All right, you great, big, bawdy, benevolent babe—I know we’ve had our issues.
On this end: war protests, flag burnings, jeering returning soldiers, torched cities, rejection of corporations and the almighty dollar as the true symbol of the republic.
Sitting out the Star Spangled Banner, lampooning every tradition, all those clouds of pungent smoke in the park.
Peace, love and moral mayhem.
On yours: the shameful treatment of Native Americans, blacks, women and gays, ill-advised invasions, coddling dictators, busting the unions and their working people, and at all costs making the world safe for the military-industrial complex.
I had a hard time for the longest time sidling up to you and your flag, given some of the things done under its banner and the dubious company it sometimes kept.
Now: I don’t want to suggest that all is forgotten. Memory is too important and precious as reminder and guide, and those not steeped in and accountable for their history are doomed to repeat it (or at least make similar mistakes, equally ill-informed).
But—and this is important, so please hear me out—I forgive you and I love you.
And I want my flag back.
For too long, I ceded patriotism (and God, but that’s another letter) to my friends and family from ConservativeLand, a seemingly distant country where they had barricaded themselves and claimed to have sole possession of your cherished symbols and precepts.
I allowed my criticism of you—my holding your feet to the fire of your highest, most noble ideals—to sound like vilification and distaste rather than a loving plea.
It was inartful, I admit, and a little misguided, and conservatives made a mountain of it, accusing me falsely, but effectively, with my unwitting collaboration, of not loving you and of holding everything you stand for in contempt.
When in reality, I was besotted with what you stood for, and beside myself when your actions—or the actions of your supposed representatives—didn’t match it. (J.Edgar Hoover? Joseph McCarthy? Now just how did that happen?)
But enough now. Enough bickering over whose flag this is, and whose God sends the breeze through it.
You have come a long way, and so have I. As have we all.
I can’t help but notice lately how so many more of us are huddled under you in a true rainbow of colors and orientations. You’d asked for huddled masses, and boy, did the universe deliver! (With a little help from a vigilant Supreme Court and the goodness, truly the inherent, important-to-remember goodness, of your people.)
A rainbow flag celebrating the entire human pageant, in all its glorious variety, flies under you now, flapping for all the world to see.
And that divisive, exclusionary flag of the Great Insurrection? Persona non grata in this new America that is ever a-birthing, ever struggling in its messy, loud, public soul-baring way, typical of us since our portentous, earth-shattering bounce onto the world stage 239 years ago.
The truth is that I have always admired you, immigrant that I am myself.
I know that some of my fellow liberals persist in blaming you for just about every ill out there, expecting Snow White with her wand to float above the world stage, instead of a struggling nation among other struggling nations, occasionally throwing sharp elbows, imperfect in an imperfect world, soiled as we all are by the original sins that have and always will bedevil our species.
I have learned not to expect perfection or purity, so long as the lurching, awkward, well-intentioned slog ahead continues to bend more or less in step with the arc of the moral universe that those more visionary than I have posited as our true trajectory.
So I’m sorry about the misunderstandings over the years. Let’s blame it on youth—both yours and mine!
But we’ve aged a bit since then. Wisdom and mellowing do come, right amidst the tragedy of life as we receive it and the intermittent stupidity in which we are fated to indulge.
That’s all right, though. It’s all part of the mix, a spicy cocktail of a thousand different ingredients, shaken to ’n fro, mixed with ice and scorched by fire, ready always and again to slake the thirst of the multitudes huddled and yearning to be free, free at last, great God almighty, free at last.
Pete Seeger, hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, vilified as anti-American and a Communist, came to the Lincoln Memorial in January, 2008, to celebrate and sing with Bruce Springsteen and several hundred thousand others in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial as an African-American was inaugurated the president of the United States…
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July 4th boy by Frank McKenna, San Diego, California https://unsplash.com/@frankiefoto
Nicely stated, my friend. Happy Independence Day! (And don’t you think it would be great if we had a national holiday called “Interdependence Day”?)
David, that notion puts a smile on my face but makes a serious point as well, and I’m glad you raised it. All that emphasis on rugged individualism and personal freedom has done wonders for the accomplishments of this country and its people, but it can have a kind of steroid overdose effect as well—we get all puffed up and muscle-bound with our self-sufficiency, but our heart withers. And maybe, those who accomplish a lot based on that individualism feel just a little (or a lot) less compassion for others who lack their ferocious will and ruggedness.
Besides which, in the end, all of us need each other in countless ways, something that contains more than a seed of humility in it.
Let’s start a movement, Brother: Interdependence Day! What would you think is the ideal date?
Thanks for the 4th of July blog! Good to celebrate the blending of both the liberal and conservatives this week. These two opposites came together when the Supreme court made their well communicated decision on gay marriage. When democracy like this happens, our constitution shines and our flag glows. I love that the constitution is strong enough and fexible enough to hold such different viewpoints and come to one decision and we all accept and even share the same flag the next day.
Also, I appreciate the conservatives who held firmly to the flag and the constitution so the liberals could attack our country and burn the flag when fellow citizens were being marginalilzed. Yes,the flag is still there! We get to express hostile discontent , but the flag is still there. WOW! Some group kept it there while we had the freedom to attack it.
It is a filing issue. Rather than file the coming back to the flag situation under RCF : “Republicans co-opting the flag”, we could also file it under CHF “Conservatives holding the flag in place” so we can occasionally fight it when needed. Good the liberals can express injustices, good the conservatives can hold onto what works.
Thanks for listening!
Liberals and conservatives, I love you and forgive you both.
Hear hear, Mary! Just as every liberal doesn’t burn flags (I didn’t), so every conservative doesn’t co-opt the flag and claim it solely for themselves. The flag—and the freedom and patriotism it represents to argue for the direction one thinks the country should go— truly does belong to everyone. Arguments about who’s more patriotic just detract from the very real and worthy issues where robust debate among equally patriotic parties needs to take place. Thanks for joining the discussion.
My experience is that a a lot of liberal-leaning folks actually love America intensely. What it stands for and what it has offered generations. And they want it to live up to its best characteristics– with open arms and opportunity. They are wary of fear and control because, to them and me, it feels kind of unAmerican. So cheers to all Americans, even after the BBQs are over. Let’s get back to work and ease up on the sniping.
Right on Andrew. I agree with it all. So great we can agree today ,
Hey, just great job writing out our feelings for us because I could not find these words myself!
Pleasure was mine, Mary! Even better that I didn’t have to do all this thinking & typing today—took care of that part four years ago!
Now it’s 2022, and the thoughts and sentiments still hold true. Wondering when the freedom and justice side will kick in again, but that’s just me. Have a great 4th from a dyed in the wool lib!
Couldn’t really see a need to revise this three years ago, Moon, but much has changed, and little of it for the better. Think I’ll maybe pick up the subject again next year and see where it leads. Thanks for popping in here!