Acting Like An American
It Takes More Than A Flag

October 29, 2001


The recent groundswell of American patriotism has, at the least, been noticeable.  Overnight, America has been repainted red, white and blue. 

From the tiniest child holding the tiniest flag to the monster trucks flying their spinnaker-sized Stars & Stripes, America has rediscovered its flag. 

But, does flying Old Glory necessarily mean that Americans have recommitted themselves to acting like Americans? 

Without doubt, even whispering the concept of, “Acting like an American,” immediately brings forth the human cry from coast to coast.   

One extreme of the philosophical curve, conveniently labeled as those to the “left”, will bring forth their “experts” to certify that acting like an American is acting in any manner that an individual so chooses.  After all, so the argument goes, the individual is granted almost unlimited freedom by the Constitution and, therefore, entitled to act individually (within the bounds of the law).  The advocates of this philosophy do, however, qualify their concept of unlimited freedom within the constraints of an unwritten doctrine of political correctness. 

For instance, burning an American flag (just like the Taliban supporters do) is a perfectly legitimate expression of American freedom and, therefore, allowable.  However, while technically legal, the burning of another country’s flag, like Israel’s, would incur accusations of anti-Semitism.   

Neither burning the American flag nor the Israeli flag would necessarily make you a racist.  It might, however, just be another voice of legitimate policy-based protest. 

There seems to be a contradiction in a philosophy that preaches almost unlimited freedoms but then picks and chooses both the appropriate freedoms and those who deserve them.  It’s simply a capriciousness of convenience.  

The opposite end of the U.S. philosophical spectrum, those whose philosophy immigrates from the “right”, preach a concept of Americanism that is much more decentralized but equally inconsistent.  They love the idolatry of government while simultaneously being disenchanted by that very same government.   

For instance, the burning of an American flag would, at the least, be an “ass-kickable” offense and, possibly, a capital felony.  Yet, this faction does not like to be centrally governed. 

The philosophy of the “right” seeks the embodiment of the United States in the realm of the tangible.  The flag is the country.  Spit on the flag and you spit on America.  Burn the flag and you burn America.   And, there is considerable legitimacy to their logic.  Spitting on your mother’s picture is almost as bad as spitting on your mother.  The symbolism is poignant.   

However, insisting that the symbols of Americanism must be honored and protected, even if the cost became the substance of Americanism, betrays a certain dichotomy of logic.  Again, it’s simply a capriciousness of convenience.     

But, when utilized properly, conveniences can be valuable. 

America’s philosophical foundations, as embodied in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, are conveniences that enable the greatest convenience of all…the privilege of acting like an American. 

Either by intention or luck, America’s Founding Fathers penned documents that unleashed the potential of pragmatism. 

The great intellectual, C. S. Pierce, once observed that, “the meaning of an idea is the sum of its practical consequences, and truth is whatever the ultimate consensus will be”.   

The “practical consequences” of American freedom is the convenience to be practical.  The potential of the individual, and of the country, is not constrained by the liturgy of rigid doctrine.  Americans do what needs to be done and they constantly find better ways of doing it.  Nothing in America is rigid except for the respect of the individual. 

It is individual respect that creates the trust necessary for America to function like a team.  Disrespecting a fellow teammate does not win games.  If you can’t respect, you can’t trust and, if you can’t trust, you can’t win. 

Soldiers trust the chain of command.  Patients trust their physicians.  Students trust their teachers.  Yet, the military officers, the physicians and the teachers have to earn that trust…they must respect in order to be respected.  It is mutual and it is essential.  In the absence of mutual respect, distrust cripples the relationship into ineffectiveness.   

How does this apply to the concept of “Acting like an American”?  Just look around yourself. 

It appears that about 90% of the automobiles on the road are flying the colors.  But it also appears that the same old percentage of these autos are still driven by obnoxious jerks.  Flying a flag does not make a person courteous. 

The consumer can’t blink an eye without an advertisement for a flag sale popping out of a computer or television screen.  The same old snake oil frauds are now selling over-priced and environmentally unfriendly junk to a nation still emotionally raw.  Selling flags, in lieu of miracle tonic, does not take the tarnish off of a huckster. 

And, speaking of hucksters…how many times an hour is it humanly possible for the Red Cross to ask the American public for donations?  One eye sees the Red Cross soliciting donations on television while the other eye reads, “Red Cross Condemns U.S. Strike on Kabul Warehouse.”  Perhaps the Red Cross should ask the Taliban for donations.  Wrapping the same old two-faced fundraising in a flag does not make the hypocrisy any less bitter. 

And the media…those darlings of nouveaux patriotism.  Aren’t all of the news programs beautifully garnished in red, white and blue graphics?  Isn’t it inspirational to see the non-stop, panicmongering coverage with a Top Gun twist?  Incomprehensibly, “CBS Considers WTC Comedy…After weeks of Hollywood going out of its way to eliminate images of …the Twin Towers…CBS says it’s considering a comedy set in the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedies…Network president Leslie Moonves told reporters Thursday that he’s considering green-lighting a romantic comedy series about two people brought together after their spouses are killed in the collapse of the landmark complex.”

Wrapping yellow journalism and sordid entertainment in a flag does not mask the insensitivity of the national media trivializing a crisis into profit.   

And, for Alan Greenspan and the captains of American industry…NO…the dog did not eat your homework and September 11 is not to blame for every ill in the economy.  This economy and many of the companies that comprise it were mismanaged and headed for trouble long before September 11.  Wrapping bad decisions in a flag does not make them become the victims of circumstance. 

Returning to the words of C. S. Pierce, “truth is whatever the ultimate consensus will be”.  And, the truth is that when the last $14.95 flag kit is sold and the last stripe on that flag is prostituted for the last dollar of personal gain the locusts of disaster will find fresh fields to exploit.  But they fooled nobody.  The average American neither respected them nor believed them.  The average citizen always knew what the nouveaux patriots will never learn…Acting like an American takes more than a flag.


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