On Flags, Knees, and Patriots

“Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well”

-Shakespeare, King Lear

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

-Bill Clinton

The flag, the anthem, the Constitution and founding documents…together they form the foundation of a sort of American civil religion. We don’t have a state religion, after all. We are not a nation based on common ethnicity, race, tribe, or collective continuous consciousness stretching back a thousand years. But therein the magic. America is based on a set of ideas, and thus a derived commonality of values that stem from them, that you, an individual, need not be born into, but may merely accept and buy into. American magic. It exists nowhere else in so pure a form.

Love of flag and country is not innate. It must be taught, it must be demonstrated, and it must be passed down. What good is a love unshown? Is a secret love of country of any use? Does it teach? Does it being us together in a commonality of purpose and idea? No. So how do we demonstrate it? Well, now and again, at various events where the public gathers, we stand at respectful attention (In the West, we do not kneel, bow, or prostrate ourselves to show respect, we stand.), we raise up the flag and sing the anthem.

Many people take the ceremony quite seriously. As human beings, after all, we naturally yearn for community. Many have literally died protecting that “piece of cloth,” many’s the parent who’s seen it draped over a child’s coffin, many’s the widow who’s had it handed to her at the conclusion of a funeral.

And one thing I can guarantee you, if you want to make sure that those people who love their country and their flag – the vast majority of Americans – if you want to make sure they shut themselves off completely from any point you are trying to make, that they cease hearing or caring about anything else you have to say, just let them get the slightest scent of a whiff of what may be disrespect toward that symbol. That will end it. You immediately “other” yourself, no matter what your intentions were, for love or hate, noble or ignoble, patriot or no, if you are perceived as disrespecting that flag, it’s game over for you. You will never have the opportunity to explain yourself to the vast majority. And that’s that.

The flag as symbol and what it represents are above all. As the Clinton quote above expresses, as long as the foundations are sound, as long as we keep buying in – and one of the ways we keep buying in is by demonstrating respect – then we will always have the tools to fix and make better. America, like all nations a place built by man and therefore eternally flawed, may always be improved, so long as in improving, we keep our foundations sound.

Presidents come and go, but the Prime Symbols remain. You vastly overshoot the mark if you register complaint against Donald Trump by firing far over his head and striking the flag that all Americans love.

Rather than the quotes I gave above, the political left in this country seems to far prefer Burke: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”

They’re not comfortable with patriotism and flags, they want to stand out from the herd, but most of all they want to feel and seem smart and deep. But far from deep, they simply make the perfect the enemy of the good. The nation, conceived and set into motion by flawed humans will never be perfect. There will always, by definition, be somewhere to someone something unlovely here. It is neither clever nor wise to find flaw, and it is neither clever nor wise to make change in the branches by assaulting the roots of the tree.

To say that our country is founded on White Privilege or racism or some other basic flaw so in vogue on today’s left is an assault directly on our foundation, our roots as a nation, the symbols and documents and principles upon which the whole structure stands – the very things that enable us to speak, and fix, and make positive constructive change. Look around the world today and know how uniquely American those enabling principles are and cherish them. Even more, show you cherish them so that others will understand and learn.

To do otherwise is nihilism, and it is purely destructive.

And we won’t stand for that.

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