Do you stand for the flag, or what the flag stands for?

When Facism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

We need to be careful here.

The above quote, attributed to writer Sinclair Lewis, came to my mind when I saw this T-shirt for sale while recently on vacation.  The shirt brings together three images which, combined in this way, suggest that one’s love of country- the measure of whether or not one is a “true American” – can be measured by one’s reverence towards three things: the flag, the cross and men with guns.

To be fair, though it’s hard to see the image clearly through the reflection of the store window, it appears to be a soldier holding the gun, kneeling at the grave of a fallen comrade. Yet the subliminal message remains the same:  To be a true American, you have to reverence the flag, reverence the cross and unquestioningly support our military – and, I assume by extension, the right of any and all Americans to carry a gun.  And anyone who questions this iron clad definition of Patriotism (say, such as a blogger troubled by a T-shirt in a store window) immediately comes under suspicion.

There are a multitude of problems with this  overly simplistic definition of Patriotism.  Starting with the most obivious, it  suggests that any non-Christian Americans – Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Atheists, really anyone who would not be inclinded to reverence a cross, are less than true Americans.  Anyone who raises legitimate questions about our military missions or the way in which the American military presence is used in the world today?  Let’s watch them, too.  How about pacifists, those who call for greater gun control in America, those who protest government policies that discriminate against the poor, those who protest the actions of law enforcement officials who receive their authority from local, state and federal government?  Watch out if you get seen at a Black Lives Matter protest, or if you kneel during the Star Spangled Banner, or if you find yourself at the border defending the basic human rights of those immigrants who are being held in detention camps. If you feel a certain ambivalence about America’s less than consistent committment to ensuring the rights and freedoms of all?  Best keep that to yourself. Your Patriotism may be questioned.

And while where at it – ladies in the #Me Too Movement – wouldn’t it be a greater Patriotic service to your husbands and boyfriends and brothers and fathers if you didn’t so fervently insist on accountabilty?  Boys will be boys, right?

You see where I’m going with this?  I mean no disrespect to the flag – I am grateful to be an American, or the cross – I am a Roman Catholic, or the brave women and men in the military who are actively protecting my ass as I sit here surrounded by peace and tranquility and write this blog.  I have no respect, however, for individuals who , recognizing the powerful emotions these three symbols evoke, use them to consolidate their own power or as wedges to cause divisions among us to advance their own self-centered ends or as an implicit proclamation of white male supremacy (because, when you rule out all of the folks in the “suspicious” groups mentioned above, who’s left?).

I recently read an article, reflecting on the origins of the Constitution, in which the writer said that the ties that bind Americans together have nothing to do with any particular culture or any particular way of expressing Patriotism.  The common bond we share is an Idea – a belief that all human beings are truly created equal and that all share equally the right to “life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  As Americans, we need to always keep in our hearts and minds the imperative passed from one generation to the next to do whatever we can to see those rights enfranchised by more and more of our citizens and, to the extent we are able, to champion those rights around the world.

Let us be mindful of Lewis’ warning and not wave the flag and the cross around too cavalierly.  And let us be mindful of a common truth behind both.  Displaying them means nothing.  Recognizing the fundamental dignity of every human being to which both symbols point,  and livng that belief out in our daily lives, means everything.

(To find more of my writing, visit my Amazon author’s page:


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2 Responses to Do you stand for the flag, or what the flag stands for?

  1. Kevin McCormack says:

    Brilliant reflection

  2. Tony says:

    Great stuff Jim.

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