It’s Complicated

The Patriot Front, a group of about two hundred white supremacists, marched through Philadelphia on the fourth of July weekend. Like the Klansmen they so admire, they wore white face coverings and carried American flags. In January insurrectionists determined to capture the Capitol and reverse the outcome of the Presidential election carried American flags, some of which were used to bludgeon the White House and District police. American flags surrounded the noose and gallows intended for use in Vice President Pence’s last public appearance. Three Percenters, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and MAGA Civil War insurrectionists carried American flags.

That’s my flag.

Both political parties have traditionally wrapped themselves in stars and stripes, but over the past five years, the flag has become a particular symbol of support for principles and personalities I find dangerous and offensive. The flag, like the national anthem and patriotic holidays, has become so politically weaponized that those of us who do not subscribe to Trumpian rhetoric hesitated in flying our flag on the 4th. The statement we intended to make was a celebration of our history and the struggle to secure democracy, but those who walked or drove by our lawns are trapped in symbolic shorthand; in flying the flag, we worried, did they see support for the nation or for the insurrection?

It’s complicated.

I’m a veteran. I pay my share of taxes and give to charities. I worked as a Teamster in a steel slitting factory to earn enough to go to college. I was a teacher for forty five years. My wife and I raised three genuinely good children, now young adults. They pay their taxes too. I love baseball, football, and corny movies. I am grateful for all those who risked their health to protect ours.

I’ve voted in every election since 1968, not always for the same party, but always for the person I thought the best able to secure the democracy I believe in. If you had to give me a political label, I’d say I’m a progressive Democrat, an aging fan of the New Deal, of little guys getting a fair shake, of a country that believes in opening doors and feeding children.

As a child my brother and I helped my grandfather raise the American flag every morning. I marched in Memorial Day parades and placed American flags on the graves of those who had given their lives in service to the nation. I choke up when an American athlete receives a gold medal as our anthem plays and our flag waves.

That’s my flag.

It’s complicated.

I believe it’s my right and my duty to love and protect the nation’s founding principles and its flag. There’s too much at stake to let my lawn, empty of flags on the 4th of July, stand as evidence of my timidity in displaying my brand of patriotism, so I bought two emblems this July, both the same size, both standing together on my lawn — the American flag and a large Black Lives Matter sign. My support for that movement is not the only statement I need to make, but the statement I chose to make on the 4th of July as white masked bullies march through Philadelphia carrying my flag.

For today, it’s not that complicated.

I’m the author of four novels and America’s Best Kept College Secrets, a retired teacher of the humanities, eclectic reader, and prisoner of popular culture.