THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 2):
The beauty of the symbols of our democracy, freedom, and rule of law.
I came of age just in time to face the draft for Vietnam. I voted for Lyndon Johnson in my first presidential election in 1964. I was an enthusiastic supporter and was proud of his commitment to the Kennedy legacy in civil rights. I was even more in his camp after he signed the voting rights legislation the next year. By 1968, I had soured on LBJ because of the war in Vietnam. That was the year I was drafted. (Disclosure: Not a war hero. My service was stateside.) Until 2020, I looked upon 1968 as America’s worst year during my lifetime.
It was hard to be in love with America during those times. If you didn’t like the idea of torching villages in a country that had the audacity to opt for social and economic policies different from America’s you were told that you could “love it or leave it.” Super-patriots were waving the flag as if they owned it and they dared anyone else to defile it even as they defiled it themselves. Americans who viewed their citizenship as something other than slavish devotion to the policies of Johnson and Nixon administrations were made to feel like outsiders, even in the country of their birth.
Richard Nixon pushed me farther away from old-style patriotism with his efforts to undermine rule of law and set the presidency up as the dominating branch of government. It wasn’t easy to be proud of the symbols of our nationhood during that era. We came to associate patriotism with the pig-like grunts of “USA, USA, USA” that we heard at the Olympic Games. America wasn’t showing its best face to the world.
Donald Trump, oddly, has restored in me that spark of pride in being an American that lived in my heart and mind before Vietnam and before Nixon. I grew up with all the same mythology around the founding that the super-patriots learned as children. After shedding the emotional appeal of the symbols of nationhood during the sixties and seventies, it gladdens me somewhat to have it restored, although I would have preferred another way of coming home.
Trump’s rule has led me to a warm embrace of our tradition of openness to immigration and the welcoming hand we have traditionally extended to folks from troubled countries around the world. It took Trump’s putting children in cages at the border to help me appreciate the importance of America’s role in the world as one people who could extend the hand of freedom to those suffering the oppression and poverty of dictators. And it took Trump’s literally embracing the flag onstage to make me want to take the beautiful symbol of our union into my own care to save it from his lecherous fondling.
To celebrate my return to patriot status, I have purchased an American flag and installed a bracket on a front porch column to let the neighbor’s know that the folks who had the Biden-Harris signs in their yard are as entitled to fly the flag as are the neighbors who still fly a Trump 2020 flag. And just so they will make the association, we are saving it until Inauguration Day to raise it for the first time on the property.
Who knows? At noon I may take it in hand and march around the neighborhood and sing “Hail to the Chief.” I’m still trying to decide.