A liberal friend recently made my eyes pop, as my liberal friends often do. Yes, I have them, eyes and liberal friends – and in the spirit of comity, seeking to understand, even persuade, I sometimes invite their opinions. But this one caused pause – as it related to our flag.
In effect, President Trump made her uneasy, and she now felt – because his patriotic message was affiliated with the American flag – that the flag, flying from pickup trucks, storefronts, campsites, displayed on jackets, shirts, hats, and in other venues – made her uneasy.
My first reaction was disbelief, my second sadness, my third empathy. Whatever one thinks of a political leader, pride in our nation’s flag should be unquestioned, universal, informed by love.
Here was a thoughtful, goodhearted American but an acculturated liberal. As much as I could not understand her disaffection for the symbol of all that is good about the United States of America, she could not understand my lack of understanding of her newfound hesitancy.
To her credit, she asked me to explain my love of our flag – and so I did. First, without pushing her Trump buttons, I explained that ours is a nation like no other in human history. I explained that history matters, why preserving it matters, and that is why I write about such things.
A short recap started with the uniqueness of our “founding,” how a small group of truly courageous Americans put everything on the line for an idea – individual liberty, equality among men, self-governance, a written Constitution spreading power among three branches of a federal government, vertically sharing with state governments and “the people” (10th Amendment), and assuring God-given liberties were never taken by that government, through a “Bill of Rights.”
This was utterly new, daring, and untested, requiring a brutal Revolutionary War, unwavering belief in that idea, more sacrifice than you could find in a thousand libraries or cemeteries, lifted by the simple conviction that Providence, God, the Hand of Destiny, was with us.
To her credit, she listened, absorbed, acknowledged. My point was that, from our founding, nothing like America had ever existed before. The idea, even imperfectly implemented by imperfect humans, was to identify, celebrate, elevate, honor, and perpetuate freedom.
Knowing her tendency toward the view that Republicans underemphasize equality, which they do not, but that is the narrative, I took her on a tour of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which Republicans brought to life after the Civil War – fought for “a more perfect union,” led by a Republican president.
I then sketched how women got the vote through the 19th Amendment, an initiative begun by Theodore Roosevelt, another Republican. I then walked through the Civil Rights Movement’s milestones, freedoms achieved and enshrined in law, starting with the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts under Dwight D. Eisenhower, another Republican.
As an inveterate fan of Ronald Reagan, I spent time on the Soviet Union’s repression of humanity, the immorality of Marxism, Socialism, and Communism – how they defeat liberty, suppress the individual, and how America defeated the Soviet Union, freeing millions.
But the nub of my love for our flag – I explained – was honoring those who risked, rose, and fell for freedom over the past 250 years. When we salute the flag or place a hand on our heart, we honor those who fell for the ideals embodied in that flag, for our liberties, for us.
I tried to convey that the flag is not a symbol of either party, of any political leader, or even of any one idea, but of the sacrifices that matured us into the greatest nation in human history, with more freedoms, opportunities, individual, spiritual, material, and intergenerational love for what humanity most respects, wants and honors, than any nation, ever conceived.
I tried to convey that tens of millions of Americans – since our founding – have readied themselves to fight and to die in defense of our rights, freedoms, a world without fear, chance to make it, safety of towns and families, and the respect for each other that we today enjoy.
I tried to explain, from the Revolutionary War, through 1812, Civil War, 1st and 2nd World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, 1st Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, and in countless other places, our flag has flown over those motivated to defend liberty – ours and others. Twice, we have saved Europe.
All this is tied up in that precious American flag. That flag is not about one candidate, party, state, or region. It is not about race, religion, background, age, gender, or political affiliation.
The American flag is about the blood spilled for freedom and equality, seeking truth, peace, and self-government, as necessary fighting for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Time grew short.
I wondered if any of this had landed.
She was intelligent, but modern politics exhausts the best. To my relief, time well spent. It might not have been but was. She felt better, understood my awe of our flag, and – I think – felt a new fondness for it, herself. History, they say, is made by inches. I think that may be true, and of patriots too.
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