4th Fireworks! How were yours?
This year our family enjoyed them from Raystown Lake, a hidden gem in Central PA where we keep a small boat. Leading up to the spectacle I mentioned to my three teenage daughters and their friends that I’d like to mount an American flag to the boat’s rail. Let’s fly those stars and stripes as we glide across the water, right? The reaction to my flag comments, though, shocked me…
“Dad, Are you sure you want to send that kind of message?”
“Wow, Mr. Lawrence, didn’t realize you were that extreme in your politics.”
Prodding further I learned from The Demographic That Continues to Baffle Me (i.e. teenagers) that in their minds, brandishing an American flag, unless one’s an Olympic athlete or active duty military, means:
- You’re conservative,
- You love guns,
- You listen to Country Music,
- You’re a Trumpster.
Now, I may or may not be any of those things and I’m not writing this blog to advocate one way or the other but hearing a reasonably educated group of our country’s future leaders describe the flag in such polarizing terms shocked me. What do you think of our nation’s symbol serving as a political statement?
I’m beginning to wonder if We the People have taken the flag too far. Have we reached a point where in order to prove our patriotism we need to adorn ourselves with red, white, and blue pins, hats, stickers, t-shirts, and patches that were probably made in China? Even worse, have today’s teenagers and tomorrow’s leaders pigeon-holed this universal symbol to be affiliated with only a fraction of the American fabric?
Call me crazy but if the American flag becomes to one political party what an individual team jersey is to one NFL fan, we’re screwed. It’s fine to root against the other team on the football field; it’s a disaster if we Americans root against one another on the geopolitical one.
Wanna wear your Biden pin? Your MAGA hat? Outstanding! But please understand that your fan club paraphernalia says, “I support X person/opinion/party.” Add an American flag to your ensemble, however, and – at least in my opinion – you’re adding something else to your story. The flag declares, “Not only do I stand for my views but I also respect yours. No matter your political affiliation I will defend your right to express it.”
I wonder to what extent our fellow citizens see that distinction? Increasingly, it seems the lines are blurring between party paraphernalia and national symbolism. How did we get here?
Time Magazine published an interesting article about the rise of U.S. flag trinkets and outlines this trajectory:
- Until the Civil War, one would find the U.S. flag almost exclusively at government buildings and military stations,
- Stars and Stripes “wearables” weren’t a thing until the 1950’s,
- The first president to sport a flag lapel pin was Richard Nixon.
In other words, George Washington, arguably the most badass American hero of them all, never placed a red, white, and blue lawn ornament at Mount Vernon, The Greatest Generation, while whipping the Nazis and saving the free world, did not vinyl wrap their cars in screaming eagle emblems, and the first politician to rock the lapel pin got kicked out of The White House.
My point is some of our nation’s greatest heroes never flaunted the flag and some of its most disgraced figures did.
As for me, I’m moving forward with my boat flag – who doesn’t feel especially free and grateful when enjoying a beautiful day on the water? – and crossing my fingers that my daughters, their friends, today’s and tomorrow’s leaders, and you, kind reader, remember that America’s #1 symbol represents us all. Fly, wear, and decorate your flag as a token to the diversity and ingenuity one finds only in this messy, beautiful, fumbling, young, ingenious republic.