Symbols

I’m troubled by something. 2016 has been mighty troubling to a lot of people, to be sure, for a lot of different reasons. And yes,it’s easy to just slap the name “TRUMP” on a blog post or article and get the same standard outrage from the Left and hoots and cheers from the Right. Yeah, yeah, he won. Fair and square. And there have certainly been a number of well-publicized hate crimes and what seems to be an increase in racist and misogynistic rhetoric; however, it’s really hard to get a true, accurate read on those numbers because, as we learned all too well this election cycle, the internet is full of shit and people only hear what they want to hear.

No, it’s not really a Trump issue, not really, that has me feeling tight in the chest and anxious. I feel like he’s sort of the symptom rather than the cause, the bellwether of a growing problem, an infection of sorts. The infection of jingoism and Nationalism that seems to have taken root in our beloved United States.

“Wait, what’s wrong with being Nationalistic? Ain’t nothing wrong with being proud of your country!” I can hear it already. Okay, look. I’m one of those people who get labelled “smart-ass” and “elitist” because of this argument, and I’m fine with it, because look: I don’t think it’s correct for most of us to say that we are proud to be Americans. And it’s not for the reasons you may think. It’s just semantics. See, I feel that if you’re proud of something, then it should be something you had a hand in earning. Be proud of earning your Masters. Proud of the bookshelf you built with your bare hands and a miter box. Proud of the way your kids turned out. But here’s the thing: most of us in this country were born here. We didn’t earn that. We just got lucky.

Am I delighted to live here? Oh, you bet yer sweet ass I am. For the past 46 years of my life, I’ve been able to say what I want, eat what I want, work where I want, worship (or NOT worship) how I want. I’ve had a say in who runs my community, my state, my country, even which laws are to be enforced. There’s so much about this country to love, but I have to acknowledge that I could very easily have been born in Sri Lanka or Hungary or Lithuania, and while I’m sure those are all wonderful places, they just don’t have the quality television programming, fast food, and rock music that I’ve been spoiled with my entire life. Now, someone who emigrates from any foreign country to the U.S.? Who toils to earn the money for the trip here? Who brings his or her family and studies hard and gets a visa and takes the test and thus joins the great community of these United States of America? THAT person has every right to be “Proud to be an American.” Because they will have earned that shit.

I simply inherited it.

Anyway, with that perspective firmly in mind, I get a bit nervous when I hear and see things like the huge outpouring of support for our President-Elect when he says “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” (Twitter, November 29, 2016)

Okay that shit’s alarming to me. Not that Trump said it…he’s made so many insane declarations that it’s hard to keep track, and if I got stressed out every single time he opened his mouth or his Twitter, I’d never sleep. And hey, the 1st Amendment protects his right to say it, even if some of his statements are offensive to me. I don’t have to like what he says. But I have to let him say it. That’s free speech, baby.

What concerns me is the way my social media feeds have been filled with ignorant shouts of “HELL YEAH! THROW THEIR ASSES IN JAIL!” And even more alarming is the number of folks who have no idea that not only is burning the American Flag as a form of protest completely legal, but it’s been upheld twice by the Supreme Court of the United States of America. And for good reason.

Consider the order in which our Bill of Rights fall in our Constitution. I mean, there’s some good stuff in there, stuff we often take for granted. The right to a speedy trial by a jury of our peers. That is huge. (Ask anyone in Saudi Arabia who’s committed a petty theft.) How about being protected from unlawful search and seizure? Yeah. The cops can’t just barge into your house when you’re at work in an attempt to find something incriminating. Oh, and that big one, the right to keep and bear arms. So very important. And yet, in front of ALL of these is the right of the people (or the individual) to say what they want, worship how they want, assemble how and where they want, and to publish or otherwise disseminate their thoughts to whomever will listen, watch, or read them. These rights were so important that the framers of our governmental framework said “OH, SHIT, GUYS? KNOW WHAT WE FORGOT?! FREE FUCKIN’ SPEECH! FUCK! PUT THAT SHIT IN WRITING AND GET IT IN THE CONSTITUTION POST-HASTE!”

Now, I get it. I do. This country love us some symbols, don’t we? The Stars and Stripes. The Bald Eagle. George Washington, minutemen, the flag raising over Iwo Jima. Powerful symbols that carry a lot of weight. I believe that our national obsession over such icons is due to our very brief history (we’ve only been here for 240 years, compared to, you know…the thousands of years our European and Asian friends can claim) and our mixed-breed pedigree (British, Germans, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italians, followed eventually by all manner of Asians and blacks, which is a whole ‘nother discussion, but anyway). We didn’t have a history. We didn’t have a shared national identity. So we made one. We adopted certain symbols and sigils and combined them into our own iconography. And then, slowly, things started popping up on their own. The Liberty Bell. The blues and rock & roll. Cowboys. Hot rods. Hell, I’d argue that blue jeans are more of a holy symbol of America than the bald eagle. Because we made them. We invented something timeless and enduring. Bald eagles were simply here. And like the native human population, we pushed them to the brink of extinction before realizing “holy crap, we’d better slow down! Let’s hunt some buffalo and wolves instead!” But as bad-ass as the American Bald Eagle looks, and as wonderful a national bird as it is (WHY THE HELL DO WE EVEN NEED A NATIONAL BIRD?!) landing on the Moon is much more representative of the USA. And yet, there are complete idiots that would choose to believe that it never happened, because…reasons? I’ve never understood that particular conspiracy theory, by the way, and wish I could haul off and Buzz Aldrin some bitches when they propagate that sort of foolishness.

But hey, you know what? I don’t punch them. Because they have a right to say whatever pea-brained derptastic feces that falls from their tiny little cerebrums and out through their putrid mouth-holes. So I sigh and shake my head and leave them to it.

In closing, I suppose the person I’d really love to ask about all this is my late Grandfather Watson. He won two Bronze Stars in Europe fighting the Nazis, and I think he’d be alarmed that a lot of the same rhetoric that was being spouted as Hitler rose to power is echoing here in the U.S. “OUR COUNTRY FIRST! NO FOREIGNERS! TO DISRESPECT A NATIONAL SYMBOL IS TREASON!” On the subject of flag burning, I’d imagine he’d say something to the effect of “Well, that’s their God-given right…but I’d recommend they don’t pull a stunt like that in front of the VFW. Like to get their asses handed to them.”

Grandpas always have the best advice.

 

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