A salute to the American flag, a symbol of American unity

Published 2:06 pm Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Tuesday was Flag Day — a red-letter date on the calendar that most just looked over, not giving the day a second thought or even recognizing that it was Flag Day.
Thirteen stripes, a dusting of stars, the American flag has had infinite meanings over the 245 years since the country began flying one. There are many iconic moments when the U.S. flag truly represented unity in its deepest sense. The powerful imagery of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima, the moon landing in 1969, and the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when U.S. flags flew everywhere across our country come immediately to mind.
Lit on fire, it became a searing image of the protests against the Vietnam War.
Politicians of both parties have long sought to wrap themselves in the flag. But something may be changing: Today, flying the flag from the back of a pickup truck or over a lawn is increasingly seen as a clue, albeit an imperfect one, to a person’s political affiliation in a deeply divided nation.
Supporters of President Donald J. Trump embraced the flag during the January 6 assault on the Capitol. The flag now alienates some. They kneel while “The Star Spangled Banner” plays, and for some, pledging allegiance to the flag is an affront.
At its 1777 inception, the flag’s very design signified unity, the joining of the 13 colonies, said John R. Vile, a professor of political science and a dean at Middle Tennessee State University.
Politicizing the American flag is thus a perversion of its original intent, according to Professor Vile, who is also the author of “The American Flag: An Encyclopedia of the Stars and Stripes In U.S. History, Culture and Law.” He added, “We can’t allow that to happen.”
“It’s E Pluribus Unum — from many, one,” he said, citing the Latin motto on the Great Seal of the United States. “If the pluribus overwhelms the unum, then what do we have left?”
Instead of saluting the flag as one people, too many people have modified the flag to become emblems of their identities or beliefs, for instance with rainbow strips, a symbol of gay pride, or blue stripes to show solidarity with the police.
There is a lot of history with this country, some good and some bad, but the flag still flies. America is still our country, and every good thing and every bad thing made it our country.
The American flag should be a symbol that transcends politics. For more than 200 years, the flag has played an important role in our nation’s history. It represents our fierce independence, our commitment to liberty and justice, and our essential belief in the dignity of each and every citizen. Indeed, for many, it symbolizes the very essence of being an American.
On the other hand, throughout our nation’s history — and especially in times of crisis — the flag has been utilized for political purposes. For much of the 1960s and 1970s, the flag was used as a countercultural symbol by people on the “left” opposed to racism, the war in Vietnam and the existing power structure. Civil rights activists marched with the flag in an effort to pressure politicians to live up to the ideals of freedom and equality. Vietnam protesters burned the flag, stitched it into the back of jean jackets, and stenciled it onto motorcycle helmets as a symbol of their opposition to the war.
More recently, many people on the “right” have attempted to co-opt the flag for partisan political purposes. Indeed, the flag was displayed by many rioters (along with many far-right and White supremacist symbols) who laid siege to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Sadly, on that day a pole bearing an American flag was used to break down doors and assault police officers protecting the Capitol,
Those rioters — and the politicians who enabled them — were not expressing any form of patriotism, only their misguided beliefs and political leanings. A politician from either party who hugs the American flag purely to secure votes, or wears a flag pin solely to appeal to constituents, is simply playing politics — not displaying patriotism.
If our country is to continue as a democracy, no party can have a monopoly on displaying the flag or on loving our country. All Americans, and all who hope to be Americans, must be able to draw inspiration equally from our flag. No one on the right or the left should be left out.
Our country was built by bringing people together, not by splitting them apart.
Today, the American flag still flies. The flag, itself is not under assault, however, the unity and freedom it symbolizes most definitely is. We need to fight our rears off to protect those values, and proudly fly the colors while we do.

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