Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Displays of all types of flags promote disharmony

I’m fed up with all the flags. You can read the downfall of our republic in the proliferation of competing banners dotting the landscape, flown by Americans to demonstrate their growing distance from and, often contempt for, one another. Gone is any talk of the common good. Now, we just want to express our self-righteous indignation at those too stupid, stubborn, or unenlightened to share our view of the world or the grievances of our tribe.
First, newly arrived in this region, I noticed the proud displays of the Confederate battle flag as I drove around it’s farms and fields. I wasn’t surprised to see that traitorous rag flying when I lived in Florida, Georgia, or Kentucky, but here in the North? Didn’t my neighbors know that over 5,000 Vermonters and over ten times that many New Yorkers died fighting the insurrectionists who carried that flag and everything it stood for? Then there is the faux-Colonial patriotism of the “Don’t Tread on Me” and Betsy Ross flags. What exactly are those supposed to stand for? The freedom not to wear a mask in a pandemic? To openly carry an assault rifle? What vision for a better America do those flags actually represent?
Regrettably, this nonsense is not limited to the political right. On the left it takes the  form of ‘performative social justice.’ We put up a flag, banner, or yard sign to demonstrate how enlightened we are in contrast to our neighbors who are not up on the most fashionable, sophisticated “critical theories” on race, gender, or what have you: Rainbow banners to show our support for gay rights; Black Lives Matter (BLM) banners to demonstrate our solidarity with racial justice protestors. I also expressed support for racial justice and revulsion at police brutality this past summer, but too many people ignore the fact that the BLM organization stands for a radical social, cultural, and political agenda that would be rejected by a strong majority of Americans. Now a Black Lives Matter flag will fly “indefinitely” over one of our county’s high schools, with a place of honor right below the Stars and Stripes. What next? Shouldn’t we add a Rainbow flag? With climate change looming, shouldn’t everyday be Earth Day? Is there a flag for that? If ‘Abortion Rights are Human Rights’, why not a NARAL flag? We are going to need a taller flag pole.
Despite the various motivations, commitments, and resentments that prompt us to wave these warring banners in each others’ faces, they all have one thing in common: none of them stands for all of us. As each faction in America promotes its own narrow worldview, our grip on a common purpose as American citizens gets lost. Noted political scientist Frances Fukuyama, a close observer of this phenomena, notes that one important effect of left-wing identity politics (now being taught openly in our schools, as BLM’s “13 Principles” frame the required curriculum on race and gender) is that it actively encourages and energizes right-wing identity politics. Critical Race and Gender theories fuel White Supremacy and Christian Nationalism. Black Lives Matter flags spawn Thin Blue Line flags. This cannot end well.
As Anne Appelbaum noted recently in the Atlantic, we have no choice but coexistence, as neither side is going anywhere. If we are to stand up to the illiberalism of both the white supremacist right and the radical progressive left, we are going to have to re-embrace our national motto, E Pluribus Unum: One from Many. This is not 1619 and it is not 1776: It is 21st-century America, and we have come a long way together. We cannot have diversity, unless we also nurture unity. Likewise, we cannot have unity in a pluralistic society without respecting diversity.
 Fortunately, we do have a flag for that. It is the only one that my family and I have ever honored, and the only one we ever will. I invite you to join me.
 Albert M. Zaccor
 Colonel, U.S. Army-Retired. Bridport, VT.

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