A few years ago I was talking to some German co-workers and they brought up how great it is to see Americans fly the flag at businesses and homes. One said that he loved Germany and the German flag, but flying the flag is looked down upon in Germany as overly nationalistic, even fascist—not a label you want in modern Germany. I thought how sad it was that someone couldn’t fly the flag of his country without being labeled.
A few weeks ago, I saw a pick-up with a large, dirty U.S. flag flying from it and the truck had lettering on its back window that said “America’s the best / F*** the rest” (only he wasn’t kind enough to use asterisks). I think the first word that sprang to my mind was “fascist.”
I have been heading down this path of stereotyping for a while. The fact that I’m absolutely disgusted by the Bush administration and 70% of Utahns still support it may be a contributing factor. But every time I see a car flag or a “Support our Troops” ribbon magnet, I want to say, “Yeah, let’s support them by getting them out of the way of the bullets and bombs.” But I don’t accept that maybe they love the flag and the republic for which it stands and they support the troops in the same way I do.
I want my flag back from the jingoists who have hijacked it! I don’t want my flying the flag to mean I support the war, but rather I support my country because of what it represents and the greatness it is capable of. I love what it has done in bettering the world, but I’m also able to admit it has done more than its share to tear down the world. I love the democratic principles it was founded on and continues to show promise of, but I hate the way it has been hijacked by millionaires and the elite. I love its openness and opportunity, but I despise its exclusivity and racism. I love its nation-building efforts when its heart is in the right place, but I’m ashamed of its jingoism and exploitation. The flag doesn’t stand for an administration, a set of policies, or even a specific population. It’s bigger than that—it stands for an idea and an ideal, for greatness achieved and yet potential.
Being a patriot doesn’t mean following unquestioningly and blindly what the government says; rather it means actually doing what you think is best for your country. A patriot is informed, inclusive, independent, and involved. This is the only way a democracy (or a “democratic republic”) can work properly.
I concede that I should do a lot more as far as participation in politics, civics, and government. I pledge to myself to be a patriot, to get “IN”— INformed, INclusive, INdependent, and INvolved. Any takers?