As I write this the flag outside my window is snapping briskly in the wind.
It’s a sight that always thrills me, and one that is ubiquitous in America. Go to almost any neighborhood and the Stars and Stripes is hanging proudly from offices, stores and, most importantly, homes.
Two-thirds of Americans own flags.
In recent years, however, patriotism has been waning.
Market Watch, which does an annual survey on the subject, says one-third of Americans are feeling less patriotic this Independence Day weekend, a near record low.
And no wonder. The past few months have been ones of tremendous confusion. The COVID-19 virus has stripped us of freedoms we never dreamed we’d forfeit, and the anti-racism protests have targeted the nation’s institutions and its history.
As Johnny Cash sang, the flag, in spirit, is getting a little raggedy. But we’ve been here before. And our standard still flies, if perhaps somewhat more limp.
To better articulate what the flag means to Americans I asked that question of the most patriotic person I know, Oakland Circuit Judge Michael Warren. The judge is the creator of Patriot Week, which is gaining momentum nationally as a week dedicated to teaching civics and the nation’s founding principles.
This was his response: “Freedom. Despite all of our faults, no other flag has stood – and continues to stand – for the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A nation that defends the right to burn its own flag is deeply committed to liberty.
“Sacrifice. For more than two centuries, men and women have dedicated and sacrificed their treasure, lives and sacred honor to protect the flag and the republic for which it stands. The flag atop Iowa Jima, the flag that flew over Fort Sumter, the flag that flies across the world on military bases, show that we are willing to die for the ideals it represents.
“Equal Justice. Despite falling short in our history and even now, Old Glory is emblematic of our aspiration to ensure equal justice of law for everyone regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, gender or creed. When I lead the Pledge of Allegiance everyday I open court, I remind myself of that commitment, and hope to convey that to everyone in the courtroom – from the janitor to the CEO, to the prisoner to the President, they are all equal under the law.
“Patriotic Love. I’m in love with my country and pray that it and I fulfill its promises.
“Hope. America is built on hope. From the Puritans to today’s refugees, from the enslaved and the indentured servants, from the lowest classes and working people, we believe in the American Dream and fulfilling the promises of the Declaration of Independence is possible and more than we might realize, it comes true.”
That’s an inspiring summary. And it makes me worry less about ebbing feelings of patriotism.
Sometimes it’s OK to not feel so great about America. “My country right or wrong” leads to a blind nationalism that works against self-improvement. Better that we recognize when our country needs scolding. It doesn’t mean we don’t love it.
It’s a great flag, flying over a great country, one that can and will do better.
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