Please Tell Me They’re Kidding With This Crap

by

Well, I have to apologize to you all. For the past few weeks, I have been singularly uninspired and thus my lack of blog postage. Nothing really moved me to say something I thought worth sharing, at least not anything that I hadn’t written about once or twice before.

But then I saw this article on Salon, and remembered that I had read something recently that induced gagging and retching noises. It’s the flag-burning amendment.

[Note: what I’m about to say is highly inflammatory and written in a sarcastic, condescending tone. I honestly and sincerely believe that it is immoral to be patriotic, but I didn’t write that post, I wrote this one. What can I say, I’m good at sarcasm. I promise to return to being warm and fuzzy next time].

I tried to think of something erudite and high-minded to say on this issue. But I got nothin’. Because this entire NON-issue is so soul-numbingly, mind-blowingly stupid, pointless, and asinine that it sets my teeth on edge. Never mind that hardly anyone inside the United States has burned a flag since the 1970s — we need to amend the United States Consitution to prevent it anyway. The money and time that are being frittered away on this annoys the crap out of me.

I guess you’ve figured it out by now. Because I’m missing the “patriot” gene, I get exceedingly frustrated with those who have it. Yes, I will come out of the closet here: Patriotism is completely beyond my comprehension. It has always struck me as a thinly-disguised way to assert an ill-imagined superiority over people who live in other countries. A superiority that I, frankly, haven’t felt since I was in junior high, before a classmate thankfully knocked me out of my Reagan-induced Yankee Doodle delusion with a much-needed dose of reason.

I should point out before anyone has their stereotypes reinforced that many, many of my otherwise progressive friends disagree with me about patriotism. They spout what sounds to me like inane hogwash about “reclaiming” patriotism, as if it ever was or could be a “good thing.” I’m not buying. But most Americans apparently are, which is why this time, the amendment is closer to passage than it ever has been.

The flag thing is one aspect of the patriotism thing, and perhaps the aspect that I find most puzzling. Maybe someone in the audience can explain to me what this obsession with the flag is all about. It seemed pretty obvious to me when I was 13 and the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ anti-flag-burning law, and it seems obvious to me today: it’s just a piece of cloth, folks. Really. Burning a mass-produced replica of the Stars and Stripes is not at all akin to, say, flying an airplane into the Capitol. Why pretend that it is? Why waste a colossal amount of time and energy on something that happens so rarely and that has no effect at all on the continued functioning of the government or the well-being of the citizenry? Not to mention the fact that amending the Constitution is NOT something that should be taken this lightly.

Look, despite my tenure with the ACLU, I am not fully a First Amendment absolutist. In fact, the First Amendment is the least of the reasons I oppose the existence of this trumped-up issue. My reason is that I don’t think the American people need to have their knee-jerk desire to view themselves as the most virtuous, most powerful, and most blessed people on earth reinforced. We have our problems just like everyone else. Sure, there are positive aspects to our system of government and our civil society. There are also lots of negative ones. I don’t understand why it seems so central to the sense of self-worth of the average American voter to believe that we are better than other people due to the accident of having been born here. The potential passage of the flag amendment seems to me like the latest manifestation of this misguided patriotism fetish — and worse, of the fact that Republican ideas about patriotism are currently winning the day.

Advertisements

26 Responses to “Please Tell Me They’re Kidding With This Crap”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    I’m with you, Sandi. I don’t see what the deal is. Actually, I don’t care enough either way. Like you said, it seems just a big waste of time and money on a non-issue. There are much more pressing issues that I’d like to see our leaders discussing / debating.

  2. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Not to turn this into a rah-rah session, but, like Sandi, I’ve never really understood patriotism. It strikes me as nationalism by another name; and nationalism by any name strikes me as pretty obviously a bad thing.

    Also like Sandi, I’m completely mystified by the flag part of patriotism. Even if I had a more positive view of patriotism, the flag stuff would still be mystifying. It really is just a piece of cloth. Contrary to the faux-respectful drivel that gets preached whenever this issue comes up, it’s inconceivable to me that anybody ever died for a flag. People died for their buddies, for their unit, for their families, to protect their freedoms or someone else’s, or because they were just soldiering on, following orders. But for a flag? Surely not. If anyone ever died for a flag, their death truly was pointless. (And I say that mournfully, not with a sneer.)

    It also bothers me that in worship services we sing patriotic songs, display the American flag, and sometimes pledge allegiance to it (which, in and of itself, is just about the silliest notion I’ve ever heard; there are things I’d pledge allegiance to, but a flag is not one of them; to paraphrase Isaiah, it’s like pledging one’s allegiance to a dustmop, or a diaper bag). Those things strike me as completely inappropriate — not to mention dangerous, in several ways — and I quietly abstain from them. It troubles me that so many Christians seem unable to tell the difference — or even to know there IS a difference — between Americanism and Christianity.

    Lastly, it’s especially ironic that the Congress is suddenly so eager to protect American flags as a symbol of American ideals, pride and sacrifice at a time when most of those flags are made in China by Chinese employees of Chinese companies, and therefore have no American ideals, pride or sacrifice behind them.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Interesting discussion. I KNOW there are other houseflies out there that can passionately present very different thoughts on the matter, but I’m afraid I’m not the one.

    I’ve developed some military friends along the way down here that have been VERY passionate about the flag, and all I can contribute is that I think their argument would center on the “power of symbolism” (not the cloth itself).

    I’ve been sitting here trying to play devil’s advocate, but I’m not getting very far. I just don’t think I have a strong emotional attraction to symbolism, but maybe someone could prove me wrong with an example or two. The best example I could think of would be my father’s grave. If someone vandalized my father’s gravesite, I wondered how I would feel. I really don’t think I’d be furious. Not personally at least.

    When Katrina swept through our house, we lost our wedding album and videos of when Hillary was born and things like that. There are twinges of pain with that, but once again, the symbolic nature of the wedding album just isn’t that strong. That doesn’t damage our marriage.

    I’m kind of hoping someone will work with this “power of symbolism” idea and see where it goes. I guess I’m just not the one to deal the cards here. Instead of arguing patriotism as a virtue, I’d be more interested in this discussion.

  4. Sandi Says:

    I was totally expecting to hear opposing views, but I’m gratified that some of you all agree with me. I was just having a discussion with my husband on the bus this morning about how patriotism is different from nationalism, if at all. He seemed to think that it is possible to have some sort of “pride of ownership” associated with citizenship without there being an implicit insult embedded in it. I remain skeptical on this point. Not the least reason for which is that when I felt patriotic, the comforting balm of superiority was precisely what drove it, and I know that I wasn’t feeling that in isolation — I was being encouraged to feel it. Now, this was during the final years of the Cold War and there was a lot of baggage specific to that era. But I don’t think the sentiment that drives people to put American flag stickers on their cars is much different now from what it was then. It’s a very sort of primitive, naive clan mentality — tribalism, if you will. Which seems silly given the size and population of the country. And the internal divisions. And the fact that a lot of the “most patriotic” people don’t really believe in our system of government, but don’t get me started on that …

    I guess what I ended up with at the end of our conversation was that I don’t consider the nation-state an appropriate way to organize the world and allocate goods, rights, and resources. I accept that that’s the way it is and it’s not going to change because of my vote (not that I even have an alternative to offer), just like I accept capitalism but do not embrace it. But I’m not going to affirmatively do anything (fly a flag, say the Pledge, foam at the mouth over mythical flag-burning) that implies that I’m okay with having and perpetuating divisions between people based on where they were born and raised, or where they live. Obviously there is no way to completely avoid participating in these ways of organizing the world that I don’t believe in — I get a paycheck, buy things with the money, have a passport, check the “U.S. citizen” box on forms — but I’m not going to take pride in it.

    I’m definitely interested to hear what people tell themselves about their patriotism that does not fall under the general category of “superiority.” It seems to me that there is inherently a comparative aspect involved in having “pride” in a nation. But I am open to hearing alternative views.

  5. Duane McCrory Says:

    Interesting commments here. Patriotism is, of course, much more common among Christians who are in the military. (Al, please don’t start the pacifist discussion here of whether or not Christians should even be in the military.) I tend to agree with the comment flow here thus far. In fact, I think the 4th of July fell on a Sunday either this year or last. I just remember preaching a sermon at the on-base chapel (don’t go there, Al) on Philippians on the 4th of July with the basic gist that we are heavenly citizens and not American ones. I think that gives you enough to go on when it comes to how I view patriotism.

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Interesting, Duane. How did that go over in a military setting?

    with the basic gist that we are heavenly citizens and not American ones

    Are we not both?

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Duane: “I just remember preaching a sermon at the on-base chapel (don’t go there, Al)”

    Al: What are you talking about?

  8. Duane McCrory Says:

    Al,

    Sorry that I seem to be picking on you, but the “don’t go there” comment was in reference to the discussion about the free exercise and establishment clauses of the 1st amendment that tend to come up when one talks about there being a chapel on base. There is a tension there and I just wanted to stick to the patriotism discussion

  9. Duane McCrory Says:

    Juvenal,

    As it goes with most sermons, people come up afterward and thank you for it, give the usual pat on the back and such.

    In an effort to vastly condense the message, I did not state my thought as clearly as I could have. Yes, we are citizens of both, but our identity, character, behavior, etc. should be defined more by our heavenly citizenship than our earthly one. Is that a clearer statement of what I was getting at?

  10. Sandi Says:

    Duane,

    People who understand the current state of the law on separation of church and state know that there is no inherent tension in having a chapel on a military base, or providing chaplains to military personnel. It is viewed as aiding soldiers in the exercise of their religion when they are in an environment that is often more restricted than being a civilian (where you could go to any church you wanted). As long as military personnel all have relatively equal access to religious facilities and materials and those who do not wish to participate are not treated differently (worse than those who do) or proselytized, there is no necessary constitutional problem with a chapel and chaplains. In practice, there are sometimes problems with those issues, but in theory it is a free exercise, not an establishment, issue.

  11. Mystique Free Says:

    I can only cheer. I don’t really understand patriotism at all – just cliqueishness with an extra-large clique. Why do we have to believe we are The Best and deserve The Best to be satisfied and happy?

    Patriotism seems to spark a lot of foolish notions about politics and government that are ultimately harmful.

    Suddenly, I want to go and burn a flag. Ooh, what if I burn a slightly incorrect flag, with the wrong amount of stars? What if I burn the flags of our allies, is that wrong too?

    It hurts to roll my eyes this hard.

  12. Mystique Free Says:

    ” It troubles me that so many Christians seem unable to tell the difference — or even to know there IS a difference — between Americanism and Christianity.”

    This really struck a cord with me. That’s something I’d like to read/talk/think more about.

  13. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m not sure what chord it struck with you, mystique, but I’ll blabber on a bit and see what happens. America has a long tradition of civil religion — a fusion of Americanism and Christianity in which our secular polity borrows language and ideas from Christianity for the purpose of legitimizing American goals and actions. By blending the symbols and language, civil religion also seeks to use religious devotion as a source of patriotism.

    Yes, we are citizens of both, but our identity, character, behavior, etc. should be defined more by our heavenly citizenship than our earthly one. Is that a clearer statement of what I was getting at?

    Yup. And agreed.

  14. juvenal_urbino Says:

    This is slightly off-topic, but, having just glanced at the news headlines, I have to say:

    HUZZAH!!!

    Finally! A branch of gov’t is willing to stand up and say that the claims the Bush administration has been making about executive power are RIDICULOUS and violate the Constitution.

  15. Joe Longhorn Says:

    All right. I’ve waited long enough to post on this.

    The flag burning amendment was nothing but political flim-flammery on the part of the Republicans. I’ll freely admit it. Do you think it was just a fluke that the proposed amendment failed the 2/3 majority by only one vote? 66-34. Whew… that was close, huh? The Republicans raised this issue (again) in an election year to force the Dems to come out and take a position that is on the same side as the hated flag-burners. Simple guilt by association. It’s political maneuvering at its basest, designed to appeal to the masses of Americans that think it is wrong to burn a flag.

    And don’t condemn Republicans alone for political maneuvering. Both sides do it.

    I personally don’t think we should amend the Constitution to protect the flag. It’s a symbol. It means a little more to me than a dust mop or a diaper bag, though. I honor the flag because of the emotions it raises in me. The predominant emotion I feel is immense gratitude for those that have gone before to establish this country and to defend it at great personal peril. I don’t look at the flag and think about how great America is. I look at the flag and think about how great my fellow Americans are. Because of the way that I feel, I don’t like seeing the flag disrespected, and I hope that I would react like Rick Monday if some protester was attempting to defile it.

    As far as nationalism vs. patriotism goes, I subscribe to the view that nationalism is rooted in blood (tribal relationships) and common land, while patriotism is rooted in a creed or belief system. That’s why I prefer “The Star Spangled Banner” to “God Bless America.” The latter extols the virtues of the land (a nationalist view) while the former extols a spirit of liberty and a willingness to fight for it (a patriotic view). To explain it in a different way – during the Olympics, World Cup, etc., we’re all nationalists. On the 4th of July, Memorial Day, and Veterans’ Day, we’re all patriots.

    In the words of Forrest Gump:
    “That’s all I have to say about that.”

  16. Joe Longhorn Says:

    And to JU’s hearty “HUZZAH”, I can only assume he’s reacting to the Hamdan decision.

    Before you get too excited, expect congressional authority to conduct the commissions in the near future. The court didn’t strike down the commissions. They struck down the President’s authority to institute the commissions in the absence of supporting international law or domestic legislation. The President did what he had to do and tried to comply as closely as possible with existing legislation and international law. We are breaking new legal ground in GTMO and need the supporting legislation to do it.

    Don’t whoop and holler just yet. There are bad dudes down in GTMO that aren’t going free any time soon.

  17. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Before you get too excited. . . The court didn’t strike down the commissions. They struck down the President’s authority to institute the commissions in the absence of supporting international law or domestic legislation.

    But that’s the very thing I expressed excitement about: the reining in of executive authority.

    The President . . . tried to comply as closely as possible with existing legislation and international law.

    Are we talking about the same president, Joe? The argument/claim I recall this administration making was not that they were doing their best to adhere to existing law, but that the president, as commander-in-chief, had plenary authority to do whatever he wanted with the Guantanamo detainees, and nothing Congress did could change that.

    Had they thought that a) the existing legislation was insufficient and b) they needed new legislation to do what they wanted, they would’ve asked for it. As you indicate in your point about Congress’s probable reaction to this SCOTUS decision, the White House had no reason to worry that the Republican Congress might not give them what they asked for. The only reason not to ask for new legislative authority was to make the point that they didn’t need to.

    Bringing this back around to the flag burning issue, I would argue that what Americans have fought and died for is not the symbol (the flag), but the things the symbol stands for. Among those things is our constitutional protection from monarchical authority. And monarchical authority is exactly what this administration claims the president has.

    If our ruling party really wants to prevent the dishonoring of the honored dead, they should stop worrying about “desecration” of the symbol and force their man in the White House to stop desecrating the thing itself.

  18. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Had they thought that a) the existing legislation was insufficient and b) they needed new legislation to do what they wanted, they would’ve asked for it.

    There was/is no legislation that deals with a situation like we are facing in GTMO. The administration interpreted international law and Consitutional principles of Executive authority to determine the best course of action in the case of Guantanamo detainees. The most expedient course of action was to invoke Executive authority in establishing the military commissions. That’s why legislation was not sought. There was an interpretation that it was not required. It wasn’t just the Executive interpretation either. Three of the eight justices felt the same. The majority of the Supreme Court disagreed, though.

    The President’s actions were not the manifestation of a desire to establish some kind of “monarchical authority.” It was a matter of expediency. Now that the Court has “reigned in” the President, it will be addressed by legislation.

    It dismays me (truly it does) that you equate the President’s efforts in the war on terror to a desecration of the Constitution and the brave men and women that have died to protect it.

    But, hey, at least you now agree that the flag stands for something and may have some value greater than a dust mop.

  19. juvenal_urbino Says:

    It dismays me (truly it does) that you equate the President’s efforts in the war on terror to a desecration of the Constitution and the brave men and women that have died to protect it.

    All I can say, Joe, is that I’m probably equally dismayed that anybody who knows anything about this nation’s history — what we arose in reaction against, and what we decided to set out to be — could find any justification for the claims to power this administration has made.

    Our history, traditions, and governing documents are so clear on the subject of concentrating power in the hands of one person, the claims of the Bush administration are tantamount to declaring black is white, up is down, and the South won the Civil War.

    This administration says the president (any president) has the authority to declare by sheer fiat that persons are enemies of the state; no court can review that decision; no legislature can touch that authority; not even the presidency’s own signature on a countervailing international treaty requires the president to abide by its provisions.

    It claims the president has the power to deprive such declared enemy persons of their liberty — all of it — without legal counsel and without a legal charge, and hold them indefinitely; no court can review that imprisonment; no legislature can touch that authority; not even the presidency’s own signature on a countervailing international treaty requires the president to abide by its provisions.

    It claims the president has the authority to torture such declared enemies; no court can review that decision or the practices involved; no legislature can touch that authority; not even the presidency’s own signature on a countervailing international treaty requires the president to abide by its provisions.

    It claims the president has the authority to set aside by fiat those provisions of congressional acts that the president disapproves of, and sign the rest of the act into law; they have not been challenged on this yet, so their view of judicial review on this authority is unknown, but clearly no legislative action could touch such authority.

    That this administration has made these claims is indisputable. They’ve made them repeatedly, in public, and in testimony before Congress.

    Under this theory, the office of president of the United States is in total control of the federal military, total control of the federal police force, and totally above the law. The first two are undisputed and unremarkable. But add to them the third, which is what this administration claims, and the office of president is a monarchy.

    The president cannot be above the law. He cannot pick and choose the provisions of congressional acts he will abide by. He cannot decide he will ignore the intent of the Congress and define the meaning of legislation as he sees fit. He cannot choose to obey the law sometimes, and not obey it at other times. He cannot act unilaterally.

    Not when we’re at peace, not when we’re at war, not before 9/11, and not after it. Never. Not, at least, without getting the approval of the people first, in the form of some extraordinary constitutional amendments.

    Maybe, faced with the threat of terrorism, some people are willing to go along with that; maybe they’d feel more secure with a president who can do whatever he wants whenever he sees fit against whomever he perceives to be an enemy, without having to ask or answer any questions. I think that’s foolish. Terrorism, scary as it is, just doesn’t scare me enough to make me turn to a form of government which puts someone above the law. I’d rather live with some vulnerability to terrorism than live with the certainty of that kind of government. I’d rather be dead.

    In claiming to be above the law, the president not only desecrates the Constitution, he pretends it never existed; and the deaths of all the people who died to create or defend the rule of law, those deaths never happened, either.

    To make the claims this administration has made is unconscionable.

  20. juvenal_urbino Says:

    It was a matter of expediency. Now that the Court has “reigned in” the President, it will be addressed by legislation.

    If it was just a matter of expediency, why did the administration need to be hauled to a stop by the Supreme Court before seeking legislation? If their actions were just a stopgap in the absence of legislation, why didn’t they take the actions, then immediately propose the necessary legislation to the Congress?

    They never started, asked for, or wanted a legislative process on these issues. They didn’t (and don’t) think they needed legislation. They’ve said as much. They’ve even said, when asked if they’d like legislation, that they’d prefer the Congress stay out of it.

    I’d like to agree with you on this, Joe. Seriously. But I just can’t see a way to make the history support your view. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes governments really do make outrageous grabs for power. This seems to be one of those cases. I just don’t see any other way to read it.

  21. Al Sturgeon Says:

    “It troubles me that so many Christians seem unable to tell the difference — or even to know there IS a difference — between Americanism and Christianity.”

    I had a great example of this a few days ago when I was visiting a church. Lots of folks asked me about how hurricane recovery was coming along, and I told one sweet lady that relief groups were still coming to our church 10 months after the storm. She thought that was so neat, then added, “That’s America, isn’t it?” In the nicest possible way, I said, “No, that’s churches.”

    To me, America is FEMA and insurance companies, etc. Neither has scheduled a trip to our church to help people out of the goodness of their hearts. What would lead “us Christians” to think that Americans would come to our aid, but in other countries, Christians would not respond like this, unless we have completely blurred the line between America & Christianity?

    (And by the way, Joe knows of a church in Scotland that sent help to us – churches in Japan have sent stuff to us… No, it really isn’t America.)

  22. juvenal_urbino Says:

    From an AP story today:

    Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, Hamdan’s Navy lawyer, said he told the Yemeni about the ruling by telephone. “I think he was awe-struck that the court would rule for him, and give a little man like him an equal chance. Where he’s from, that is not true,” Swift said.

    That’s a victory over terrorism. That’s what the flag represents.

  23. Joe Longhorn Says:

    “That’s a victory over terrorism. That’s what the flag represents.”

    Your Bush derangement syndrome has progressed beyond the treatable stage.

    I just want to get this straight… a decision that creates a de facto treaty with Al Qaeda and the Taliban is considered a victory over terrorism?

    Al… the blog’s been fun, but I must excuse myself from further participation here. I’m done.

  24. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Say it ain’t so, Joe!

    I truly hate it when things end with someone walking away mad. That’s happened a few times on this blog, and I’ve tried to react in different ways (including both inaction and throwing a hissy fit). I’m at a loss to know how to handle things like this…

    I still have this theory that people from different walks of life can learn to get along, but I admittedly don’t have much empirical data to back it up. I still think “church” is to be a laboratory for such a theory, but they are often so homogeneous that the idea never has a chance. This blog experiment has at times given my theory a little bit of life, but it usually ends up fizzling.

    What a depressing way to begin studying for my sermon tomorrow.
    🙂

    Joe, just know you’re my friend. Juvenal, know the same thing. I’ll keep playing with my theory internally if I must…

  25. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m not sure how to react to Joe’s decision, to be honest. There are several things I find puzzling about his comment, but the only important one right now is the farewell.

    If I had attacked him in some way, I could understand his being justifiably upset and would, I think, apologize. But I didn’t attack him, so I’m really not sure what to say. He expressed his dismay with my position, and I expressed mine with his. There was nothing personal in any of it. The only personal remark in our entire exchange was Joe’s closing one, diagnosing my mental health.

    Anyway, regardless of the why’s and wherefore’s, I hope this is just a temporary break for Joe. We all need one of those now and then.

  26. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Agreed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: