“It’s just a piece of cloth,” people argue when debating whether we should honor our flag or disrespect it. It is a piece a cloth, but is it just a piece of cloth? Or is there something more to the cloth that makes up the Stars and Stripes? Is there meaning? Does it represent something deeper?
You know what else is a piece of cloth? The Confederate Flag. Would those of us who want to diminish the meaning of the United States flag characterize the Confederate Flag as just a piece of cloth totally devoid of meaning rendering its display innocuous? Of course not. The Confederate Flag is a symbol. It stands for something. It has meaning. And what it stands for, the meaning it carries is something I reject to its core; slavery, discrimination, all men not being created equal, forced servitude. Those things are what the Confederate flag represents, and that’s why it should be rejected, and never flown on Government or public property.
The statues of Christopher Columbus and Confederate Generals which are toppling all over the country, do they have meaning, or are they just some piece of stone or a clump of metal? And if they have no meaning, whether they stand or are toppled mean nothing as well.
If the United States flag does not have meaning, if it does not represent anything, then kneeling to it, or honoring it means or represents nothing. If the flag does not mean anything, you might as well be kneeling to a rock. The meaning of kneeling to the flag is derived solely from the meaning that is inherent in the flag. You cannot separate the two.
But what does the United States flag mean? It represents something greater than the mere molecules that comprise it. It stands for the beliefs and the ideals that we as a nation have been striving to become since our inception; All men are created equal. Equal justice under the law. Liberty, Justice, Equal Rights, Individual Sovereignty, Self-Government, Judicial review. The United States flag stands for those words, those ideals, those beliefs inscribed in our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence.
Those words all mean something. It is easy to deconstruct anything that is human. Are those words just ink markings on a piece of paper, or pixels on a screen? Meaningless? Do the words we speak mean something, or are they just molecules of air pushed out of our mouths? You can deconstruct everything down until nothing has meaning, and if nothing has meaning, then nothing has value. And we get anarchy.
I understand that far too often in our history, we have failed to live up to those ideals that our flag represents, but does that mean we should do away with them? Should we tear up the Constitution because we have failed to live up to the Constitution? What will our guiding force be if we no longer have a Constitution? How will we know we veered off the path if we no longer have a road map to guide us? And what mechanism will be in place to knock us back on the path if we tear it to shreds? Do you think our country will be freer, fairer, more just, more equal without our Constitution? Do you think our politicians will be less corrupt if they no longer have the Constitution’s guiding principles to contain them?
The flag does not represent what we have done or even who we are. The flag represents what we as a nation have been striving for the last 200+ years to become, the more perfect union. We can look back through our history, and easily point out all the times and places where we have fallen short. But in a true study of our history, you will see a clear and steady progress toward the country that our founders first envisioned over two centuries ago. A place that we have yet to arrive at, and one that we may never get to because the vision is too pure and humans are too flawed, but it is that pure vision written in the Constitution, represented in the flag that keeps pushing us flawed humans in that truer, purer direction.
The flag should be used as a unifying symbol, not a dividing symbol. The beliefs and ideals that the flag represents will be what actually brings the social justice those who kneel claim they want. So instead of refusing to honor the flag by kneeling, we should be embracing the flag because embedded in the threads that make up the cloth is the meaning which if our country ever fully embraces is the solution to many of the problems that are tearing this country apart.