I collected my first paycheck in fifth grade, when my center college paid me $200 to elevate the flag each morning and decrease it each night. I admit, I wasn’t any good at it. Once or twice every week, I’d unintentionally elevate the factor upside-down. The principal would get a name from an offended passer-by, and so I’d flip purple and waddle again down to the entrance entrance, decrease the flag, and then elevate it upside-up.
My father, a Navy vet, instructed me that an upside-down flag meant that the ship was in misery. I bear in mind panicking as my pudgy little kind rolled down three flights of stairs, hurrying to put the flag proper. I totally believed that, at any second, a SWAT crew would burst into the varsity on the lookout for Al-Qaeda. “Where are the terrorists?” they’d ask. Then I’d have to clarify that the ship wasn’t really in misery; I’d simply put the flag up the improper manner. The policemen would scowl, hop again of their armored vans, and peel off again to Fort Dix.
That was in 2004, within the halcyon days of the George W. Bush administration, when Dubya was on the top of his recognition. Country singers had been nonetheless shoving pro-war lyrics into songs about fried hen.
Seventeen years looks as if a very long time, nevertheless it isn’t. If you’re sufficiently old to hire a automobile and don’t discover the thought of American nationalism barely ridiculous—effectively, you haven’t been paying consideration.
America has all the time been at its worst when it goes via its nationalist phases. I learn within the newest subject of the Spectator World that Nigel Farage has been palling round with Donald J. Trump at Mar-a-Lago. According to Farage, President Trump begins all of the fundraisers at his fortified resort by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Once once more, I’m transported again to fifth grade at Sacred Hearts School. I think about all of these nouveau richedonor varieties dressed up in our drab outdated uniform. I see a military of septuagenarian housewives, all Botox and silicone, wearing plaid skirts and Mary Janes. They’ve bought fingers over their hearts, and they’re chanting, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” in that girlish, singsong manner.
Believe me, pricey reader, I’m not making an attempt to be merciless! But the actual fact is, the Pledge was written for kids. It was revealed circa 1892 in a youngsters’s journal known as The Youth’s Companion. Its writer, Francis Bellamy later recalled: “National feeling was at a low ebb. The patriotic ardor of the Civil War was an old story.” He determined that “the time was ripe for a reawakening of simple Americanism, and the leaders in the new movement rightly felt that patriotic education should begin in the public schools.”
Curiously, simply final month, the city of Silverton, Colorado, (pop. 550) determined to cease opening its city conferences with the Pledge. Naturally, the neighborhood was outraged. Then the nationwide media picked up the story so the entire nation may very well be outraged.
No doubt Mayor Shane Fuhrman was performing with the very worst of intentions. He cited “general divisiveness this is creating in our community”—it being the Pledge, after all, and not his determination to nix it. Still, Mayor Fuhrman did the best factor, if for the improper motive. Grown-ups shouldn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance, for a similar motive the House chaplain shouldn’t open Congress with just a few bars of “Jesus loves me, this I know/ For the Bible tells me so…” It’s an exquisite tune, for certain, however a infantile one. Probably as a result of it was written for kids.
Anyway, no matter goal the Pledge was initially supposed to serve is irrelevant now. It has change into one other brickbat on this endless Culture War. It’s not a nationwide image, however a nationalist one. When these Mar-a-Lagans pledge allegiance to the flag, they’re not saying, “I love this country.” They’re saying, “I love this country more than you do.”
This is the curse that befalls all of America’s nationwide symbols. We take all of them—even the actually quaint ones, just like the Pledge—and flip them into one thing aggressive, barely bitter. They’re so painfully pressured they really make us really feel a little bit much less proud to be American. The high quality of patriotism shouldn’t be strained. At least, it shouldn’t be. But ours definitely is.
I feel overcompensating is the phrase I’m on the lookout for. It’s too performative. It lacks the spontaneity, the enjoyment, of real love—be it love for a lady or love of nation. Whenever I come throughout somebody with a “We the People” wifebeater, I need to cease them and say: “Hey, pal, relax. America’s not that bad.”
For instance, there’s our determination to undertake the bald eagle for our nation’s mascot. As Ben Franklin noticed, the bald eagle is a “rank coward” and “a bird of bad moral character.” He was additionally proper to favor the noble (if ludicrous) turkey: a becoming emblem for our noble (if ludicrous) nation. But the bald eagle’s bought a steely eye and a blood-chilling screech, so he bought the job.
Then now we have Congress’s number of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our nationwide anthem. It’s an unsightly, belligerent ditty concerning the War of 1812: a battle finest identified for giving us “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The American individuals are typically believed to have favored “America the Beautiful,” and rightly so. But Katharine Lee Bates forgot to put in a line about rockets and bombs, so the honour went to Francis Scott Key.
Or take the National Mall, which should be one of the vital miserable locations on the planet. All the landmarks assembled there are completely inorganic and totally soulless. They don’t encourage love or piety or braveness. They stir no feeling in any respect besides a imprecise dread.
To make issues worse, they’re all lumped collectively in a single place like a graveyard so vacationers can shuffle via and pay their respects. First, it’s the World War II vets. Next come the Korea vets. Then it’s a short interlude with Mr. Lincoln, enthroned in glory, until lastly (on our manner again to the bus) we cease in on the Vietnam vets. Phew! Glad that’s over. Now it’s off to the Old Ebbitt for oysters and martinis.
One can’t assist however suppose we bundle these monuments on the Mall for a similar motive we shove our aged relations in nursing houses. We know we’ll by no means stay up to their instance, and so the reminiscence of their nice deeds—their nice sacrifice—fills us with disgrace. So we plop them in a pleasing little backyard the place we are able to go to them as we like…or not. Mostly not.
No, these dreary headstones don’t say, “You will be remembered,” a lot as, “You will be forgotten, but don’t worry. We’ll remind ourselves every now and then.”
This is one in all life’s nice ironies. America is the best nation in historical past, and but Washington is maybe worst metropolis that has ever existed. It displays none of our nation’s virtues and all of its vices: our bloated paperwork, our militarism, our statesmen’s whole lack of creativeness. Certainly, it has nothing to rival Big Ben in London or the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Maybe it might have, if we hadn’t insisted on cluttering town with these pseudo-Greek monstrosities. Maybe an actual nationwide image would possibly’ve grown up by itself, within the cracks of the marble and granite. Instead, our capital seem like a Forest Lawn cemetery. If any of us nonetheless honor our lifeless, it’s completely regardless of the efforts of the National Park Service.
Every yr, round this time, I like to think about a distinct form of America. It’s an America that selected the turkey for its nationwide image, moderately than the bald eagle. It opted for “America the Beautiful” as its nationwide anthem as a substitute of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Our lifeless heroes are honored, not on the National Mall, however on each mantelpiece and in each city frequent. We don’t make class journeys in eighth grade to say thanks to a bunch of statues: we put flags and flowers on our fathers’ graves. We make a tribute of gratitude each day in our personal hearts.
Old Glory flies from each porch on each avenue within the nation, and no grown-up could be caught lifeless pledging allegiance to it. It’s a freer, fairer America. It’s a kinder, calmer America. It’s a younger republic, not a dying empire. Sure, it will not be a shining metropolis on a hill. It could not the best superpower in human historical past. But, hey, it’s residence.