Can the flag bind us?
Yesterday was Flag Day, perhaps the least celebrated of Ameria’s patriotic observances.
Normally, the passing of Flag Day — with little fanfare — might inspire some commentary about patriotism in the modern age.
But yesterday’s news was dominated by an act of violence so terrifying that it shoved Flag Day into the background.
A man brandishing some sort of assault-style rifle opened fire at a park in Alexandria, Va., as Republican members of Congress were practicing for a charity baseball game.
Five people were wounded, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The gunman — identified by multiple law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson III, 66, from Illinois — was killed by Capitol Police.
It’s too soon to say whether the shooting was politically motivated. But the Washington Post reported that a Facebook page believed to be Hodgkinson’s includes rhetoric against the president. One post reads: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”
President Woodrow Wilson declared a nationwide observance of Flag Day in 1916, in part, to inspire an outpouring of patriotic events that he hoped would combat “the influences which have seemed to threaten to divide us ...”
Whatever political divisions Wilson found so alarming haven’t been softened by a century’s worth of Flag Days. President Donald Trump noted the antagonism that exists when he spoke in the aftermath of the Alexandria shooting.
“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” the president said Wednesday.
But love of country has some disconcerting dimensions.
Jeremy Christian of Portland, Oregon is charged with murder in the deaths of two men who tried to stop his violent rant against Muslim women. Christian declared his actions were “patriotic.” Hodgkinson apparently felt Trump and his supporters posed such a threat to democracy as to require bloody intervention.
Both horrific acts represent a corrupt, absolutist notion of patriotism that must be widely condemned if Flag Day is to retain a civic message.
Let’s use the occasion of Flag Day to remember what our flag truly represents — a nation that has consistently overcome its differences in service to individual liberty. Tolerance — hardwired into the Constitution — is what allows us to worship freely, pursue happiness and enjoy equal protection under the law.
In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln spoke words intended to put the war-torn nation on a healing path. They’re more apt today than ever.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive ... to bind up the nation’s wounds, to ... achieve ... and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.”