It’s time to restore the valor that has been stolen by those who have appropriated the American flag as a symbol of hate and division.
How did we come to find ourselves so far from America’s promise as nothing more than a land of opportunity? When did we allow ourselves to believe that we ever great, rather than simply believing we could aspire to greatness? What happened to the humility that has often accompanied our great power? Where does our courage come from when our fear has become so strong?
We were never perfect. Hell, we weren’t even always that good. But we were never trying to “be best,” despite recent claims. We were trying to be better—better than we were before. The arc of history, slowly bending towards justice. We needed to be better, not great.
We call ourselves the United States of America. Fifty sovereign states, united under a single federal government, trying to become a more perfect union. No one person represents us as a people. No one party or organization. Not even the President. But the flag, the stars and stripes, was specifically designed to do just that.
According to historians, the design was quite intentional. The stripes represent the original 13 Colonies and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well. Red symbolizes valor, white symbolizes purity, and blue represents justice. It was a flag of inclusion and unity, not dominance or exceptionalism.
Over the centuries, the flag has flown as a symbol of America, the belief in an idea that people can govern themselves with courage and grace. We are known as a country of immigrants, the new world, where everyone came from somewhere else. Leaving aside the people who were already here when our ancestors arrived, everyone is an immigrant. How did we go from believing we were exceptional because of what we could be, to thinking we were exceptional because of what we once were.
Conservatism has always been a cruel trick of using nostalgia to corrupt the public into thinking that change is bad. It was always looking backward, in a craven attempt to appeal to an older generation unwilling to grasp an uncertain future. Progressivism looked to the future, optimistic that they could steer this ship of fools through the rocky shoals of racism and greed. In the balance lay some semblance of a happy medium, where we didn’t have to abandon everything to move forward, but we had to let go of much of it if we had any hope of progress. It was a compromise of ideas, and we lurched forward, however slowly.
Over the last two decades—some might say half a century—the country has been pulled to the right by a Republican Party that has become overtly aggressive in its attempt to hold onto power. With a base that is homogeneously white, aging, and shrinking, the GOP was looking at a future, with no future, and so set about crafting a system whereby they could rule with no majority.
It was little more than white supremacy in the cloak of revisionist history, wrapped in false symbolism, and it held at the center of it, a big lie. They appropriated all the symbols of American patriotism, the flag, and the anthem, military might and the law, God, and country. They declared themselves to the only true Americans, a shameful and pathetic rewriting of history, and propagation of the lie that white men were destined by God to prosper and rule this country.
They set about writing a new narrative that would allow them to abscond the mantle of patriotism, in an effort to manipulate an angry, white mob, in the same way that they did after the civil war, and with the same disastrous result.
It’s time for Americans to restore patriotism to something worthy of pride. It’s time to take back our country from those who have hijacked it. To restore our belief in the promise of America, so that we don’t feel the need to cringe when we see our flag or hear the anthem, disgusted by what it represents to the world.
We cannot allow the white supremacists and nazi’s among us to appropriate the American flag any longer. They can fly their Confederate battle colors, ISIS banners, and Trump flags. It helps to know who they are. But we should make it so that they no longer believe that the American flag represents who they are. They should shun the American flag for what it represents, not mark it as their own.
We need to restore the valor of the American flag that has been stolen from us. We need to fly it with pride, but always remember it represents both the best and the worst of us. We need to kneel when it fails to live up to our expectations, pledge our allegiance to being better, and stand up to inequality wherever it shows its face. There should be no easy loyalty given, only a dedication to fulfilling its promise.
The flag is a symbol, and like all symbols, represents what the world sees. You can claim anything, but eventually, the truth oozes out. The only way for us to be proud of our flag is to be proud of what it represents, and there has been little reason to boast these past few years.
But if America is an idea, and the dream is a vision for the future, then our pride can also be founded in the hope that our country will rise again.
Langston Hughes wrote, “I, too, am America” and held out the hope that tomorrow, he too would be at the table when company comes. Today, the saying goes, “If you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence.”
Let us build a bigger table—one that we can be proud of—and invite the world.
Then we can look to the flag and rejoice.