In a February article in The Atlantic, conservative David Frum gave some advice to the Resistance, an example of the strange alliances that have sprung up since Trump. Frum is a Never Trump-er and he wanted to let left-wing activists in on his observations from years of seeing our protests from the other side.
Some of his advice was easily dismissed, too much of a departure from progressive core values. But one suggestion struck me as completely sensible–start carrying flags. Frum writes:
“Remember Trump’s tweet about stripping citizenship from flag burners? It’s beyond audacious that a candidate who publicly requested help from Russian espionage services against his opponent would claim the flag as his own. But Trump is trying. Don’t let him get away with it. Carry the flag… Trump’s presidency is itself one long flag-burning, an attack on the principles and institutions of the American republic. That republic’s symbols are your symbols. You should cherish them and brandish them.”
As much as this perspective makes sense, it is also profoundly challenging. I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with traditional symbols of patriotism. Starting in junior high school, I refused to stand for the flag at assemblies even though my classmates gave me a hard time. The way I saw it then, I was forced to go to school, forced to listen to teachers, forced to give certain answers on tests about America and democracy. Yet I was expected to praise the symbol of the very government that was oppressing me (by making me go to school, sort of the ideology of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall.) I was also completely outraged by America’s abuses of Native Americans, black people, women, gays and radical activists.
I grew up during the Vietnam War. No American war since I’ve been alive has been an unqualified ‘good war’ as WWII was for that generation. U.S. military actions have been fraught with controversy and moral ambiguity, a sense that America was only involved for greed and power, not for defending the values of the constitution.
Rather than symbolizing the love of liberty, flags were like a warning sign that the people carrying them were not my people. Flags meant Republicanism, jingoism, being pro-war and anti-gay and anti-choice, believing in a police state, being racist. Flag wavers were also bible-thumpers who didn’t believe in the separation of church and state.
However, concepts once familiar and long-held have been put through a blender since Trump. Like many Americans, I’ve had to challenge my own biases and re-examine my comfort zone. For me, patriotism began to take on a whole new meaning when Trump attacked the Gold Star Khan family, whose son had died for America. Trump was running to be Commander in Chief, surely the most profound and important duty of the president, and here he was trying to hurt these loyal Americans as much as he could. I thought his chances to win were over then, because people who vote Republican are usually the ones who are for law and order and to always support the military no matter what.
But the flag-waving “patriots” were able to overlook this supremely vicious behavior by candidate Trump and they made him president and Commander in Chief anyway. Though many of them might feel his highlighting of a perished soldier at his State of the Union speech absolved him of this sin, I don’t. That was a white Christian American. Trump has never apologized to the Khan family, nor acknowledged their Muslim son’s sacrifice for America’s values.
I now feel the right-wing is not the holder of patriotic values anymore. If left to Trump and his supporters, the rights and liberties symbolized by the Stars and Stripes could be obliterated–are being obliterated already. It’s the democracy activists and the progressive blue voters who are holding down traditional American values, like how America is a nation of immigrants and we have equal rights under the law. The Republican party is working furiously to curtail voting rights and take over democratic processes and principles crucial to a functioning democracy. It’s up to the left to assume the mantel of defending traditional American values.
Like a lot of formerly disenfranchised lefties, I didn’t come to patriotism naturally or easily. But this reluctant patriot will now join the folks waving flags and not feel like an outsider. It’s not only our right but our duty to make the symbol of America match the reality of America.