Nationalistic pride is silly at best, like being proud of blue eyes, height, looks, etc., but given the state of things, it is downright irresponsible and ugly. The Olympic games invoke just this sort of nonsense. But the spectacle should lead us to question what nationalism or pride in the American flag means in the Trump era. Like it or not Trump and his MAGA followers have taken over ownership of the American brand. As such I feel the need to firmly disassociate myself from the symbol representing the harasser-and-chief.
That we elected Trump, in a matter of speaking, is a horrid embarrassment of the worst order, but it did in fact happen and we must take ownership of it. I don’t need to go through the litany of offences except to say that our president has diminished the likelihood of continued human survival on the planet. That is no small feat. And we’re supposed to clap when they raise the flag at the Olympic games? In public? In front of all those people from countries with reasonable leaders? Leaders who read books? For shame!
But won’t the world understand that most Americans aren’t like that? Maybe. But why should they? We have long been the most privileged and least responsible of global citizens. We’ve consumed many times our share, and often their share, of natural resources. Our military machine deals death from above with impunity, we imprison the most, we torture, we execute, and much of that while we still had a Nobel Prize winning president. Perhaps orange has been our true color all along.
Some may protest and claim that national pride is needed now to show that we can remain steadfast though great challenges, that our core values will carry us through. But core values may have walked out on us a long time ago, followed by honor and good sense. What we have now is an erosion of norms and a loss of basic civility in places where it is needed the most. Mutual respect for your political opponent and personal restraint that comes with the knowledge that the institution and role is larger and more important than your person won’t magically return when Trump leaves office. Republicans remind us every day how decades of economic and political segregation coupled with an anti-intellectual culture of narcissism have created a wealthy class of “public servants” devoid of character and standing. The party that is supposed to get us out of this mess is still mired in the neoliberal ineffectiveness that made the other side more attractive to many in the first place. All is not hopeless but raising the U.S. flag today is not a responsible type of optimism. Doing so makes one an enabler only aiding in the normalization of an authoritarian. Business as usual this is not.
Where to go from here then? Well, this is a good time to raise the flag of Antifa, or democratic socialism, or the U.S.S.R (for comic relief), or the U.S. flag with the corporate logos as stars, or whatever else strikes your fancy. And as far as the Olympics go, consider rooting for dedicated athletes who compete at their very best, (as in all of them), rather than the divisive laundry by which the event is still organized. Or, just root for Canada.
Kenneth R. Culton is Associate Professor and Sociology Department Chair at Niagara University.