A couple of weeks ago, red, white and blue-sprinkled Twinkies reminded me that the Fourth loomed. I felt uncomfortable.
Just last July I collected my feelings into a column for PineStraw, which I re-read, which made me feel even more uncomfortable.
Something has changed: patriotism. COVID-19 wasn’t what changed patriotism because last year, celebrations and everything else that invigorates American life had already been canceled, not by a war or a natural disaster. Those events rally folks around the flag. The flag. My most recent images were of the Stars and Stripes being used to ram open the doors of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
How completely different than the image of battle-weary soldiers raising it on Iwo Jima.
This time the flag was a weapon of destruction. Also pictured were maniacs wearing flag-patterned bandannas as they screamed obscenities at police officers. Surely, this was a militia hired by some foreign adversary. These weren’t Americans, not even far, far right Americans. These were Kool-Aid imbibers who couldn’t articulate their message in sensible phrases. They screamed “Take back America.” From whom? Obviously, from duly elected officials, as prescribed by the Constitution.
Call it insurrection, call it sedition, call it … a sign of the times?
Sadly, this wasn’t the only sign. Respect for boundaries — gone. Civility has been breached. The airlines recently reported 3,000 incidents of unruly passengers, a good number protesting masks.
How come nobody protests seat belts? They, also, are a safety device. Most disruptive passengers were removed from flights. This action turned their unruliness into rage. Flight attendants are now being trained in self-defense.
Coffee, tea or a well-placed knee?
Then, Pulitzer judges awarded a special citation to the 17-year-old girl who recorded the murder of George Floyd on her cellphone. Should she be proud or distraught? All she did was push a button to immortalize a crime committed in front of an audience, which also included a 9-year-old. Except this time, the bad guys were the police.
Then, I heard a pregnant Black woman say she prays her baby will be a girl because “cops are out to get Black boys.”
Then, the election — its run-up and aftermath became a civil war pitting the losing candidate against the system, his opponents, the media, the Congress, common sense, whatever he could grasp to shore up The Big Lie. Embarrassment over this Punch-and-Judy show doesn’t exactly promote patriotism. Mortification better describes when a national hero — the mayor of New York City on 9/11 — has his law license suspended for making false statements related to voter fraud.
And now, just before fireworks return and marching bands tune up, an apartment building collapses, trapping — most likely killing — more than 100 occupants, including children and seniors. In unison, engineers chant, “This doesn’t happen in the United States.” I’m thinking the “this” may include shoddy construction, incomplete inspection.
But it happened. Also making headlines: racial profiling, mismanaged government, swastikas painted on synagogues and mass shootings, 225 so far in 2021. Add havoc created by cyber attacks and climate change, which some politicians shrug off.
Not a list to inspire patriotism rooted in pride. Nor is a report that July 4th classics like parades and fireworks may become targets.
It’s complicated, I know. Patriotism runs deeper than yesterday’s headlines. So the old soldiers will once again don their uniforms and walk down Main Streets from sea to shining sea. Little children will still wave Old Glories made in China. But, at least for me, something squirmy makes the beer-and-hot-dog scene less appealing.
Americans routinely sing only the first verse of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which ends with a question:
“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
In the midst of this mess, before it’s too late, maybe attempt the high-and-hopeful road in the fourth and final verse:
“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.