Full disclosure: I’ve never been a proponent of, “My country, right or wrong.” In fact, had I the means two decades ago, I would have emigrated. Now, I still don’t have the means, and I’m even more shamed and saddened by the murder and mayhem the United States has wreaked upon the rest of the world, and upon its own citizens. Untold thousands displaced due to our Global War on Terror; livelihoods lost, cultural monuments destroyed, infrastructure flattened; not to mention the civilian casualties blithely dismissed as “collateral damage” of the U.S. determination to impose its imperialistic will (a.k.a., “bringing democracy,” or, “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here”) on various weaker nations.
I realize that my attitude disqualifies me as a patriot in the eyes of many, especially the flag-wavers. And that’s fine; I make no pretense to fervent patriotism. Instead, I consider myself a citizen of Planet Earth.
I do understand, however, that patriotism is a Big Deal in this country. For those in public life, the degree to which one observes the “accepted” tenets of love for the United States can make or break a career. There is a scale, and people are closely watched and evaluated. For instance, some of Barack Obama’s critics seized upon his failure to wear an American flag lapel pin as a shortcoming that put him beyond the pale.
Right-wingers are particularly fond of the meme that they are “real” Americans. That is, as opposed to everyone who is not like them, either by virtue of politics, religious beliefs, or skin color. They believe they are the true patriots, and they consider that to be a fundamental, essential character trait for being a worthwhile person. When they question the government, it’s because officials are being too socialistic or soft on the “others,” or because the powers-that-be attempt to, say, impose mask mandates during a pandemic. They’re in favor of law and order, as long as no one tries to inflict laws on them.
Another common denominator for “true patriots” is that they’re flag wavers. All the time. Everywhere. Somehow, they think that displaying the flag makes them more valid. My feeling is that, in the normal course of everyday life, if one has a need to brandish symbols or proactively emphasize a given aspect of one’s make-up, it’s an indication of insecurity with respect to whatever is front and center. As an example, I never took part in the Pagan Pride Day that our local non-standard believers used to hold, because I see no need to flaunt that aspect of my persona. It’s as much a part of me as my eye color, and I’m perfectly comfortable with it, so I don’t have to go around proclaiming my beliefs in a public place. My own take is that such exhibitionism is subtly confrontational, a dare to others to say there’s something wrong with a given belief system, orientation, or membership. I wouldn’t paint all flag displays with this brush, but I think many of them are in that category.
The most ironic, even hypocritical, circumstance surrounding flag waving is that, evidently, very few practitioners have read the rules of flag etiquette. I almost never see a flag illuminated at night; one of the local auto dealers has a spotlight on his enormous version, but he’s almost alone in the whole region. When we go camping, we often see flagpoles attached to trailers, but the flags invariably hang there in the dark. Same with the flag in our neighbor’s yard. In fact, the last stars-and-stripes on display was almost shredded before it was replaced. Neither do people strike their flags in inclement weather. Nope, they just droop there in the rain and snow, becoming soaked or ice-caked. Such hypocrisy makes me angry, as do all other instances of bragging about the sanctity of one thing, but then doing the opposite. But I have to admit that the sheer disrespect for the flag makes me equally furious. Even though I’m not proud of what my country does in many cases, nevertheless, I absolutely believe that if one is going to display a symbol, one should give it due consideration, for the sake of the idea behind it. For the same reason that I would never deface a cross or a mandala or a Star of David, I wouldn’t let a flag hang with the union on the right side (backward), were it my responsibility.
And that’s what is so often the issue with the “true patriots”: their behavior is all backward. There’s a difference between quiet, bone-deep belief in something, and showy, gaudy affectations for public consumption. All the chest-thumping, red-white-and-blue real ’Merricans would do well to make their deeds truly match their words. And read up on the proper way to fly that star-spangled banner. I’m looking at you, you guys who line the edges of your campsites with mini flags stuck in the ground, ends dragging in the dirt.