No less than three different people have commented to me today about witnessing ostentatious displays of aggressive patriotism in the form of American flags flown with what could only be described as hateful intent. The pickup truck with the oversized flag hanging off the back. The home with way too many flags, interspersed with political banners and battle flags of defeated armies. The article of clothing modeled after the Stars and Stripes. The boat proudly flying Old Glory while simultaneously tell the current President to go fuck himself.
A symbol, not of unity, but of tribalism and intimidation.
“I see an American flag on a home or business,” one friend admitted, “and I am immediately suspicious and on guard. Are they merely flying an American flag or are they making a political statement?”
We both agreed that most of the time you could tell how it was meant to be taken by the feeling it gave you. Was it prideful or disdainful? Was is welcoming or intimidating? Was it of average size or did it attempt to overwhelm? Are we meant to feel included? Emboldened? Threatened? Warned? Welcomed?
There is a scene in the surprise hit television show Ted Lasso, about an American football coach who moves to England to coach a Premier League soccer club. Coach Lasso, played brilliantly by Jason Sudeikis, is giving a player of African nationality, the gift of a little plastic army man that he got as a gift himself from his son back in America. It’s meant as a warm gesture, a charm to keep him safe, but the Nigerian player politely refuses, explaining that he does not share the coach’s fondness for the American military.
To an American child, a little green army man is a symbol of courage and honor, but for much of the rest of the world, it stands for colonial imperialism and death from on high. The American flag is a powerful symbol, but it hasn’t always stood for good, let alone great. Not everyone is happy to see it. One cannot assume it has always come in peace, because it so often has not. Not everyone is excited to see a tank roll through their town. It’s not an ice cream truck.
On Jan 6, right here in our nation’s Capitol, the flag was continually used as a weapon, against law enforcement, by people who called themselves Patriots but who acted in the most unAmerican way imaginable. It became a symbol of insurrection and was used to divide a country, not unite it.
The aggressive manner of what can accurately be called white nationalism, is unmistakable and harkens back to darker days in our nation’s past. Like confederate statues erected to establish dominance in the South, the aggressive nature of the right’s attempt to intimidate its opponents with the symbols of nationalism is an effort to portray nonwhites as less American and other. The Klan didn’t care what color you were if you called yourself a Freedom Rider. They murdered white liberals right alongside people of color. You were with them or you were against them.
So when people talk of unity on this day of days, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Don’t ask me to join you in your attempt to terrorize those who you see as less than your ideal. That’s not unity, that’s fascism.