.
But therein lies the problem. A symbol is as perfect as it is benign; its realization is not.
In the 1960s, a phrase entered our lexicon in response to protests against the Vietnam War: “America, love it or leave it.” It was shorthand for conservative ideology to define American patriotism and meant that if you don’t like the way America runs its business, you should go (or stay) somewhere else. It was wrapped around our symbol; flag.
There was a double standard just as easy to reveal as his patriotic intent as those who said he generally hated any government representation other than his own party. However, many accepted him because he made them feel good about his personal connection to the United States.
And they proudly waved their flag.
During that time, however, conservatism was in the shadow of an emerging liberalism that began after World War II and reached its zenith during the Machiavellian and ethics-defying presidency of Richard Nixon. In the 1960s and 1970s it became more culturally relevant to be a liberal.
“America, love it or leave it” endured, but it was a sticker confined to the far right. That is until a new revolution came along; an ideological revolution of 30 years of suppressed conservative nationalism: The Reagan Revolution.
President Reagan, more than any other president (or at least as much as any other) fostered a decadent nationalist spirit and turned a form of disenfranchised patriotism into a positive. He made many Americans feel good about being Americans again.
As much as many of us disbelieved Reagan’s jingoistic interpretation of American exceptionalism and raged at the class separation he helped create, it was undeniable that a new conservative patriotism was sweeping the United States.
Being a “liberal” was now being labeled less patriotic.
Neoconservatives cornered the market with such glossy, abbreviated messages to diminish liberalism and rally the spirit of its base. During the administration of George W Bush they found a new cry, again in support of a war, and this nobody I could make an exception to: “We support our troops.”
What it meant, initially, was that they supported the military action in Iraq undertaken by that President, but it soon transcended that limitation by becoming the centerpiece of sentiment; the bravery of the men and women in uniform. The flag was an integral part anew with each performance of that statement.
But again, we have to ask, “What does that mean?”
It doesn’t necessarily mean government support (of which our military is a part). Or the support of your Commander in Chief.
It does not mean support for the foreign policy directives that those troops have been called upon to establish or defend.
It doesn’t even mean domestic support for our troops with better health, job, or education benefits.
It succeeds as a sociopolitical panacea because there is no greater ecstasy of true patriotism than the recognition of those who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect us, and that cannot be argued.
Which, again, takes us back to the flag…
Anyone next to me at a football game will know that I sing our National Anthem (out loud) and will see that my hat is on my left hand and my right hand is on my heart. You will also see me making sure my children do the same. I do this to show respect, humility and sincere love for our nation.
I do this to support our troops, and our citizens, in our united fight for freedom. I look at our flag while singing “The Star Spangled Banner” (with its traditional patriotic rendition). When I sing “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” it is with the sincere belief that we can truly uphold that ideal as a nation.
And I also realize that for some people that ideal has been lost or never realized. They are saying that we cannot be the “land of the free and the home of the brave” if only for a few. They remind us that a flag is just cloth blowing in the wind unless the nation that flies it is true to its purpose.
We can argue either way, but the bottom line is that our flag symbolizes the idealism of a Republic and the spirit of freedom that brought our nation to sovereignty, but it can also contain the division, separation, and fear that can result from nationalism. exclusive.
And then… what is that? freedom It represents?
It is all of the above. It has contradictions, vagueness, truths, triumphs, defeats, promises, defects and inspirations. The sum of all these gradations is the freedom to protest, even to burn a flag, and the freedom to be repelled by that action.
Our flag is powerful because we are free to interpret its symbolism in any way our experience compels us to. The flag belongs to everyone to wave with pride or to protest.
And that makes some people very angry. One way or another.