Commentary: Recapture the flag

July 4, 2021 10:44 pm
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: The U.S Capitol Building is prepared for the inaugural ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden as American flags are placed in the ground on the National Mall on January 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. The approximately 191,500 U.S. flags will cover part of the National Mall and will represent the American people who are unable to travel to Washington, DC for the inauguration. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When I was a kid, the American flag was a big deal in our house. 

We had a heavy cloth flag that, unlike flags now, wasn’t just a design printed on flimsy fabric. The red and white stripes were sewn together and the stars individually stitched onto the blue background. 

When it wasn’t hanging from our front porch, it was rolled tightly and stored in the hall closet nearest the front door. And we didn’t hang it out every single day: the flag marked special occasions. 

In a Democratic family with lots of military men, the flag came out for Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Veterans Day, and the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. 

My brother and I knew our flag etiquette, it having been stamped into us in school. If rain started, in came the flag. Old Glory didn’t stay outdoors overnight. You didn’t desecrate it by putting it on clothing.

I reflected on this as I saw a pickup truck roar by my house recently, and grimaced when I saw the American flag flying from the bed of the truck. 

For what used to be one of America’s great symbols of freedom and pride and patriotism has been co-opted in recent years and treated casually, to say nothing of disrespectfully. 

A hybrid American-QAnon flag. (Photo: Ray Di Pietro)
A hybrid American-QAnon flag. (Photo: Ray Di Pietro)

I realize that over the last four years or so, when I see someone flying a flag from a truck, wearing the flag as a garment, calling themselves a patriot or spouting about freedom, the last association I have is pride. More often, I cringe as I assume those people are also the ones flying Donald Trump flags from the same trucks, talking about stolen elections or sporting one of those Tennessee-issued Gadsden Flag license plates. (I find it bizarre the state issues license plates with an anti-government symbol, but I digress.)

We’ve seen athletes, particularly Black athletes, demonized by the same people for kneeling — or more recently, when a Black Olympian turned her back — when the National Anthem is played to express concern over racial inequality, particularly in matters of criminal justice.

But there’s absolutely no more flagrant abuse of the American flag than the way it was used on Jan. 6, when insurrectionists carried it with them up the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It’s a highly misbegotten idea of patriotism to think it’s appropriate to attack the seat of our country’s government while carrying the flag as if going into battle. 

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Even worse, too many photos from the disgraceful and frightening day show so-called ‘patriots’ attacking and beating Capitol Hill Police with the American flag. So much for respect from the ‘love it or leave it’ crowd. 

Patriotism, a friend of mine recently wrote, has been perverted to equate with nationalism, the idea that we are better than everyone else and those who didn’t have the fortune to be born here should be kept out. 

I’d like to say we are better than that. Certainly, there is so much that is good about America. There’s also plenty of ugly history. I understand why many Americans may not have the warm feelings I have about my young days flying the flag. 

But if you hope for better days ahead for America, if you think of America as a place where all are welcome and a country in which we can keep working towards greater justice, don’t cede the flag to the people I’ve mentioned. This isn’t a Democratic or Republican thing: you can call out injustice, you can disagree with politicians, you can shame hypocrisy among government officials — these premises are at the root of the American experience — and still be patriotic. 

If you are a progressive or a liberal or a non-Trump Republican, you have a right to your own brand of patriotism. Don’t let the QAnon far right hijack your right to fly your own flag.

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.