Flags and songs aren’t people. They don’t have feelings or emotions.
The American flag and the national anthem are not capable of “feeling” respect or disrespect, any more than a dishcloth or AC DC’s “Highway to Hell.”
So, when some Americans say in anger, “He disrespected the flag” or “She disrespected the anthem!” what they’re actually saying is, “They disrespected my feelings for the flag and my feelings for my country.” I don’t deny the authenticity of their anger or their right to express it.
What I do have a problem with is their presumption. The presumption that everyone’s feelings for America should be the same – or the same as theirs.
The American experience is not uniform (and never has been). For example, as a white American male, I haven’t felt the sting of systemic racism. But just because I haven’t felt it doesn’t mean it’s not there; it simply means I didn’t experience it personally. So systemic racism did not shape my American experience, the way it shaped George Floyd’s family or the experience of millions of other African Americans.
For me to understand something that I haven’t experienced, I need to listen and employ empathy. And if there’s one thing in short supply in America, it’s empathy.
Many Americans don’t want to hear about someone else’s experience, especially if it does not mirror their own. So, when they see an Olympic athlete protest, they immediately dismiss the protester as ungrateful, selfish, and un-American. They never pause to consider that individual’s experience – they don’t want to know why the person is protesting – they simply point a finger and condemn or compare the protesting athlete to one who did not protest.
But when Americans see an aggrieved citizen of a communist country stand up for their rights, we (almost uniformly) celebrate their protest as brave and heroic. Demonstrating that even though empathy is in short supply, there’s an abundance of hypocrisy in the USA.
America was not born perfect. In the past, women and blacks could not vote, gay people could not marry, and civil rights were a pipe dream. And so, Americans (including Olympic athletes) fought, protested, and marched against these injustices.
And even though we stand head-and-shoulders above most other countries when it comes to freedom and opportunity, we are not yet that “perfect union” – that’s always going to be a goal. It’s always going to be America’s journey. And along the road to that more perfect union, Americans (and American athletes) protest or march or fight to shed light on things like racism, sexism, and voter suppression.
That’s been our history, and it has served us well.
We’re finding that it means different things to different people and that patriotism today is shaped by where you get your information.
Many Americans view the insurrectionists who stormed the US capitol as patriots, mainly because of what they were told by a lying president and by conspiracy-based news sources, neither of which benefit from a truthful accounting of the 2020 presidential election.
The former President’s attorney general, William Barr, stated that he knew the President’s claim that the election was rigged was “total bullshit.” More than sixty cases were brought to courts across the nation by the President’s legal team — all of them, including the case heard by the US Supreme Court, were rejected as baseless bullshit.
But the court’s decision, and all the states that ratified the results of the 2020 election, don’t matter to Americans who continue to get their information from the former President, or conspiracy “news” agencies and websites, mainly because both are telling Trump supporters what they desperately want to hear.
Millions of Americans simply don’t want to hear the truth because they are too uncomfortable with what that truth reveals. They’d rather live in the comfort of the lie than the discomfort of facts. I don’t think this is a liberal or conservative phenomenon – it’s a human one that is further complicated by the sheer quantity of misinformation available to people.
Under normal conditions, people eventually resign themselves to the truth, even when the truth is painful – they can be honest with themselves because the truth is plainly evident and indisputable. It’s what Hillary Clinton supporters and the supporters of every other losing presidential candidate go through. Disappointment, denial, acceptance.
But we’re not living under normal conditions. This time around, we face a cult-like leader who cannot accept the truth of his defeat because of his narcissism. Trump is bolstered by a cottage industry of conspiracy-based websites that profit from lies and misinformation. And a congress of cowards who fear being “primaried” out of a job does nothing to help their country.
Now that the former President is in legal jeopardy, we should expect him to react as any criminal backed into a corner does, with desperation, fear, and violence.
If American democracy is to survive, she’ll need to rely on true Patriots in the coming months.
Republicans all over Facebook are trying to hijack patriotism with fake-ass outrage at an Olympic athlete protesting. These are the same people who turned a blind-eye to a lying ex-president who inspired and praised an insurrection against the United States of America.
“Look at me supporting the flag wavers, the anthem standers, the pledge sayers – I’m a true blue American!!”
Posts of proud and talented athletes draped in the stars and stripes, don’t make you “patriotic.”
Posts showing disdain and disgust towards the American athlete who protested, don’t make you a “true American.”
And all the patriotic posts in the world won’t erase the un-American act of supporting a President and a political party that tried to overturn a free and fair election and destroy our democracy. That dark, dank, stank envelops you. It sticks to you like white on rice, and you can’t “patriotic-post” your way out of it.
You want to be a true blue American? Speak out forcefully against the big lie, protest voting laws that make it harder for your fellow citizens to vote, and show your outrage at the refusal to investigate a politically-motivated insurrection against your country.
They say that patriotism is the last refuge To which a scoundrel clings Steal a little and they throw you in jail Steal a lot and they make you king – Bob Dylan
Injecting patriotism into politics is nothing new. But what we saw under the Trump administration was a dangerous and poisonous variant of political patriotism that continues to threaten our democracy today.
Trump weaponized patriotism — not to marshal and unite Americans for the greater good of the country, but rather to pit Americans against one another. Trump understood that a divided America was his best hope of holding onto power — and a false and cheap patriotism was a way to achieve that.
Trump’s patriotism smacks of fascism. Its mob-like and fervor-based. It’s an America-first / white-is-right / bend-the-knee-and-kiss-the-ring form of patriotism. It’s anger-based and nationalistic. It feeds, grows, and lives on grievances, bigotry, and religious intolerance.
And what mattered most with Trump patriotism, was how loudly you proclaimed it, or how prominently you displayed it. Volume, visibility and violence were the primary elements in measuring one’s commitment to Trump’s vision for America. From MAGA hats, to Trump banners, to beating capitol police officers unconscious with American flags, Trump patriotism was loud, obnoxious, violent, and devoid of American values and human empathy. It drove a wedge between Americans and divided the country into two groups – those who shared Trumps warped view of American democracy, and everyone else.
Lately, I’ve been seeing a plethora of puffed-chested patriotic posts on social media from Trump supporters. Images of the American flag, videos of the Pledge of Allegiance, pictures of the Statue of Liberty, in what seems to be a reflexive response to the continued coverage and news stories about the January 6th insurrection.
As we learn more about that day, we now know with certainty that the violence behind the insurrection, and the ongoing lies about a stolen election, are inherently tied to Trump and the Q-wing of the Republican party. And so, many traditional republicans find themselves caught in this fuck-tangle of lies and un-patriotic behavior from the leader of their party.
What to do when faced with this sticky wicket?
Well, what we’re seeing from many Republicans is an almost obligatory need to vomit out a bunch of flag and pledge posts on social media. Maybe they think they can “patriot” their way out the conundrum in which they find themselves.
“Look at me, I love my country!!!”
I’ve no doubt that many of these folks are decent-minded Americans who actually do love their country and are now trying to reconcile their support for a man who cheered and praised the January 6th insurrection against America.
I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.
By the way, I’m not suggesting that everyone who says the pledge is un-patriotic (though publicizing it on social media seems a bit, I don’t know . . . . over-the-top) . What I am saying is that reciting the pledge in-and-of-itself is just a gesture, and has nothing to do with being or not being patriotic.
I can teach a parrot to recite the pledge, that doesn’t make the Parrot a Bald Eagle.
And in the case of Trump supporters, it doesn’t matter how often or how loudly you proclaim your patriotism, it doesn’t change the fact that you voted for an autocratic white nationalist who defied, and continues to defy, our democratic principles.
We’ve drifted so far away from the true meaning of patriotism, it’s difficult to see how we get back on track (though voting the biggest fake patriot out of office, was a good first step.)
Under the previous Administration, it was considered patriotic to shout racial epithets and condemn African Americans (and others) for taking a knee in peaceful protest against systemic racism.
Under the previous administration, it was considered patriotic to support the government when it dispersed peaceful protesters with chemical agents.
Under the previous administration, it was considered patriotic to separate children from their parents and put them in cages.
Over a four-year span of a cult-of-personality presidency, many Americans came to believe the act of supporting a president, even when he obstructed justice and abused the power of his office, was also patriotic.
America desperately needs to get back to a quiet, purposeful, and dignified patriotism. A patriotism that that unifies citizens around the democratic principles on which this country was founded, rather than a politically-fueled patriotism that divides us.
In order to do so, we must disentangle patriotism from politics.
If the four-years of the Trump presidency taught us anything, its that we need to view political patriotism with a healthy does of skepticism and suspicion. Deploying cheap, simplistic, and empty patriotism for self-gain, is not patriotism — it’s a form of fascism.
We need to continue pushing in the right direction
America is not perfect, hence the phrase toform amore perfect Union – the movement towards that objective a more perfect and more complete union, is what makes America great. It’s the journey towards self-improvement (and all the work that entails) that will continue to define America.
America is at a crossroads. To go in the right direction, we don’t need empty patriotic gestures, we need a steady, consistent, and united push towards that more perfect union.
Flag waving and saying the pledge won’t get us there – actions in support of democratic principles will.