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“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag,” writes US president-elect Donald Trump in one of his patented incendiary (pun intended) tweets. “[I]f they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
You’ve probably heard all the arguments for and against a flag-burning ban, most of them variations of the maudlin “my ancestor died for that flag” or the obvious (and Supreme Court affirmed) fact that flag-burning is a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment. Let me throw another one at you:
Flags are property.
If someone wants to set fire to a brightly colored piece of cloth, it’s nobody else’s business unless the flag is stolen, the flag-burner is trespassing, or burning the flag endangers other people’s lives or property.
That’s true even if you’ve convinced yourself that your grandfather “died for” that brightly colored piece of cloth (hopefully he died for something more consequential than your favorite rectangular textile pattern).
It’s true even if you profoundly disagree with the point the flag-burner is trying to convey (or, as may well be the case, even if you can’t really tell what that point might be).
It’s true even if you’re Donald J. Trump.
You don’t have to like it. That’s how it is whether you like it or not.
It’s not that I don’t get the sentimental attachment many Americans have to the flag. I do.
In elementary school, one of my duties as a student crossing guard was raising, lowering and folding the flag each day. As a US Marine, I occasionally performed the same duties, and of course saluted the colors as appropriate. My brother still has the 48-star flag which covered the casket of my grandfather, a World War II veteran, and if my family so desires there will be a 50-star flag on my own casket one of these days (I’ll be dead, so I won’t really care, right?).
Even though my own political beliefs tend more toward the black flag of anarchy these days, I still have a soft spot for Old Glory.
But if Trump and the burning-banners get their way, I’ll be among the first to hit the pavement with a kerosene-soaked American flag and a cigarette lighter. The proper and accepted method of disposal for a desecrated flag is burning it, and Trump’s off-the-cuff attempt to wrap himself in the stars and stripes with a proposed burning ban would, if successful, constitute desecration of the very value most Americans place on it.
Furthermore, neither my free speech rights nor my property rights are negotiable. The author of The Art of the Deal has nothing to offer for them that I find tempting.