Opinion: The flag is not a partisan symbol — it represents all Americans

Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md., where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and shot off the cannon which defended the city against the British in an undated photo.

Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md., where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and shot off the cannon which defended the city against the British in an undated photo. AP


Published: 07-10-2024 6:00 AM

Jeff Frenkiewich teaches U.S. history and government at Milford Middle School. He is an adjunct professor of education at the University of New Hampshire. The views expressed here represent those of the author, not Milford School District or UNH.

Each year, the Gallup Poll does a survey on American patriotism asking citizens, “How proud are you to be an American?” This year 67% of Americans are either “very proud” or “extremely proud” to be American. This is up from the record low of 63% in 2020. However, like many things today, pride in our country is split along partisan lines; 59% of Republicans express “extreme pride” in America, but only 34% of Democrats and 36% of independents express the same sentiment.

For over twenty years, Republicans have expressed a higher level of patriotism than Democrats and independents, and it should be no surprise that this divide in patriotic sentiment has been politicized. The politization of patriotism in America is as old as the United States; however, in recent times, no one has better politicized patriotic sentiment than Donald Trump.

On Sept. 22, 2017, a year after Colin Kaepernick protested police violence and systemic racism by kneeling during the national anthem, then-President Donald Trump framed himself as the protector of the flag calling on NFL owners to fire players who did not stand for the national anthem. By 2018, Trump was seen physically embracing the flag as he gave a speech at the National Federation of Independent Business, a performance he repeated at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2019 and 2020.

Trump has continued to employ the American flag as a symbol of his presidential campaign. He recently stood before five waving flags as he spoke about his 34 felony convictions, and his supporters have taken to flying the American flag upside down to protest his conviction. For many Americans, Trump is a symbol of true patriotism, but for others, that patriotism is associated with white supremacy, insurrectionists, and other forms of injustice.

However, I write today to remind the reader that while Trump and his allies have successfully appropriated the flag to meet his political objectives, the American flag is not owned or controlled by any one political party. It represents the values at the core of our democracy and it represents all Americans. As Trump tries to build a cult of personality that equates American patriotism with loyalty to him, it’s time for liberals, moderates, and anyone who rejects the backsliding of American democracy to stake our claim to these symbols of American identity and remember the democratic values on which these symbols are created.

In fact, the American flag flies as a symbol of the democratic values that most Democrats and moderates cherish. It was our American flag that flew as George Washington and the Continental Army fought for American independence, a war premised on the idea that “all men are created equal.” It was our Star Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry as Americans again fought back against a monarch who would prefer subjugation over freedom. It was our American flag that flew over Gettysburg as the U.S. army fought to preserve the Union and end an institution that enslaved 4 million Americans. It was our American flag that flew behind Abraham Lincoln as he called on us to “take increased devotion” to preserving a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

It was our American flag that flew over Normandy as Americans fought against Hitler’s fascism. It was our American flag that flew over Iwo Jima as Americans fought against an emperor who put his own priorities above the interests of his people. It was our American flag that flew behind Ronald Reagan as he challenged Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. It was our American flag that flew over Bosnia and Herzegovina as Americans fought to end a terrible genocide. And it was our American flag that was hoisted at Ground Zero, proclaiming to the world that the United States would not fall victim to terrorism.

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The American flag still stands as a symbol of freedom and liberty around the world and we must be proud of our country as we stand up for these values. Americans will always disagree on how to deal with contentious public issues, and how to deal with contentious politicians, but we must stand together on the democratic values that form this great nation.

I’m proud of that ragged old flag (thank you, Johnny Cash), and I’m extremely proud to be an American, I urge my fellow citizens to find that pride as well.