I have been seeing a lot of US flags out lately and, while I’ve never been a flag waver, I’m planning to plant one in my yard. I’m sure there are a number of reasons people are displaying flags. Here is what it means to me.

For me, the flag of the United States does not stand for “law and order”. The Boston tea party was a violent, property destroying, act of civil disobedience. The entire American Revolution was viewed as traitorous sedition by the “loyalists”. If you were a “law and order” person back then you flew the British flag. China is now a great example of a “law and order” country.  Thomas Jefferson in his wonderful rumination on government said “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”.

The flag of the United States also does not stand for any religion, indeed one of the founding principles of the country is the separation of church and state which is an essential requirement for freedom of, or from, religion. One third of the flags of the world have religious symbols on them. The US flag has none.

At the most literal level, the US flag represents the contentious union of the states. The original thirteen colonies are represented by the stripes and the field of stars represents all the states. The compromises required to ratify the Constitution explain why currently a citizen of Wyoming has almost 70 times the representation in the Senate as a Californian, and why we have a minority President. The compromises also included the continuance of slavery. Like every flag, the US flag has its stains.

For me, the US flag represents an idea. This makes it unique in the world. The idea is best summarized in the words of the Declaration of Independence: the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  This simple phrase captures the spirit of the Enlightenment: the role of government as serving the people, the inalienable rights of the individual, the separation of church and state. These goals are aspirational, the US has always been a work in progress to fully realize the ideals of its founding as a land of, by, and for the people.

Not since the early 1800s has the US faced a credible outside threat. The threat to our ideals and union have come from inside and do so now. A President who willfully divides the country, who ignores precedent, who fires Inspector General and appoints a partisan Attorney General , who solicits the intervention of foreign governments in elections, who packs the courts with loyalists, who in short sets the stage for an imperial presidency beyond any control is a danger to our carefully balanced government with its division of powers. This threat would not be possible without a political party that willfully enables such actions, and that refuses to reign in even the most egregious abuses. 

The US flag, to me, is not a symbol of nationalism, above all not a symbol for fascists to roll themselves in. When I plant the flag in my yard next to my Biden sign, it is for me a symbol of the love I bear for the spirit of the Enlightenment as embodied in our country which has so long served as a beacon of hope in the world.