WHILE ITS LEADER USES THE FLAG TO WIPE HIS @$$, THE GOP ASSERTS BELIEF IN AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM*
Attacking And Undermining Much Of What It Symbolizes—Or Silently Watching As Their Leader Does—Also Desecrates The Flag
Without curiosity, imagination, creativity or ingenuity, Trump campaigns on the same themes, the same tired mantras, that divided a country and incited culture wars, which continue to undermine the idea of American exceptionalism. No one can out low-road Trump. Revealing his penchant for dog whistling and his base’s appetite for red meat—simultaneously revealing his profound ignorance of the Constitution to which he swore an oath to uphold—he reprised a theme reminiscent of his attack on Black athletes, the ones who knelt during the National Anthem in silent protest for the invidious plight and disparate treatment of Black Americans, those “sons of bitches” whose rich white team owners should not allow to play. On June 23 he tweeted:
“It is ashame that Congress doesn’t do something about the lowlifes that burn the American Flag. It should be stopped, and now!”
He has the best words.
On most school days growing up, I stood next to my desk, hand over heart, and pledged allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America. That, of course, was integral to my indoctrination into the orthodoxy of American exceptionalism. “Love it or leave it.”
Regardless of whether it’s measurable reality, aspiration, opinion or myth, or some combination, in three years Trump has succeeded in shattering the notion of American exceptionalism here and around the world. Maybe not in the minds of his diminishing group of loyalists, his base, where that idea mostly remains in bastardized form—(white) America First. His isolationism is working splendidly, with allies shunning us, world leaders of all stripes and their constituents laughing at us, mocking us, deeming the United States less relevant, former. As an example, the European Union now groups the United States among the Axis of Contagion with Russia and Brazil.
Yes, under Trump’s leadership, his stewardship, America tops a number of lists. Owning the liberals apparently requires denying science, abandoning common sense, killing tens of thousands of Americans, destroying the economy and suppressing protected dissent. How’s that going, you governors who have tethered yourselves, your reputations, your careers, your places in history to an administration that fails every test of leadership and crisis management—and decency? American exceptionalism has diminished in direct proportion to the hubris with which Trump proclaims it, as with most things about which Mr. Trump finds the need to brag.
I have no interest in burning any American flags, except according to proper etiquette and, possibly, the ones Trump desecrated in charades of patriotic vexillolatry.
Given the recent culture war over Confederate symbols and Trump’s latest reprisal, I decided to give the symbol and its desecration in the form of symbolic speech a little more attention. In the case in which the United States Supreme Court addressed whether “Government may criminally sanction flag desecration in order to preserve the flag’s symbolic value,” Texas v. Johnson, Johnson had burned an American flag on the streets of Dallas, Texas during the 1984 Republican National Convention, in protest of Mr. Reagan and certain of his policies.
Justices took the opportunity to characterize the symbol and its desecration as a means of symbolic speech in protest of something the symbol purports to represent. These included:
“The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.
“Our colleagues in dissent advance powerful arguments why respondent may be convicted for his expression, reminding us that among those who will be dismayed by our holding will be some who have had the singular honor of carrying the flag in battle. And I agree that the flag holds a lonely place of honor in an age when absolutes are distrusted and simple truths are burdened by unneeded apologetics.
“With all respect to those views, I do not believe the Constitution gives us the right to rule as the dissenting Members of the Court urge, however painful this judgment is to announce. Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.” Justice Kennedy in concurrence.
The flag "is more than a proud symbol of the courage, the determination, and the gifts of nature that transformed 13 fledgling Colonies into a world power. It is a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations. . . . The value of the flag as a symbol cannot be measured.” Justice Stephens in dissent.
Relvant to this discussion is what the flag means to the targets of white American exceptionalism. I wonder what that distinct symbol of Americanism means to the millions of people who have had no voice, the victims of de facto and de jure profiling and discrimination, the historical and continuing targets of institutional, social and cultural repression.
What does the American flag mean to Trump?
He uses the flag as a cudgel, a form of overagainstness and transactional zero sum, while holding much of what it symbolizes in contempt.
Would that Trump only burned a flag instead of using it to wipe his @$$.
For Trump the flag symbolizes the near opposite of what I grew up believing the flag represents: committing voter suppression; leveraging United States’ power and resources abroad to undermine a political rival; suppressing First Amendment rights, expression and activities with which he disagrees; applying the laws unequally; caging children and committing other crimes against humanity; consorting with enemies who, as a recent example, pay bounty to Afghans for every American soldier they kill; accepting the word of enemies over the vast US network of intelligence agencies; using the presidency to enrich himself, his family and friends and those who donate to or flatter him; spurning oversight of the executive branch; flaunting brazen authoritarian conduct with no checks or consequences; obstructing justice and Congress; ramrodding unqualified judges down justice’s throat; selecting and identifying prosecutors who are “his people”; abandoning allies as personal favor to dictators; attempting to remove healthcare for millions of Americans in the middle of a health crisis, with no alternative; disseminating Soviet propaganda; disseminating white supremacy propaganda; shutting down the government in a tantrum; disclosing classified information to enemies; punishing reporters for asking legitimate questions, answers to which the public has a right to know; assisting the Saudis in covering up murder; advancing alternative facts – many times every f^cking day; insulting “shithole countries”; complimenting, encouraging and enabling white supremacy; stripping security clearances of critics; denying science; . . . .
Dutch political scientist Marlies Glasius defines authoritarian practices as “actions . . . sabotaging accountability to people over whom a political actor exerts control, or their representatives, by disabling their access to information and/or disabling their voice.”
That’s precisely what the American flag means to Trump.
He desecrates the flag, and insults the American heroes who have fought for and defended what it symbolizes, every minute he remains in the White House.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com