I hate to say this on Flag Day but in recent years I’ve found myself fickle about the American flag.
It wasn’t always so.
For decades, with hand over heart, I dutifully pledged allegiance to the stars and stripes as a schoolgirl. Looking at the red white and blue flag I would feel the thrill of being an American.
As a camper, I was taught to take care of the flag, proud to learn how to properly fold it into a triangle until the flag resembled a cocked hat with only the blue field showing.
That flag, I was taught, is far more than the red, white, and blue cloth of which it is made. It is the symbol of America. It stands for the past and the present and the future of our country.
I’ve always had great respect for the flag but I’ve never been a flag-waver. The stars and stripes have never flown at any of my homes.
So I was startled this past Memorial Day when outside my kitchen window, I saw a small American flag on a wooden staff planted in the ground near my front door.
I was stunned.
My immediate reaction was not one of patriotism but of umbrage.
That stunned me too.
Certain that it was the handiwork of my right-wing, Trump-loving, blue state-hating neighbor, I felt as though he was thumbing his alt-right nose at me.
As though he had placed a MAGA hat on my doorsteps, the American flag suddenly felt like an afront, imposing his sensibility on his “lib” neighbor.
I saw the flag associated with a disturbing declaration of all that I didn’t stand for -anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ.
That an American flag had taken on these distorted characteristics for me disturbed me even more.
This Flag is Your Flag This Flag is My Flag
Once I got over my initial reaction I began to question – why was it his flag?
Why should he have the right to hijack the flag? Sadly, I realized the flag had become politicized in Trump’s America and the right had totally appropriated it.
Flags that once were about freedom and unity now feels like it’s a symbol of the political right. They have highjacked the flag’s meaning and turned it into a symbol of nationalism rather than patriotism.
It’s no longer the flag of “and justice for all.” It’s justice for some.
It has changed the sense of pride and reverence.
The flag had been recast as a kind of shorthand, an extension of the MAGA hat sending an instant message of which side you were on.
Big oversize Trump banners and flags were a way for Trump supporters to rub their political leanings in opponents’ faces.
Trump’s rebranding of the flag as a wholly partisan statement had taken the flag away from others like me.
Reverence for the flag is part of American history.
The flag is a stand-in for the nation as a whole like the Liberty Bell or the Constitution written with a quill on parchment. It represents a national ideal, like those totems they represent not just a shared identity but a common set of beliefs about what our country means.
Trump and his supporters managed to shift the meaning of the flag itself. It can be inclusive representing a diverse group of people who unite behind a set of common principles.
Or it can be exclusive as a symbol of nationalism an “us” in opposition to a less worthy “them.”
As Americans retreated to their corners under Trump the stars and stripes became a casualty.
The more liberals and progressives detached from the flag the more Trump and his allies embraced it.
It became harder and harder to see the flag in a nuanced way.
Among the dizzying array of symbols and images at the January 6th riots was the American flag, embraced and co-opted by the sea of rioters attacking our Capitol to subvert a legal transition of power.
The message was clear “this is my country. This is not yours!”
Flag Day reminds us of that hijacking of the flag by folks who evoke my disgust , folks who do not believe in liberty and justice for all but for just a few, white supremacists who are racist, anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, anti LGBTQ and brandish the flag proudly.
They have weaponized the flag.
The divisiveness over the flag is dismaying.
I want to see it as a unifying symbol again. We are divided as to who is really upholding the true standards of the nation,
A month after Memorial Day, the flag is still flying at my home. I think I will keep it.
It should fly for all Americans. Including me.