***If you would prefer to listen to this post, you’ll find an audio player below where you can hear the podcast version***
America is an idea. Ireland is a great country, but it’s not an idea. Great Britain is a great country, but it’s not an idea. That’s how we see you around the world, as one of the greatest ideas in human history.~ Bono
“Maybe we should put up a flag for July 4th this year?”
As soon as I said it, I was ready to take it back.
Under normal circumstances, one would not consider putting up an American flag as something that would require any deliberation or cause hesitation. But this is America in 2022.
America. Where the flag and other symbols of our nation have been co-opted by those with undemocratic, even authoritarian, views and a violent way of communicating that to the world. For them, the flag has become a symbol, not of a united country free from tyranny, but of…
- Active opposition to any common-sense regulations around gun ownership.
- The banning of all abortion (life of the mother be damned).
- Imposing ones point of view on others or even using violence to circumvent productive conversations around difficult issues.
On January 6th, 2021 in Washington DC, rioters broke into the Capitol in a failed attempt to subvert our democratic process for election. The American flag was sadly a prominent part of that unprecedented scene where it was even used as a weapon against Capitol police.
While the use of the American flag as a backdrop for hateful ideologies and violent actions has altered the collective perception of what it represents, this misappropriation of the flag does not paint an accurate picture of what it means to be an American. And while they may fly the flag like it’s some kind of protest against other Americans they disagree with, this country doesn’t belong to perpetuators of hate and violence. It belongs to all of us.
The idea of America is yet to be fully realized, which is why our flag can never represent a nostalgic look to the past, longing for a fantasized version of history where everything was “great.” This country is not only a melting pot of various cultural identities, but also a mixed collection of events showing both our greatness and our shame.
Our country valiantly fought for independence from Great Britain, but also exploited Native Americans to take over land that was rightfully theirs. We set up a government with documents and guiding principles, but only named white, land-owning men as the heirs of inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In fact it was only in 1920 that white women won the right to vote with the 19th amendment and not until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act gave Black and Latino citizens the right to vote. We began to lead the world in industry and technological progress, but we did so on the backs of slaves and immigrants. And now we continue to see advancement at unfathomable speeds, but at the expense of clean water, air, and land.
We are a country in progress and we have had mixed results. But progress is a movement forward in order to realize an ideal. It’s why we debate about what laws should be in place and what we exactly mean by “liberty.” All voices matter when we talk about what it means to become all that we can be as a nation, even though that conversation is often messy and difficult.
So I fly the American flag because the idea of America is greater than any one race, religion, or political viewpoint, and I believe that each of us has a responsibility to help discover what we can be as a nation.