Reclaiming the flag: Patriotism belongs to no party 

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I’ll be flying the U.S. flag this Fourth of July outside my house. This will be my small gesture of celebrating Independence Day and, in a larger sense, a demonstration of my patriotism. 

It’s a custom that might be considered a bit out of character for a lifelong Democrat, since significantly fewer members of my party now describe themselves as patriotic. The most recent polling says so, as does my personal experience with left-leaning friends and relatives all across the country. In the past few years, I’ve watched many members of my party shy away from such an overt act of patriotism as flying the flag, out of reluctance or distaste over what associative message that might convey. 

As we appreciate the holiday, I urge reconsideration. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that the disaffected claim or reclaim their share of patriotism and demonstrate it publicly, with pride and class. No party or sect should be allowed to claim sole ownership of Old Glory. 

I’m old enough to remember a time when people from every walk of life and political persuasion happily set out their American flags on the Fourth, or made sure their kids had a little banner to wave at the park or parade. It was no more remarkable than setting out a jack-o-lantern on the porch on Halloween. But it was significantly weightier as a statement — a proclamation of one’s pride as a member of The Republic. 

This sentiment, which, in the recent past, peaked around the time of the terror attacks on 9/11, began to decline just a few years later, coincident with the second Iraq war. What was a gradual decline through the early 2010s then transformed into something more like a plummet in the Trump years, culminating with the events on the Capitol in January 2021, when we witnessed the interlopers waving hundreds of banners. 

Some of those banners were American flags used as weapons against the building’s defenders. And of course, there was the retina-burning image of an American flag attached to a spear held by a bare-chested, horn-helmeted “shaman.” Who in their right mind wants to be associated with such a display? 

But that’s precisely the point. We cannot accept the notion that patriotism is the province of extremists. On the contrary, rational, run-of-the-mill people of any party must assert their stake in patriotism. And a fundamental expression of that is flying the flag. 

To do so is not to shake a fist in anyone’s face. It’s not to bellow, “We’re the greatest.” To me, it’s no more than a simple, quiet acknowledgment that good and great things have been done in this country, and that the architecture is in place for better and greater in the future. 

Yes, certain institutions are cracked, the populace is polarized, and sometimes we feel immobilized in the face of an unknowable future. But let’s not forget that, day in and day out, things still get done: work progresses, people freely go about their business and our systems still work. For example: Thanks to a functional judicial system, many of the perpetrators of vandalism and aggression on January 6 have been tried, sentenced and jailed. (In fact, having leveraged the forbearance baked into the judicial system, some of them — including the shaman— are already out of jail.) 

July 4th is a good time to pause for a mid-summer assessment, and to ask (upending JFK’s immortal phrase) what your country has done for you. When I reflect, I recall one set of grandparents who immigrated to this country in the 1920s speaking no English at all, and the other set who raised their eight children without electricity or running water on a Montana homestead. And I can only marvel at how, these few decades later, this country has afforded me countless chances to live a healthy, comfortable existence.  

I know not everyone is as lucky as I am. I acknowledge that many among us have been battered by life, so that they are barely clinging to hope. I believe that flying the flag is in some way an acknowledgment of that, too; it is not just an expression of pride and gratefulness, but also a symbol of certain scars and failures, and of the faith that we’ll keep trudging toward betterment. 

That’s why my American flag will be unfurled on the Fourth. I don’t care anything for fireworks; they only make noise. Flying the flag says so much more. 

Larry F. Slonaker is a writer living in central California. He is the author of the novel “Nothing Got Broke.”

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