NASHVILLE — We bought our house from a military veteran who raised his flag on every official patriotic occasion. It hung from a flagpole embedded in the bark of a maple tree, and we followed suit during our early years in the house, at least on the 4th of July.
Back then, our neighborhood always had a block party on the Vierde. Children decorated their bicycles and their dogs and ran down the street in what was generously called a parade. Parents vaguely supervised the mandatory games—a three-legged race, an egg toss—but most of the time we sat in the shade and chatted until it was time for the potluck.
Politics was never discussed. Knowing a neighbor’s party meant we were friends, and friends in those days gave each other the grace to assume that goodwill prevailed on both sides. We were all proud to be Americans, even if we disagreed on which aspects of our sprawling, messy democracy deserved pride.
Traditionally, white southerners are not big on the flag. The fall of Vicksburg occurred on July 4, 1863. A Civil War battle that the Confederacy lost on the anniversary of the Union’s founding meant that many Southerners considered July 4 to be a Yankee holiday. For decades.
Today, the American flag has been co-opted by the same cohort that so outright rejected it during my childhood. While driving through rural Tennessee last week, I noticed an American flag hanging from the bucket of an aerial work platform parked by the side of the road. The flag flew over a tent that had fireworks for sale. The flag was even bigger than the tent.
Drive through any red state and you’ll see American flags fluttering over truck stops, dangling from construction cranes, strung over the back windows of cars, decked out in clothing and, of course, waving from porches — and not just on the Fourth of July. “The sheer amount of American flag paraphernalia that white people seem to possess amazes me,” tweeted Times columnist Tressie McMillan Cottom last month. “I assume it just flows to them and they don’t buy everything? I’m not sure.”
I’m pretty sure white people buy this stuff.
But not all of us. Old Glory has become such a strong feature of Trump rallies that many liberals have almost turned it down, unwilling to embrace the symbol of a worldview we find anathema. “Today, flying the flag from the back of a pickup truck or across a lawn is increasingly seen as a clue, albeit an imperfect one, for one’s political beliefs in a deeply divided nation,” wrote Sarah Maslin Nir last year. in The Times.
My husband and I stopped putting up our own flag years ago, long before it was appropriated by the MAGA crowd. Our old maple tree had just grown around the flagpole over the years, eventually completely sheathing it, and we never got around to putting another one up.
I have had plenty of reasons to doubt the viability of the American experiment. I was born during the Vietnam War in the segregated south. As a child I watched the Watergate hearings on television. I saw my government launch an unprovoked ground invasion in another country and conduct covert drone warfare in another country. I cried as it locked babies in cages at the border.
The majority of Americans did not want the Court to overthrow Roe. They don’t want to be surrounded by weapons. They are very concerned about climate change. With these Supreme Court rulings, the law of the land no longer reflects the will of the people who live here.
I struggle a lot with this reality. I’ve based my entire worldview on the belief that people are usually good even when we don’t agree, but I find myself now waging a furious internal battle for not hate everybody whose decisions, big and small, have led to this political moment.
I try to remind myself that Americans have always had reason to despair, to suspect that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was overly hopeful when he told us that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. And then I remember all the times when this wild, unstoppable, groundless hope—hope that motivated millions of people to put in countless hours of painstaking work—somehow managed to yield previously unimaginable triumphs.
In 2015, my family and I were among the mob of marital equality advocates waiting outside the Supreme Court for a ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. (I’ve written more extensively about this experience here.) The best-case scenario, which everyone around us agreed on, was a ruling that required states that had banned same-sex marriage to recognize marriages entered into in states where it was legal. I will never forget the unbridled joy that exploded when the ruling went even further and identified marriage as a constitutional right.
I will also never forget what happened next: the cheering crowd began to sing the national anthem.
I find myself returning to that heart-lifting experience time and again, as it only happened because marriage equality advocates continued to push for change despite decades of adversity, against the constant threat — and often the reality — of violence. I think of the singing, of how in that first flood of deep, unexpected joy, what came to mind was the promise this land still holds.
It should not be so unbearably difficult for justice to prevail, and justice finally obtained must never again be compromised. But this is the country we live in. The fight for freedom will never be over. And God help me, I won’t be one to give up. This is also my country and I will not surrender it to a vocal minority of undemocratic tyrants.
So this weekend of July 4, my husband and I raised an American flag again for the first time in years. It is right next to the front door and does not symbolize MAGA lies or MAGA tyranny. We proudly fly it in honor of our fellow Americans who fight for justice of every kind.
But to be very clear which America we believe in, we have also put another flag on the other side of the front door. When the wind blows the American flag near our house, a rainbow flag flies next to it.