What The Flag Means To Me

It’s okay to be patriotic. It’s not okay to be blind.

Would you support your country even if it’s wrong? That question was posed to me recently, a question so eminently loaded with individual context and purposeful vaguity that it took me by surprise. To me, the question turns most crucially on one’s definition of the word, “support.” My partner, who is South African, when she heard the question, instantly thought of her family. They were heavily involved in the struggle against apartheid, and she rightfully pointed out that the reason her family, a group of people who were branded as traitors and terrorists by their government at the time, fought was because of their love for their country and their collective vision of how much better it could be.

When she told me that it made me think of what it actually means to tease out the differences between the country and the system of government that’s currently in place, or for a Democrat like me, the country and the cast of circus characters that currently run it. Am I proud of my country? No, not really, not right now, but do I support it?

In an American context, support for the country has always been quite ritualistic, crystalizing itself within a cadre of symbols and actions that everyone knows: singing the national anthem, affirmations of support for our troops serving overseas, pledging allegiance to our flag. All these actions are performative but also function as exclusive proof within our society of one’s loyalty to the country. This has been ingrained in us since we were kids.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag…” We all know the rest. “Oh say can you see…”

The Lincoln Project, an organization of Never Trumpers, posted the below video the other day, and I admit it. I got teary-eyed.

It’s a beautiful duet that seeks to act as a soothing balm in this chaotic moment we’re in. For the one minute and twenty five seconds that it plays, I’d say it works, but just like eating empty calories, I’m still hungry afterwards for more.

I need more. I demand more from the little symbols and rituals we engage with in our lives. We deserve more, because for too long what it means to support your country has resulted in blindness. We do these little actions, and then we carry on with our daily lives. We watch this thing on the news, and then we carry on with our daily lives.

That’s the norm and it’s time to change that, because this blindness, this pretending like everything is fine, is a facade. It’s a lie. The US has long operated on two tracks: only for me and not for thee and any questioning of that idea will get you in trouble.

This blindness has always been dangerous. It’s gotten people killed.

So, would I support my country even if it’s wrong?

Yes, because support for my country to me isn’t blind. In fact, it sees quite clearly. Supporting my country means seeing the incalculable load of work that still needs to be done.

It means committing to getting your hands dirty. It means singing the anthem and then working to create real equity for every single member of society, no matter who they are. It means supporting the troops but also working to build a world where sending troops into war isn’t our plan A or even plan Z. It means pledging allegiance to the flag but also pledging allegiance to the better version of America we all know is possible. It means recognizing that our troops didn’t just die for the right to practice religion freely or the right to free speech but also the right to assembly and the right to petition our government for redress. Yes, it even means when a system in our country is broken, breaking that system down and rebuilding it anew.

Finally, it means loving the country enough to critique it harshly and honestly when it falls astray. It also means realizing that the country is far bigger than the current occupants of government. The country is more us than them anyway. The flag represents the people, not the government anyway.

Because the ultimate power lies with the people, not government, and if one day, we all decide to try something completely new, it’s not “the end of America as we know it” but that happy pursuit of “a more perfect union.

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