The Upside-Down Flag

by Marcus Epstein

A month ago I was at a concert and saw a few people accosting a 15-year-old for wearing an upside down flag patch. Slowly a crowd of around 20 people began to gather. Some wanted to tear the patch off. Others wanted to beat him up. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the group tried to convince him how great America was. Some people mentioned that he came from an affluent family and he should be grateful for the opportunity that they had. (Should he also be grateful that the government confiscates 50 percent of their riches too?)

We later learned his father was in the Navy, and he was asked why he would disrespect the flag his dad could potentially die for. (Why he’d love the flag that they acknowledge would be responsible for his dad’s death is beyond me, but that’s beside the point.).

As people tried to find out why he "hated" America, the discussion devolved to the cliché, “Well if you hate America so much, why don’t you move to Cuba?” (a line I’m guilty of uttering on many occasions). When he said he didn’t want to live in Cuba, he was asked, “Well, where do you want to live?” He responded, “Well, Canada and England have socialized medicine.” At this point everyone brought up how he could work within our democratic system to fight for socialized medicine, and still love America. I thought, “If that’s how you feel, keep the flag upside down.”

Starting with the Mayflower Compact, American patriotism has always been built upon principles and ideas. The country has continually expanded with more and more hypothetically sovereign states, and has people from many diverse backgrounds, so it’s hard to say that it’s based on blood and soil. The real American ideals are rooted in the principles of freedom expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and ensured in the Constitution.

But somewhere between Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, our concept of patriotism turned into a love of the federal government, combined with apathy whenever our freedom and money have been taken away. Many conservatives, especially neoconservatives, seem content with any fellow citizen so long as he is relatively politically incorrect, and claims to love America. For example, in June FrontPage Magazine editor Richard Poe wrote an article about his renewed faith in multiculturalism after seeing a performance by an all-black vocal group called The Three Mo Tenors. This was because the audience, which was composed mainly of leftists and minorities, gave a standing ovation when the group sang "America the Beautiful."

That their idea of a beautiful America probably includes affirmative action, socialized medicine, gun control, reparations, and other wonderfully patriotic ideas was beside the point. At the same time, FrontPage was having a hissy fit over a lone black state rep in Tennessee refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, which progressed to columns that advocated exiling anyone who refused to say it.

Yet her refusal to recite the pledge does not even indirectly affect my rights or even those of her constituents. Issues like campaign finance reform and the patients, bill of rights, two items that at the time were both very likely to get passed and threatened to directly eroded the freedom of all Americans, seemed to be ignored by FrontPage just because their proponents don’t burn flags or praise Stalin.

Almost every single public school student has to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, yet a recent survey shows that the majority of them thought that the Marxist credo: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is from the US Constitution. I’m sure most of these students love America and feel patriotic, but there’s obviously little substance behind that patriotism if they don’t even have a basic understanding of our constitution. Yet I’m sure most conservatives are more worried about the few who listen to Rage Against the Machine and go to Free Mumia rallies.

I personally enjoy FrontPage and don’t want to beat upon them too much, but they often epitomize the attitude that everything is fine so long as you say you’re a patriot. But what makes one a patriot? Ralph Nader says he’s a patriotic. Nation editor, Victor Navasky, recently wrote an article claiming that most American communist spies were patriotic. Even Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello says he's "enormously proud to be an American" though not in the "tradition of slave-owning founding fathers."

That's not to say communists don't say they're patriotic in the "tradition of slave-owning founding fathers." Lyndon Larouche who used to claim inspiration from Marx and Lenin, now says his political influences are Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton without changing his core beliefs. He publishes a paper called The New Federalist where he attacked Congress after they closed a public hospital for “abandoning their constitutional commitment to promote the general welfare.”

Of course anyone who has bothered to read The “Old” Federalist knows this is ridiculous, but it shows just how far someone can stray from our constitutional principles not only in the name of patriotism, but also in the name of our founders. If you refuse to create any standards for patriotism other than a vague feeling of pride in your country, or wanting what you think is best for your country, it is hard to dispute that any of those people are patriots.

What does all this have to do with the kid at the concert? By wearing the upside-down flag he was making it easier for us to see what true patriotism is. As opposed to veiling his leftist ideas as “being consistent with our living constitution,” “making America live up to its true ideals,” or “part of the ever evolving spirit of this country”, he promotes them as what they are: anti-American. If Richard Gephardt, Ralph Nader, or even William Kristol were that honest, we’d all be much better off.