The flag of the United States of America is not a holy relic. It is a piece of cloth with a symbol painted on it.
Symbols are inexact by nature. They point to things, but what it is they point to is always a matter for debate. It is the nature of symbols that they point to different things for different people at different times.
The swastika is a famous example. It is one of a group of shapes that clever people call primal symbols, and it is often found in ancient carvings in the company of circles, squares, crosses, triangles, and six-pointed stars. The swastika was once a Sanskrit symbol of peace. Now it is exclusively associated with the Nazi Party. For most people, it points to something horrible and ugly. If you mark yourself or something else with a swastika, don’t expect to be invited to the really good parties.
If you look at the letters of the blog post, you can see that the characters of the Roman alphabet are variations on these primal symbols, these basic shapes. Except the letter K. It clearly doesn’t belong. We should get rid of it. It doesn’t do anything the letter C can’t do anyway. Kidding aside, letters themselves are symbols. They point to sounds, words, language, and meaning, but in and of themselves they are just a collection of modified circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, crosses, and lines. They point to meaning, but they do not have intrinsic meaning. Without the greater context of a language, they mean nothing. If this were written in French instead of English, most readers wouldn’t see anything but groups of letters, meaning nothing.
Kidding aside, letters themselves are symbols. They point to sounds, words, language, and meaning, but in and of themselves they are just a collection of modified circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, crosses, and lines. They point to meaning, but they do not have intrinsic meaning. Without the greater context of a language, they mean nothing. If this were written in French instead of English, most readers wouldn’t see anything but groups of meaningless letters.
The six-pointed star wasn’t always a symbol representative of Jews. Historically speaking, it’s relatively new. What it means, though, is entirely based on context. If it’s on a law enforcement officer, it represents a sheriff. If it’s on a flag, it’s a symbol for the state of Israel. If it’s yellow and it says “Jude” in the middle, it is a mark of doom.
[Trigger alert. It’s going to get controversial.]
Anyone who can read this knows that the cross represents the Christian faith in all its various manifestations. Most people associate it with goodness, holiness, and mystical properties emanating from God. Churches are adorned with it. People adorn themselves with it. It symbolizes their participation in a set of very specific beliefs that are understood by the bearer to be unmitigated Truth with a capital T.
Not all of us see it that way. Not all of us are Christians. Not all of us have been treated well by Christians over the centuries. I’ll leave it at that.
Now let’s talk about the flag. To reiterate, the flag is a symbol and, as a symbol, it means different things to different people. For many, it is a symbol of love of country. I display one on every patriotic holiday to send that very message. Not everyone perceives it that way.
For some people, the flag symbolizes something else. For some, it is a symbol of a country that once considered African-Americans to be three-fifths of a human being and was perfectly okay with using African-Americans as farm machinery. For some, it is the symbol of a country that has been long on oppression and short on justice.
Now, here’s the complicated part: it can mean all these things to a person and mean love of country at the same time. You can love your country and at the same time not love everything it does. “My country right or wrong” doesn’t work if you’re on the wrong end of things.
The White House is offering a binary choice. You’re either a good American or you’re not. You either respect the flag entirely or you don’t respect it at all. You either stand during the national anthem with your hand over your heart or you’re unpatriotic and deserving of ridicule and negative consequence.
It’s just not that easy. America is a very nuanced place.
If the Founders were here to look at the cultural war over kneeling during the national anthem, they would never stop throwing up. They never intended for patriotism to be invested in a flag or a song. For the Founders, patriotism was protest. In fact, they were so adamant about protesting the British that they committed treason and risked being hanged for advocating for what they believed. Is that different than NFL players risking their jobs to protest for what they believe? Protest for the Founders was an all-or-nothing proposition. You can protest anything, or you live in tyranny. The right to protest is fundamental and enshrined in the First Amendment.
Yes, there are consequences to free speech. You have the right to say what you want, and I have the right to accept it or reject it or ridicule you or fire you in certain circumstances. But to say that a form of protest is inherently un-American is the most un-American thing that’s going on right now.