A Note on the American Flag in 2020

I recently posted a couple of photos from my front porch and it was noted that we fly an American flag, which led to some comments about folks being reluctant to fly the flag considering the state of the nation and its leadership.

While I understand the motivation there, I don’t particularly agree. The flag of the United States has survived bad presidents and bad administrations before, and it’s flown through the administrations of better presidents as well. Intolerant people have always tried to wrap themselves in it, because they want to arrogate it to themselves and to those they think are true believers. They also tend to confuse the symbol for what the symbol is meant to represent.

I’m not that keen to let these folks just have the flag of the entire damn country. It’s my flag too, and I like it. I think it’s pretty. And I also see it as a symbol of a nation that is never perfect — often far from it — but is perfectable, in the sense that we are always meant to be moving toward that more perfect union we can become. The flag for me is not about who we have been, but who we can be, if we keep working at it.

So, yes. We fly an American flag here at the Scalzi Compound. I like having it here. As we come up on the nation’s birthday, it’s worth reflecting on what sort of nation we would like it to be a symbol of. I’m hoping it will be a better and kinder one than we have today. I’ll work toward that.

47 Comments on “A Note on the American Flag in 2020”

  1. Indeed. If you cede the flag to the fascists, it becomes the flag of the fascists.

    It’s ours. Hold on to it tight.

  2. Thank you. I’m brought bad to my childhood in the 60’s where people who criticized the U.S. were accused of being unpatriotic. I strongly believe that true patriotism lies in seeing what’s good about my country and what isn’t, and working to change things to make it better.

  3. There’s always the option of flying it upside down, which I’m given to understand is a signal of distress, at least at sea. Our nation is certainly in distress, and one could make an argument that we’re at sea…

    Grace

  4. Someone stuck a lit M-80 in my neighbor’s mailbox the other night after midnight. He prominently flies the American flag. It’s sad that this is what we seem to have become.

  5. In the interests of continuing to work towards “a more perfect Union” I think you’ve nailed it on why the flag cannot be ceded to those who would use it to emphasize our disunion.

  6. A couple years ago, the BaldMan came home from shopping with an American flag for our porch. I will admit that I was not sure I wanted to display it because of the crap going on then (and continuing now). But, like you, I realized that the flag is not the problem and should, instead, remind us what it is we hold dear about this country and that we must work to make ourselves worthy of that flag. It flies on our porch daily.

  7. I don’t think it’s pretty; it rates quite low on Josh Parson’s scale. But to paraphrase Chico’s reply to Groucho in “Go West”, I don’t love it, but I’m-a used to it.

  8. Couldn’t agree more. We too fly the flag because we believe in what it represents. Fifty states (should be fifty-one or fifty-two) united to achieve the common good. Since at least the Vietnam war, those who have self-righteously distorted the meaning of the flag to not only represent “state’s rights” but also, more divisive, the individual right to do as they damned well please without considering the consequences of their actions on others, would become flag burners if they were to suddenly grasp the original symbolic intent of the creators of our national flag.

  9. We need 53 states (D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam added). Then we would have a prime number of states and could truly be one nation, indivisible.

  10. I am not sure if I should comment; as a Black American, some of this symbols don’t have a lot of resonance for me. I once had to explain to someone why my family has traditionally had no real celebration on the 4th since it had really little to do with my ancestors. I don’t begrudge people who do celebrate either the 4th or the flag (well maybe, the latter because there is probably a factory in Asia where all the factory seconds of the flags made are repurposed as baby diapers, towels to clean the kitchen etc… so the flag shouldn’t be treated as a religious icon). I am glad you can fly your flag and wish you didn’t have to explain.

  11. Well said. I have no urge to wear anything with the US flag plastered all over it, or festoon my vehicle with flag stickers, or tiny flapping flags on sticks, because IMO, it shouldn’t be treated like your favorite sports team’s logo. That attitude is how you get the kind of combative and juvenile “us vs. them” political climate we’re currently suffering through.

  12. I’m fond of quoting Missouri Sen. Carl Schurz’s famous correction (on the Senate floor) of Commodore Decatur’s patriotic toast: ‘My country right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.’

    Interesting man, Sen. Schurz. As one of the 1848 revolutionaries in Prussia, he fought in battle with the Prussian Army, survived, lost, and decided emigrating to America was smarter than being hounded by the Prussian secret police for the rest of his days. His speech is online.

  13. Agreed. I’ve considered putting one up, perhaps with a sign saying something like “Our ideals: Liberty • Justice • Tolerance • Equality • Freedom”.

  14. I agree, in general, with your sentiment but, as an African American I also agree with Christopher.

    I spend more time defending myself from “American ideals” than I do celebrating them.

  15. “what to the American Slave is the Fourth of July?” I answer: a day that revels to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
    -Frederick Douglas former slave

  16. Thanks to Christopher Franklin, Sarah Marie, and Ed Lovelace. Your words have impacted my thinking of the US flag.

  17. I have always carried an American flag into demonstrations. I spend a lot of time defending that action to fellow progressives, who think I brought it either to burn or because I’m some sort of agent provocateur. My answer is that this 🇺🇸 is the people’s flag. It was born in revolution. It was carried by people who put their lives on the line so that we could rule ourselves, under a set of laws we made. It has been carried into battle to free slaves, by soldiers who were ordinary men, not professionals. It has been carried into battle against fascism. If it has been abused by fools and cowards, that does not make it theirs. It makes the flag stolen property, and we can and must take it back.

  18. And yet…says the African American with a skin shaped target on her back.

    It’s a higher difficulty setting thing, I guess.

    Wonder how Native Americans feel about it.

  19. While I’m not bothered or anything by it, as someone who lives somewhere completely else: Seeing the flag causally displayed just seems weird to me. I know the context in that’s perfectly normal in the US, but I’d guess that quite a few of the comments you get were from folks living in another country. When it’s not considered normal to hang out a flag anyways, paired with what’s going on in the US might irritate some

  20. I’ve often thought about not ceding it to them. I think, were I to fly it, I would fly it with a Black Lives Matter flag and a rainbow flag, so there could be no mistaking the political leanings of the house.

  21. Well it isn’t my country’s flag, so my opinion doesn’t really count, but I always found flying national flags outwith special occasions to be slightly sinister in any case. I never understood why an ordinary person should feel the need to go around flying a flag, especially when they are so often used to mark domination or picking a fight. Also, as a non American, living in a non American country, but one that has had a lot of American boots on it over the years [sometimes good {when they belatedly arrived in the 1940s}, but latterly not so much], I think you lost that battle against your flag’s sinisterness and what it represents a while ago. It is a symbol with a lot of negative connotations right from the off. Sorry.

  22. For a long time, I was reluctant to display our flag because of all the horrible events occurring in the country. But it’s my flag as well, and I’m not going to allow the other side to take it for their exclusive use. I’m displaying it every day now, with pride.

  23. I’ve always liked President Lincoln on the White House lawn after blessed peace was restored. He ordered the band to play Dixie. To surprised onlookers he said, “It’s our now.” and then he joked, “We won it fairly.” He meant that America was for all, including (but not limited to) the star spangled banner being for all… Not just his republican party.

  24. Racists occupy all “sides “but, those who can celebrate the flag certainly should.

    Personally, I like crypticmirror’s assessment of the practice of flag waving, particularly where the American one is concerned.

    I’d never go so far as advocating for its retirement (someone somewhere undoubtedly will) but I’m not going to worship it or anything it represents.

    To be frank, being American kind of embarrasses me.

    The least evil of the two major parties is cursed with misogynists, ideological purists, toddling, blue-faced Bernie-or-busters and protest voters who threw good to the wolves and watched perfect, middle finger high in the air, Gallup off into the sunset.

    Worse still, the “other side” is composed primarily of irredeemably evil people willing to employ any strategy in order to achieve their antiquated vision of American society.

    Thanks to them all, we’ve a treasonous, incompetent, genocidal demagogue and wannabe autocrat at the helm.

    We’re universally despised because we’re a hoard of greedy, corrupt, religiously and culturally intolerant bullies who think our way is the best way.

    We kick down the doors of other folks’ metaphorical houses and start slaughtering anyone and everyone who won’t bend to our will.

    Meanwhile, as a nation, we’ve seeded control to a deadly pandemic and are now a disease ridden, socio-politically toxic wasteland whose economy likely has a blood-soaked tourniquet where its last leg should be.

    We ought to be working on making our way back to the global cool kid’s table rather than brandishing that tattered ole thing for all to see.

    Sure, hold it up as an emblem of this nation, but think critically about what, exactly, is being emblemized.

  25. Every time I go to Florida I notice that the car dealerships are draped in huge chains of American flags, so I mean, nothing gets that shameless and tacky.

    @Sarah Marie: Canadian here. A younger country (1860s) with a much younger flag (1960s). Still, our Indigenous folks have been clear that this is a symbol of a lot of cruelty and hatred (sometimes they turn the flag – or just the maple leaf – upside down to signify this quickly). I get the sense that from their perspective it basically belongs above all to (mostly white) settler folks who have been raised to be unaware and/or dismissive of the egregious (and quietly ongoing) humanitarian toll. Canadian nationalism was never a fraction of what you get in the U.S. from any end of the political spectrum, and there are far fewer people up here at any rate. But the last few annual national holidays up here have been pretty subdued in comparison to earlier years, at least by my reckoning. Following the release of the (thorough, ghastly) report on the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, white people in Canada have begun to process the fact that as a result of European colonization, some of the Indigenous groups/cultures/languages are simply gone, some long ago, and pretty much all of the rest are suffering a lot. None of this means I can’t be happy about ways in which Canada has e.g. welcomed refugees (some of the time, anyway), or legalized same-sex marriage 15 years ago, or so on. But there’s a flip-side: I remember basically being taught to take pride in the fact that we weren’t the ones who were so supposedly out of control as to have widespread slavery, a Revolution, a Civil War, a Wild West, etc. That now seems absurd to me (especially as conflict between the English and French speaking people up here did very nearly cut the country in two, at least politically). And I was taught nothing at all about how horrendously the Europeans treated the people who were already here and had been for thousands of years. The whole idea of colonialism was to displace and oppress. To punish, kill, infect, and if nothing else, re-educate for the sake of destroying existing cultures. Anyway, these days school curriculums are changing at least a bit, and the statues that are coming down here (where any are doing so), are those of early white prime ministers. It’s a start. (Canadians also like to pretend that basically no one up here could possibly be racist, and/or that because this was the magical endpoint for so many on the Underground Railroad, we’ve somehow always been super nice to Black folks. Nope. BLM has chapters up here for basically all of the same reasons; it’s just a little harder to talk white folks into believing that this part of the world isn’t somehow magically immune to anti-Blackness.)

  26. Part of the reason Canadians do/did genocide is they come from a genocidal culture. At the time of Benjamin Franklin there were better maps of New England than of the Scottish highlands. Yet by 1867 the first Canadian prime minister was a Scotsman.

    I don’t know if later pm’s were Scots too, or if he was the only token, but this shows very rapid genocide, a genocide that worked so well that kilts and bagpipes in Britain were made legal again. Meanwhile, Canadians, perhaps being poorer at genocide or greater at racism, still haven’t legalized the First Nations potlatch gathering, a thing that capitalists, of any race or culture, wouldn’t like.

    At present, Alberta is to get a new Lieutenant-governor, (the Queen’s imperialist appointed representative) a formerly stateless Muslim woman. She was studying in Britain when Asians were expelled from Uganda. The Calgary mayor, also Muslim, says it will be nice when Albertans no longer say, “the first Muslim (in an office).” For Canadians, I guess that’s better than nothing. At least they have a vision as to what they want to progress towards.

  27. Ah! An opportunity to indulge one of my favorite rants about “American Exceptionalism”!

    The term and its meaning as used to today bears no resemblance whatsoever to the meaning I was taught: American exceptionalism refers to a nation founded on a set of ideals, rather than an ethnicity, unlike very nearly every other country in the world; and the ideals were all in the service of a democratically chosen self-government and peaceful transfer of power every four years (also unlike nearly every other country in the world at the time).

    The term did not refer to any innate superiority. The “City on a Hill” idea wasn’t the Founders notion. Their whole thing was hoping to prove to the world that a democratic nation could function and flourish, that an aristocracy of endeavor and achievement was as good as, if not better than, an aristocracy of lineage.

    On which heading, we are currently in a very low trough. It isn’t just Trump; he’s really just the end-stage symptom of a disease that has been rotting out our foundations ever since Reagan. Under GOP governance, the US has created an aristocracy of money that has obliterated the ideal of “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

    November 2020 will be a chance to start turning back that 40 years of political degeneration, but only a chance and only a start.

    Fly your flag, John! And hope it will again stand for something better than “IGMFY”!

  28. Ever since the American flag was used as a wedge in the Vietnam War, where those in favor of the war seemed to treat the flag as something sacred, I’ve been suspicious of loyalty to a flag. To me it’s a symbol, an icon, a logo (even), an avatar of the country, just as the star spangled banner is a theme song, and is pretty much meaningless in itself. When I was a kid going to Yankee Stadium, the national anthem was played only on Sundays. Decades later a terrible recording was religiously used before my eight-year-old daughter’s gymnastics practice. Things have changed, as the current Monty-Python-like culture war over face masks shows, where symbols are more important than the reality represented by the symbols.

  29. exregis, I feel your pain. As for the spread of the song, during Nam we called that “mission creep.” Tragic. I guess the only remedy is common sense supported by self discipline. Rare.

    It’s like when overly enthusiastic people at a civic place or business want regular meetings. I try to have the discipline to say, “Guys, do we need this meeting?” or even, “Do we need this agenda item?” Luckily, it often only takes one to get the others to calm down and engage their common sense gear.

  30. I dislike flags, always have. I’ve never actually saluted one. But if they leave me alone I leave them alone. On the other hand, my dislike of religion is more vigorous. For me flags are just a diluted manifestation of the same problem.

  31. I used to have an American flag on my wall (it’s not there now because I have a special attachment to it and it needs some TLC to put back up). One time a friend visited, saw it, and asked if I was going to start stockpiling guns and a ammunition. I responded that *that’s* why I had an American flag on my wall.

  32. I too am flying my flag today, and I too get a choked up feeling when I see it. i am keenly aware that I live on land that was stolen and have benefited from a centuries-long prosperity based on destroying the resources and brutally using slave and other labor. On the other hand, when I think of the refugees still desperate to come here, I am truly thankful that there is such a place to come to, when they are occasionally allowed in. As Heinlein said, my ancestors arrived before the standards were set so high. So yes mixed emotions, and it depends where you are on the continuum.

  33. There is one place where I regularly fly my country’s flag, and it’s on my boat. Because that’s required by the rules of the sea, and also these days with travel restrictions it’s probably an especially good idea to signal the nationality of the vessel. Government institutions and the military fly the flag; the military has their own special version. But normal people don’t typically fly the flag except on special occasions. In the archipelago, people often fly banners, typical for the region or village or even just a particular farm. And Åland islands do have more people flying their flag daily (they have self-government and their own flag, another version of the cross flags typical to the Nordic countries). Looking from the outside, liberal-minded people flying the flag in the US looks weird – especially considering what the flag might mean to many people in the country. There’s only so many things you can say with a symbol. But that’s cultural differences for you.

    Sorry for rambling, this is just something that gives food for thought. I recently read a column in The Guardian, written by a prominent member of PEN America. There she lamented how Americans have to get used to being perceived as Corona-spreading pariahs, instead of being treated as representatives of the country that itself represents freedom and liberty. I was confused: do even liberal Americans really believe that’s how their country is, mostly, seen abroad? I mean, I don’t hate America; it’s a big country, and there’s a great many good people in it, and some great ideas and culture and science come from there (there’s a reason I’m writing this here, in this language). What I find hard to comprehend is that even people who shouldn’t be blind to the faults in their country seem to think that the default disposition of everyone else would be to revere it.

    BTW, I think nationalism based on ethnicity is a relatively new idea that did get a lot of momentum in the 1800s. But at the time of the American revolution, I think at least most European countries weren’t based on ethnicity, rather on allegiance to some lord or king or something else.

  34. The nation as a fundamental unit of thought and focus of loyalty comes on the scene primarily through and after the French Revolution of 1789. Coupled with improvements in technology, it has quite possibly killed more people than “race” per se. I’d give Woodrow Wilson considerable credit for bolstering the identification of nation with race (“self-determination”). Though the idea was always there to be exploited – even the French national anthem refers to the racial impurity of the Germans.

    Symbols and abstract concepts are a way of simplifying (ideally, eliminating) the need for thought. They can be used intelligently, as in algebra, or unintelligently, as almost everywhere else.

  35. @Jlanstey:

    That said, remember that, as I type this, scores of frightened “refugees” from “S*** whole countries “sit in cages as a matter of the president’s “zero tolerance” policy.

    Erecting an electrified (in more ways than one) fence around and keeping different ethnic groups off of land your ancestor’s stole is unconscionable, particularly when said ancestors “left” countries they didn’t “love” in search of better lives.

    Also, if I live in a nation wherein I can be stoned to death for being raped or where food is virtually inaccessible for anyone who isn’t filthy rich , I’d die to come to a place where honor killings are illegal and where , in general, sexual violence is frowned upon. If I and my children are starving, I’d give anything to come to where there are safety nets, fraying though they may be, for the very poor.

    Thing is, desperate conditions in other countries neither cancel out American atrocity nor validate its inherently problematic cultural and sociopolitical realities and practices; just ask the parents who haven’t seen their children in months, maybe years.

    Simply put, rotting rats on one landscape don’t make the one with bones on it any cleaner.

    More importantly, the Guardian’s piece (Thanks for that, Jan) puts forth a perfectly fair and accurate assessment of our nation at present.

    Kind of hard to be patriotic when you’re from the nation with the metaphorical shit-stain on its pants.

    Lastly, black woman with perpetual target on her back, here; I’ve seen too many of my people choked to death under what that banner represents to “choke up” when I see it.

    But you know what they say; “live and let die.”

  36. I (like perhaps exregis) am of a cohort that recalls the transition from what might be called an ordinary-patriotic response to the flag to an us-or-them tribal trigger. My father, a WW2 Navy vet, had what he called a “Sunday flag” (what I think is officially called a “holiday ensign”) taken from one of the ships he decommissioned at the end of the war–a huge thing that he would hang between two large trees in the front yard. This was for patriotic holidays, and in our family was associated with very specific events and attitudes and institutions.

    By the late 1960s, though, the nation had entered burn-it-or-wrap-yourself-in-it territory, and I became very wary (and weary) of the rhetoric and symbol-manipulation that had replaced debate and analysis during the Vietnam War period. I’ve retained that wariness ever since. I’m suspicious of display-of-symbols–I don’t use bumper stickers or tee shirts or hats lapel pins (other than those from businesses I support, like guitar stores). And I won’t display a flag, even if it means yielding the symbolic field to the guys who rig big flags on their pickups. Citizenship shouldn’t be like sports fandom.

    Here’s a perhaps-idiosyncratic response: I was increasingly uncomfortable with “Saving Private Ryan”–Spielberg has a habit of overplaying his hand, and when the movie’s coda sequence climaxed with a giant image of the flag, I was angry rather than moved. I wanted to shout, “Flags are the f***ing problem!” Which is not, I think, the reaction that Spielberg was looking for.
    Nor is it a thoughtful analysis of those historical events and the sacrifices represented by the cemetery shots in the rest of that sequence, but that was my gut reaction. And thus the double-edged sword of iconography.