Showing Patriotism in a Time of Chaos

In this time of chaos, woe and deep national divide, I’ll be damned to hell before I meekly sit by.

I’m flying a flag these days. The Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, America’s flag, OUR flag! I’ve strapped it to my 2011 made-in the-USA Ford Fiesta, and I’m zipping around town as proudly as anyone else in the red, white and blue Bubbaland of South Austin, like some modern-day Patrick Henry on wheels. As with so many others, I’m flying our flag out of an assertive, perhaps defiant pride in this time of chaos.

For I am proud, damned proud, to be an American citizen. And in this time of true woe and deep national divide, I’ll be damned to hell before I meekly sit by and allow this symbol of our nation’s founding ideals… liberty and justice for all… to be captured and defiled by reactionary autocrats, theocrats, xenophobic haters, warmongers, America Firsters, corporatists, militarists, fearmongers, political weasels and other rank opportunists.

Our flag is no piece of sheeting for authoritarians to hide behind as they rend our hard-won liberties in the name of President Donald Trump. Nor is our flag some bloody rag to be waved by politicians hoping to whip us into such an outrage that they can turn our people’s republic into a garrisoned state, armed to the teeth and mired in fear and hatred.

We Americans are not that blind. Our flag is the banner of freedom seekers, risk takers, democracy builders, rebels, pioneers, mavericks, barn raisers and hell raisers, a liberty-loving people who are naturally suspicious of authority and able to detect that the real threat to our land of the free comes not from afar but from within. Our flag is made of strong democratic cloth, artfully designed and painstakingly stitched together over 245 years, liberty by individual liberty, people’s movement by people’s movement. Our flag embodies a democratic continuum that connects us today to the pamphleteers and Sons of Liberty; the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights; the abolitionists and the suffragists; Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass; the populists and Wobblies; Mother Jones and Joe Hill; Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

Protest is the essence of American democracy, of America itself, and it is especially essential when a muddleheaded guy like Donald Trump sits in the president’s chair. Under his watch, militarized police are taking the lives of more than 1,000 people every year (Black Americans are disproportionately killed at the hands of police officers); COVID-19 is ravaging our country while our leaders in Washington refuse to lead; our economy is crashing as corporate CEOs pay themselves and their shareholders millions of dollars looted from our public coffers; and secret police are snatching people off the streets.

Then there is the climate crisis, our crumbling infrastructure, our underfunded education system (a la Education Secretary Betsy DeVos), unprecedented homelessness, 27 million Americas with no health care coverage, one of the highest unemployment rates ever recorded and the list goes on. If we don’t protest now, when will it matter?

What should we ask our government to do?

We citizens must be forceful in holding Washington accountable. First, instead of aiding corporate looters, Washington should launch a major reinvestment in grassroots America. To stimulate the economy, put these corporate “relief” funds directly into the hands of working families all across America.

Second, strengthen our national security by making major, long overdue public investments in our infrastructure, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, parks, etc. Add to this a new nationwide project to reconnect our population corridors with high-speed passenger trains. Help overworked police officers by fully funding housing for the homeless; substance abuse treatment counselors and facilities; mental health care professionals and crisis centers; social workers; etc. This would allow police to focus only on actual crime and not people in crisis.

Third, to deal with the recession, instead of cutting income taxes, cut payroll taxes; raise the minimum wage; extend Medicare to cover all uninsured men, women and children; reinstate pandemic unemployment benefits; and provide monthly stimulus checks. All of this spreads money, like fertilizer, to the grassroots economy, rather than piling it up inside global banks.

The better part of patriotism is for us to raise hard questions, put out inconvenient information and assert our values. In the words of the late Rep. John Lewis: “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Jim Hightower