This was a few months after the George Floyd riots, around the time of the Kenosha riots, and, as my wife and I working from home implies, several months after the coronavirus had sunk its protein spike into America. “I love that flag” is an odd greeting, and I have wondered, pretty much whenever I see a flag or a large dog, why he chose that salutation out of all possible options.
I too love that flag, both as a symbol and as a bright thing to fly from a porch, but I wonder if the dog-walker and I love it in different ways. The man’s bearing, hairstyle and dress made guess he is an urban Republican; I mean, he too was large, white, and expensive. I wondered if he was Trumpy and if he judged me the same since I hung a flag and not a Black Lives Matter sign. Maybe he muttered to his dogs after he passed, “I tell you what, MAGA and Don Jr: this guy gets it.”
Over the past 50 years the flag became an icon of the right, something associated with F-16 flyovers at football games, Wrangler commercials, and the GOP. If I get in a dark mood it evokes endless, stupid wars in the middle east, know-nothing politics, and those sickening Thin Blue Line versions of the American flag. (Why are the rest of the stars and stripes on that one black and white? What grim hellscape do pro-cop fanatics think we live in?) Rather than discard the imagery of Americana as corrupted by those associations, a popular argument goes, liberals and leftists should hang the flag too. What better way to disassociate the flag from militarism, say, than for non-militarists to also fly it?
I am not a member of the right or the left, but I do agree with that. Hanging a flag is a conscious gesture if not a deliberate statement, especially during a summer as depressing as 2020's. It says something positive and approving of the country I live in. I do, in fact, like this place, and I find it worthwhile to express that in some small way.
Patriotism for me is a non-partisan or cross-partisan gesture. I fly the flag not for one side or against another, but for American culture at its best. America is a big tangled mess of things worth celebrating, things worth condemning, and things worth being indifferent to if it is not your thing. I’ll even throw a polite nod to some of the things I do not admire, since the excesses of left and right also fuel our culture. I am unlikely to ever hum along to Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be an American” or to raise a fist to toppling the cisheteropatriarchy, but I welcome both in America’s spirit of come one, come all.
The flag outside today is green, white, and orange, a hangover from St. Patrick’s Day. The other flag we own is LSU’s, which hung before the shut-down to celebrate the victory of my wife’s alma mater in the College Superbowl, or whatever. I am trying to convince her to let us get a crossed-keys on yellow and white flag to boast our allegiance to the Papacy, but so far she is not down with that. One day soon I will take down the Irish flag and bust out Old Glory. When I do it will not be for any president or party, but for Thomas Pynchon and Ralph Ellison and the Mars Rover and Chris Rock and Neko Case. It will be for milkshakes, smoked pork shoulder, and the wild diversity of pizza styles that make this country great. I will hang it for the men and women who served our country in foreign conflicts and for the guys at General Mills who figured out how to make Cheerios stay crunchy in milk. I [impassioned sigh] love that flag, but only for the stuff we get right. I fly it to acknowledge that, sometimes, we get a few things pretty right indeed.