I remember struggling early on in life with the Pledge of Allegiance. Here I was in a private Christian school which spent a great portion of its time worshipping God and we would take a moment out of every day to do something which felt incredibly similar, but for a flag.
The reverence for the flag, as a symbol for our country, felt so similar to how the school and the church revered the Bible, cross, God, etc. that even as a young one, I wondered why it was something we did at all. I mean, look, I get it, America has provided me many freedoms that I wouldn’t be allowed in some other countries, and yes, compared to some of the options available at the time our country began, America certainly sounds like it was a bastion of freedom, at least for the white man. But really, even how there are required postures to be in when claiming your undying love for the country feels a little too much like what Christians do when they pray.
I hold similar issue with the national anthem and how it is used before sporting events. The concept that any major event in our country is expected to begin by having a group stand in unison and proclaim their dedication to the country seems so weird to me. Even more so as an adult.
And then it gets ever weirder when we realize how absolutely angry people get when they see our athletes choose to be in the incorrect position during the singing of the anthem, because they aren’t revering the flag in the appropriate manner. Because they dare question the truth of what the flag promises. Because they dare blaspheme the flag by being on their knees during its moment of worship.
Yet, those who stormed the Capitol building on January 6th, they carried the flags with them as they entered. They believed their country was doing them wrong, chose to attempt a coup (I guess?), but did so by bearing the flag of the very country they were trying to overthrow.
Which brings me back to my initial question: Why?
Why do we worship the flag in such a way, and what does it actually mean when we do so?
What are we saying when we stand together and chant in unison the prayer of loyalty to the flag of the United States of America?
That we are promising to be loyal to the country and serve its best interests, I would assume. Which would mean that honestly, although I may question the acts of the January 6th insurrectionists, if they truly believed that the election was fraudulent, it makes sense they would bring the flag with them. Just like how those who kneel at the National Anthem are being loyal to the country in that they are still showing a form of reverence, but at the same time quietly speaking out regarding how our country should be better.
I struggle with Nationalism, because I think especially in America, we’ve been prone to the belief that no other country is as good as ours. This national pride has caused a severe divide between us and other countries and has historically brought us to the place where we’ve completely closed ourselves off from other countries, especially ones who would dare do anything outside of the American model.
I certainly don’t stand beside the January 6th insurrectionists or believe what they did was in any way appropriate. But, I question how I would feel if there was any sort of true evidence that the election was fraudulent. Obviously some of these people believed that to be the case. If those in power had truly moved on to the point where our democracy was only for show and we no longer had any power as the people, what is the appropriate way to act?
Obviously those who choose to kneel during the National Anthem believe in some similar ideas, that they are powerless against those in power, and seek to find a way to present their message. But if you truly have no power, what chance does kneeling truly have at making a difference?
Our country only works if we question what it is doing. That’s the very premise of a democracy, that the people should hold the power in how the country acts. But if the people feel powerless, then our democracy is broken. And I think as we look around, we see more and more people feeling powerless, see more and more people feeling exactly how broken our country is.
And so, when we pledge allegiance to a flag for a country who is leaving more and more people feeling powerless, what are we actually pledging allegiance to?
Or maybe, more importantly, if this is truly the case, that the power of our country is being taken away from us, what do we do to get it back?