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Davis, California

Sunday, July 14, 2024

PDA ALERT: The American Flag: Patriotism doesn’t stop at flying the flag

Solely flaunting the flag shows insecurity, not unabashed patriotism

A few months ago, over summer break, I was walking through my neighborhood when I saw a raised flatbed truck with filthy exhaust streaming out the back end. As it turns out, this is not uncommon to find in Arizona suburbs. Often packaged with, well, a strange looking scrotum-type thing hanging off the bumper, these trucks display the textbook definition of fragile masculinity.

This particular truck, I remember distinctly, carried another accessory — one that is quite common in this country. On that fine summer day, as if flaunting its colors would earn brownie points from God, the driver of this spectacle-on-wheels had left his driveway with an American flag fastened to his hood.

Given the sheer audacity of this “patriotic” PDA, I was reminded of how popular such flag-zealotry is in American life. The flag adorns shirts, socks and extra-small men’s underwear. Red, white and blue boardshorts and sunglasses decorate the crowds on beach holidays. The flag waves on front porches, white-picket fences and yes, the vehicles of insecure men with self-esteem issues.

In the grand scheme of things, this alleged affection for the flag may seem harmless. After all, who cares what people display or wear? Everyone has the same right to individual self-expression, and what certain men fasten to their trucks is of no consequence to other drivers on the road.

Except it is. You see, what these drivers argue — whether consciously or not — by brandishing the American flag so obnoxiously is that they are better Americans than the guy sitting at the intersection next to them. By flaunting the flag in this manner, people like my friendly neighborhood cowboy pass a stinging judgement on those who aren’t as flashy: “I’m more of a patriot than you are.”

In more mainstream discussions, the same judgements are passed on anybody who fails to display certain actions or sentiments deemed necessary to be a proper, patriotic American.

Consider, if you will, the false military narratives hurled at Colin Kaepernick’s anthem kneeling and the resulting political fallout; the unapologetic skewering of kids who express their constitutional right to remain silent or sit during the Pledge of Allegiance and the unhealthy worship of the armed forces, in which anyone who fails to cheer for a soldier — often fresh out of bootcamp — during a halftime show is castigated as unpatriotic or even anti-American.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. A Harwood Institute poll in 2002 found that 86 percent of Americans believed simply displaying the flag was a patriotic activity. 12 years later, in 2014, a Fox News poll showed that 94 percent of Americans believed that flying the flag indicated patriotism. Fewer people thought the same about voting in elections or joining the military.

These are startling figures, and they leave little room for dissent. Merely displaying the flag is a good sign of patriotism? In that case, any Joe Schmo can brandish a flag and wag his tail in blind loyalty and be called a patriot by a public none the wiser. Whatever happened to actions with substance, from which patriotism is delegated to those who actually do something that is borne from love of country?

Waving a flag and calling it a day is not patriotism. It’s called superficiality — and it ignores the patriotic contributions made by everyday citizens to help this country prosper economically, diplomatically, socially and yes, militarily.

Joining the Peace Corps or Foreign Service is patriotic. Voting is patriotic. Participating in jury duty is patriotic. Criticizing government policies or tweets because they threaten the American values you hold dear is patriotic. Doing your part to make this country better than it was yesterday — through storytelling or activism or leadership or education or parenting or empathy — is patriotism.

Wearing a pin of the American flag is not inherently patriotic — nor is flying it over your manicured lawn or plastering it on your truck.

By all means, flaunt the flag in whichever way you choose. There are many who do just that and have patriotic track records to show for it. But flapping a piece of cloth around on a stick does not automatically align with the patriotism the greatest Americans have envisioned. Let’s not forget that.

I think it’s time to tell your local honky-tonk truck drivers to find a new piece of decoration — or get out of (their) Dodge.


Written by: Nick Irvin — ntirvin@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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