Kate Cohen is an Albany, N.Y., writer.
After Nike flubbed the rollout of a new sneaker design, using and then quickly rejecting a flag that has become a symbol of the extreme right, some commentators objected. Don’t let the right wing co-opt this symbol of American history! Don’t let them take the Betsy Ross flag!
I say, they can have it. Really, it’s fine. They can have that and the Confederate battle flag, which also sports a striking combination of red, white and blue, and (you have to admit) really makes a statement. I bet even Nike wouldn’t have stepped in that one!
The right wing can have Betsy Ross and the Rebel, and because surely they’re not going to take all the flags, the left wing can just take back that boring ordinary flag we all use every day. That seems fair.
I mean, honestly, if you’re into the Betsy Ross flag , I assume it’s because America was great back in 1777, when only white male landowners could vote and slavery was legal in all 13 colonies. In that case, why would you even want the modern flag? Today’s flag dates from 1959, when Hawaii became a state. I’ve heard that people born in Hawaii are often brown and sometimes native Kenyan! Even worse: Civil rights activists carried the modern American flag as they marched; it has flown during the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the safeguarding of abortion in 1973 and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. By 2045, that flag will represent a country in which white people will be a minority. No problem, we’re happy to take it off your hands.
I’m not going to pretend this new arrangement won’t take a little adjustment on the part of the left. A 2018 poll shows twice as many Republicans as Democrats say it’s important to fly the flag. I don’t know how that translates into actual flag-flying behavior, but it does feel as if flag display leans right. On a car ride through the leafy streets of a Jersey Shore town last week, my daughter declared, “If they have an American flag, they’re probably a Republican.” Neither big brother offered a rebuttal. That means it was literally an unassailable equation: American flag = Republican.
True, one of my sisters, a liberal Democrat, flies an American flag. But she accompanies it with one of those trilingual lawn signs that says, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” Like a footnote explicating the original text.
But once the American flag becomes a symbol of the left, we won’t need any more footnotes. The flag will stand for all the things we think are great about America and none of the things we don’t.
We can decide, for instance, that it doesn’t stand for the military bombast and brainless preening of President Trump’s “Salute to America.” On the podium: a president who knew less than nothing about history and yet lectured at length about it. On the ground, tanks and armored vehicles too heavy to parade. Roaring overhead, a skyful of military aircraft apparently named by an elite squad of 13-year-old boys: Raptors, Strike Fighters, Super Hornets, Apache attack helicopters and more.
Through it all, American flags quietly billowed along Constitution Avenue, looking modest and patient and even noble. As if they were waiting for this day, maybe even this administration, to end.
At least, that’s how they looked to me, as the flag’s proud new custodian.
Also on the Fourth of July, protesters burned an American flag. Flag-burning as a means of protesting the Vietnam War could be partly what gave the left an anti-flag reputation. Still, I’ll allow it. I happen to believe that my flag and the country for which it stands are not snowflakes. They can take a little criticism.
I can see it now: right-wingers burning the American flag to protest, say, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And me peacefully marching in my American flag T-shirt emblazoned with “AMERICA: Love it or elect representatives who will change it!” or “THESE COLORS DON’T RUN detention centers at the southern border.”
Okay, the slogans need work. But the flag will do just fine.