12 January 2008

Reflections on a T-shirt

I'm wearing an Old Navy American flag shirt today. Which oddly enough makes me feel strangely like I'm abandoning some set of principles, despite, well, being about as patriotic an American as they come.

Here's why: I'm a liberal patriotic American. And wearing the American flag shirt (especially in Alabama) pretty much identifies me as a fundamentalist Christian pro-gun conservative Republican these days, or at best the kind of milquetoast "support the troops" kind of liberal that wears the flag mostly out of a kind of wishy-washy thoughtlessness.

Okay, first of all: I didn't buy the shirt. My mother was cleaning out some old stuff of the family's that nobody wanted anymore -- almost entirely old T-shirts -- and mailed me a couple of care packages with old T-shirts. I have several from New Orleans that must be a decade old, a T-shirt for a radio station I've never heard of, et cetera. This Old Navy American flag shirt was just one of the batch.

And, being a practical sort who does laundry when he absolutely has to, I wear it. But it rankles. Because for a long time around this neck of the woods, anyone who used the word "patriotism" or "power of pride" or anything like that was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative wingnut, and for me the colors red, white, and blue might as well be the color scheme of the GOP.

I can see the response of conservatives reading this now: that my dislike of the flag stems from my own partisan divide, and that if I can't be like a real American and support the colors, then clearly I'm being an America-hating liberal. In short, disliking the flag and not really wanting to wear it is just showing how anti-American I really am.

That said, it's not my fault (or, for that matter, my ideological brethern's fault) that the flag seems to mean "conservative" these days. It was the work of the GOP right after 9/11, sticking those damned lapel pins and bumper stickers all over the place, all of them implicitly placing God and America over on the other side of the aisle, using the threat of "lack of patriotism" to silence dissent from anyone who thought that maybe, just maybe, attacking Iraq was not the proper course of action after the attacks in NYC and Washington D.C. Or, for that matter, that maybe the best way to combat the kinds of fanatics who would blow up buildings and kill thousands of people was to attempt to understand them, rather than to fall into a blind rage and chant the rhetorical equivalent of kill kill kill at the top of our collective lungs....

I love my country. I love the freedoms I am afforded, I love the history, the ideals, the hope that my country has offered to the world throughout its existence. But that doesn't mean turning a blind eye to the tortures, to the blood and sweat and toil that it has engendered around the world, past and present. It doesn't mean ingoring the history of slavery and the genocide of the American aboriginal peoples; it doesn't mean ignoring the present-day abuses of power and the depravity of debating whether or not waterboarding is really torture. And it sure as fuck doesn't mean turning a blind eye to the lessons that the nations of Europe and Asia might be able to teach us with regards to economic growth and, well, the basic ability to just fucking live together....

The symbol I'm wearing however reluctantly today is supposed to be a symbol of all of us, all of us who hold to the ideals of freedom and democracy, all of us who call ourselves Americans. That it now seems to mean something else, something more partisan and restrictive, is among the shameful things (although certainly by no means the worst) that can be laid at the feet of the current batch of conservatives. Using our national heritage as a political tool only cheapens that heritage -- we are all Americans, liberal and conservative, religious and nonreligious, urban and rural, hawkish or pacifistic.

So I'll keep wearing this shirt. But it doesn't mean what a lot of the people who may see me wearing it think it means. Because I believe in the real America, not the one that so many people have tried to shove down the world's throat the last six or seven years...

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