It’s time for regular Americans — including liberals — to reclaim the US flag

No matter their political affiliation, those who believe in working together and protecting democracy should fly the flag. Let it be a symbol of the American Dream, the promise of freedom, and justice for all.

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Columnists

June 10, 2024 - 12:43 PM

Jake Gruber of the Bloomington Police Department climbs up about 100 feet to where an American flag hangs from a city fire ladder truck in Bloomington, Minnesota, on July 3, 2023. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

The American flag — as it was intended to fly — is no longer the favored symbol of so-called patriots on the far right.

Old Glory is being flipped upside down across the land, most famously outside of a residence belonging to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Historically used as a maritime sign of distress and later to protest the Vietnam War, the upside-down flag has been co-opted by violent Jan. 6 insurrectionists who believe the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. In fact, some rioters ripped down the U.S. flag from a flagpole outside the Capitol and replaced it with the flag bearing Trump’s name.

And more recently, after his conviction in the hush-money trial, Trump supporters and right-wing politicians shared images of an inverted flag on social media.

Then there’s a separate flag propped up by Christian nationalists and “Stop the Steal” adherents. Featuring a green, clip-art-like pine tree set against a white backdrop, it reads “AN APPEAL TO HEAVEN” in all caps. (I sense that some of the same critics who lambasted our new Minnesota state flag for its simple iconography have no qualms about flying the Pine Tree flag which, despite having roots going back to the Revolutionary War, could have been designed on Print Shop.)

Alito said his wife, apparently the flag enthusiast in the house, was responsible for flying the Appeal to Heaven flag outside their New Jersey beach house, just as she was blamed for waving the upside-down American flag.

With the traditional flag losing favor among this sect of Americans, I propose my own radical idea: That the rest of us proudly reclaim the red, white and blue.

Liberals sometimes are wary around those who flaunt their patriotism. In recent years, other than on July 4, seeing a stranger sport a flag design on their T-shirt or back of their truck can seem synonymous with MAGA hats, “Let’s Go, Brandon” and full-throated support of the NRA. It has become shorthand for one party rather than the ideals that this nation was founded on.

But patriotism should not be equated with an unquestioning faith in country. It can mean criticism that comes from a place of love. It can mean acknowledging inherent flaws in our government while knowing darn well that an intact, functioning democracy is the best system we can have.

Patriotism means having some trust in our institutions, whether it’s a representative government, scientists who developed a vaccine or journalists holding the powerful to account. But it also means working to make our country stronger, loving it into an even better future.

Yet when I see a flag, which in recent years has been a symbol of conservative America, I also wonder what the flag bearer might think of me.

Four years under Trump was difficult for a lot of Americans — LGBTQ+ folks, Muslims, immigrants and other marginalized communities. It was an uneasy time for Asian Americans, who were vilified by COVID-19 as Trump called it the “Chinese virus.” Does a flag denote a love of Trump, and perhaps by an extension, a hostility toward Asians?

But the flag has always been special to my family.

It means something to my father, who served in the Army and lost friends in Vietnam. It held significance for my grandfather, a “Chinese laundryman” (as they were known in the 1950s) who loved to take his family to July 4th parades.

If you ever are feeling jaded about our country, I beg you to visit a naturalization ceremony, where immigrants enthusiastically wave their little American flags with pride and hope and euphoric joy.

Recently, my 11-year-old son used his birthday money to buy a new fishing backpack. It came sewn with a small patch of the American flag. It surprised me that he was drawn to this symbol.

On our way to a soccer game, he noticed a large billowing U.S. flag along the freeway and commented on how majestic it looked. To him, I suspect the flag doesn’t carry the political baggage it might for me. It simply stands for a love of country, a sense of home. Isn’t that what it should evoke?

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