I’m flying an American flag in protest

It boldly hangs upright

By Kirk Swearingen

Contributing Writer

Published July 4, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Samuel Alito and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Samuel Alito and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

I recently bought and began to display the American flag at our home. 

I found one from a company that makes its flags here in the United States but didn’t consider that the standard size might be wrong for our house. When fluttering in the wind by our front door, the flag was so outsized it seemed our modest Cape Cod might tip over.

Family and friends arriving at our house seemed bemused to see it, and some even warily inquired about whether I was feeling okay. My wife was also concerned because I hadn’t discussed the purchase with her, and neighbors might get the wrong idea about our politics. In flying a regulation American flag and doing it without my wife’s knowledge, I had no idea at the time that I’d pulled a Double Reverse-Alito. (Not being in a position to refuse bribe-y “gifts” from billionaire pals, I cannot claim to have pulled a Triple Reverse-Alito.)

Given that twice-impeached former president and convicted felon Donald Trump and his MAGA wing of the Republican Party are working hand in hand with strongmen in Russia, Hungary, and elsewhere to talk down the future of the United States and seize permanent minority power, I thought it important for us (you know, libtards living, as we are wont to do, in Wokestan) to reclaim the most potent symbol of our democratic republic.

To do so seems essential because many players on the other side have flipped the American standard upside down, in more ways than the Alitos and their fellow insurrectionists (including Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, “Ginni”) did in January 2021. They have done the same with political comity, the idea of statesman-like compromise and our other traditional democratic norms, leading to this bizarre, openly fascistic era in which we must listen to a pathologically insecure man-child who admires dictators, scorns the rule of law and has a Supreme Court standing back and standing by to rewrite the Constitution to allow him to become a dictator himself. Hey, grinning John Roberts is just out there calling balls and strikes as he rings up democracy on pitches nowhere near the plate.

After two gut punches — the Supreme Court's confused, open-ended decision on presidential immunity and the media’s incessant focus on an awful debate night for President Biden rather than the more than 50 lies told by Donald Trump —  how can I still fly the American flag when everything we hold dear seems on the verge of tipping over?

In any case, moderates, liberals, and progressives have varying levels of distrust of any sign of nationalist fervor or performative displays of patriotism. To many of us, peaceably assembling to protest, honoring those who serve the nation, advocating for our least fortunate citizens, subscribing to newspapers to keep up with the issues facing the country and humanity in general and working to expand voting rights are examples of what a patriot does. 

The far right long ago absconded with the American flag. And we just…let it go, which makes about as much sense as handing the interpretation of our Constitution, devised and written by brilliant minds, to the decidedly unintellectual and shamelessly ideological likes of Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas. (They both talk about following the north star of our “history and traditions”? How about ruling non-ideologically and in good faith, which has always been the tradition for being a judge?)

It is long past time for moderate Americans of all political stripes — the vast majority of us — to band together, to not only decry what the right has been doing with the symbol of our nation while supporting an ignorant, hateful man constantly on the take who promises to walk away from our historical allies and put an end to democracy as we know it and jail journalists and his political opponents.

Not only is the flag overly present in commercial uses, but it also is mishandled by the right, sometimes grotesquely so.

The Stars and Stripes have often been used as a symbol in protest. The harm, I’ve always thought, was not from that but from the sheer ubiquity of display — the American standard flapping, as a marketing tool, often in absurdly oversized form, day and night, rain or shine, over big-box stores and used car lots — lessening the impact of seeing the flag aloft appropriately above public buildings like schools, libraries and government offices, marking them as something special and important, something that belongs to all citizens. The flag may be displayed on the caskets of people who served in the military, the symbol of the republic honoring the sacrifices, sometimes the ultimate, they gave to their fellow citizens.

Not only is the flag overly present in commercial uses, but it also is mishandled by the right, sometimes grotesquely so. It is as if they are attempting in a multifaceted way, as with their continuous campaign of disinformation for their ongoing attempted coup, to discredit its very meaning.

It appears black and shows up on T-shirts, ballcaps and pickup trucks. It’s emblazoned on underwear and on certain golden sneakers (for a mere $399 and manufactured … where?). The flag hung upside down outside the home of Alito — who as a Supreme Court justice is supposed to, at minimum, appear to be non-partisan — as a sign of distress a week after the insurrection and three days before Joe Biden’s inauguration. He blamed it on his wife (but who’s to blame for that lame flagpole?). And that other pro-insurrectionist flag at the Alitos’ beach house. He placed the onus on his wife again.

Seeing the flag flying anywhere and everywhere is dispiriting. I’ve written about how a guy in our town parades around the suburban streets in a souped-up golf cart with a full-sized American flag flapping furiously behind —  a one-man Trump rally. My mind, heart and soul object to everything about his display of so-called patriotism.

But you can’t blame him for following his vulgar leader’s bad form. Trump nearly sexually assaults the American flag whenever he sees one standing alone — “I don’t even ask, I just start kissing.” It’s revolting not only to witness his performative pawing of the symbol of our country to market himself as a “super-patriot” but also to consider that his supporters enjoy that kind of oafish display.

Having received five deferments from military service, Trump more than earned his nickname “Cadet Bone Spurs,” an appropriate moniker laid on him by someone who sacrificed much in service to her country. Later in life, Trump went on to further discredit himself, both as a twice-impeached president and as a commander-in-chief who regularly denigrated those who had served and threatened our NATO partners. Remember when he accepted a Purple Heart from an actual veteran? Any other politician doing that would have had to find something else, outside of public service, to do for a living.

For heaven’s sake, the guy couldn’t accept that he lost the last election and was such a baby about it he left Washington rather than attend the inauguration of the new president.

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One can imagine flag pins Donald Trump should be wearing on the lapel of his poorly fitting suits — the Russian, the Hungarian, and the Confederate battle flags come to mind — but our flag is, without question, not one of them. Trump incessantly claims that without him in charge, the United States would be a wreck, a failed country, an apocalyptic disaster. No one in history has psychologically projected more about his own plans or has demeaned the presidency, and the country in the eyes of our allies, as much as Donald John Trump. And that is only partly why American historians rank Trump the worst of all presidents

Speaking of which, the next time you see Trump sporting his “45” cap (or his wishful “45-47” version), remember, that’s his historical ranking. Dead last. Trump loves to say that Biden is the worst president in history (as he did at the first debate) for the same reason he is driven to incoherently burble about “the Biden crime family.” He is always the schoolboy with the dopey “I-know-what-you-are-but-what-am-I?” retort.

The American flag ought to get a restraining order against Trump.

The rules about displaying the flag state that it should not be used as clothing or in advertising in any way, but apparently we need to add that the American flag must not be groped or used for self-aggrandizement. When it comes to Trump, the Red, White and Blue ought to get a restraining order.

And many on the right, given their out-in-the-open allegiance to other countries like Russia and Hungary simply have been misusing and even abusing the flag for years. Police were beaten and stabbed with American flags during the insurrection at the Capitol, where other “patriots” carried their preferred flags, most for Trump or the Confederacy, which, as everyone knows by now, is essentially the same thing. Debasing the national standard goes hand in hand with how Republicans have vilified government service for decades. Like so many things they say they care most about — family values, the rule of law, freedom from government interference in private life, loving one’s country — it’s all been one long con.

Clearly, none of that means anything to them now. As Salon’s Amanda Marcotte wrote  about attacks by the right on Dolly Parton, “Under the leadership of Donald "Make America Great Again" Trump, Republicans have grown to loathe most everything they used to hold in high regard.” How can you call yourself a patriot when you scorn Dolly, fanboy the Russian president and cheer as your leader calls the United States a failed country? It’s in keeping, though, with the right’s brand of gaslighting and fearmongering the public 24/7. That they’d eventually go after an American icon like Parton is no longer surprising. It is typical projection when bogus Christians, such as they, claim she is delivering a false gospel. Marcotte notes that it is also typical cult behavior for MAGA to invoke religious language to separate people from the pull of the larger culture. That’s what cults do.

Expertise, journalism, the rule of law, the actual teachings of Jesus, the American flag as it was designed — everything that represents a threat to the authoritarian movement, to a slavish devotion to the red-capped Dear Leader now raving with less coherence and with more promises of violence should he win, has to be derided or twisted in the minds of his supporters. Trump’s MAGA followers must be pulled further and further out of the mainstream culture so they might be willing to do unthinkable things.  

That first flag, too large for our modest house, we folded in the prescribed manner and took to our local elementary school, where we had long ago volunteered and where my wife had worked. The principal was pleased with the donation and gave us a nice tour of the place we hadn’t seen since our daughters had attended. 

When you see Trump sporting his ‘45’ cap, remember, that’s his ranking.

I plan to fly our new flag in good weather on federal and state holidays and bring it in at sundown. The rules say it is fine to fly it at all times if it is lighted at night and is an all-weather flag during bad weather, but I want to be more mindful about it, to give it more meaning in my own life. As ubiquity robs potency from a symbol, convenience strips meaning from our actions.

As many noted, the difference between what President Biden had to say in France on the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the daily self-involved, often incoherent bluster and whining of Trump could not be more stark. 

Yes, Biden’s performance at the first debate was not strong. He spoke too quickly and sometimes lost track of the point of his argument. He attempted to both say what he came to say and fact-check the firehose of lies being spewed by Trump. He seemed both over-prepared and under the weather. The more vibrant candidate on the stage was the smug lifelong criminal who cheerfully lied his way through the entire evening and refused to answer many key questions. Biden was absolutely on the mark when he said to Trump, “You have the morals of an alley-cat.” 

But he could have rightly started every one of his responses with some variation of “That’s absolute nonsense.” And he could have refused to normalize Trump by engaging in stupid golf banter. (Or he could have just remarked, “Oh, the game that relies on personal honor? I read you cheat even at that.”) There were so many other things he could have said about the twice-impeached, felonious con man who incited a deadly riot at the Capitol, skipped out on the inauguration, and flew off to lick his wounds, comforted by box after box of classified government documents. 

Still, as a friend of mine said, read the transcript. One of the two men is honest, an experienced leader who cares about all Americans. As MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton put it, “I’m very concerned that on a couple of occasions in the debate Joe Biden couldn’t finish his sentence, but I’m more concerned about the sentences Donald Trump did finish.”

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For what it’s worth, the next day Biden was again full of energy and fight, quite unlike the editorial board of The New York Times, which might have taken a day or two to think it over before quailing. As he does so often, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell brought insightful perspective to the debate and the historical context. Biden polls well against Trump and so does Kamala Harris. So, what are we talking about? Even if you think Biden is declining mentally and physically, so is Trump, who is also not only criminally minded but has a justified fear of Alzheimer’s.

This is a battle over meaning and your day-to-day rights, a clear choice between a reasonably forward-thinking political party and one that ran out of ideas and naturally refused to appeal to more Americans. The Republican Party devolved into a cult of personality because they gave up on doing the hard work of governing. The former Party of Lincoln appeals not to the “better angels of our nature” but the opposite. 

In his first inaugural address, President Lincoln famously said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Today’s MAGA leaders insist that their political opposition is the enemy, even using language to demonize and dehumanize those of us who still believe in the American experiment. They simply have nothing left to offer except hate. 

We must take back the symbols and spread the word. As poet Langston Hughes wrote in “Let America Be America Again,” even in its failings, America has promise worth fighting to build upon: 

O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

Happy Independence Day, to the overwhelming majority of us who feel a strong allegiance to the rule of law(and a Supreme Court not in the tank for one, objectively traitorous, candidate, so much so as to smooth the way to dictatorship); to the separation of church and state; to people with expertise in science and public service; to public school teachers, local librarians, overworked nurses, hustling union organizers and a wildly underappreciated president overseeing a strong economy and forging renewed strength in our democratic republic and deeper relations with our historic allies. To all those who believe in the Constitution as a living document and to good faith collegiality in politics — in the very face of a Supreme Court pushing us toward a theocracy in which the likes of Leonard Leo and Lauren Boebert would determine our fate —  it’s time to take back the American standard.

By Kirk Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen is a poet and independent journalist. He is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and his work has appeared in Delmar, MARGIE, Bloom, the American Journal of Poetry, Riverfront Times, Medium and Salon.

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