I had an opportunity recently to go around the neighborhood and meet my neighbors. We are all new here. I met a nurse from Texas, a soldier from Portland, a retired life flight fella who is Jewish, an immigrant from Germany, two moms of toddlers. I met them by spending a day walking around the neighborhood knocking on their door, then talking with them. It was a pretty easy thing to do.
We didn’t discuss their political or religious affiliations. Mostly we spoke about HOA things – when the lawns would be mowed, what to do about trees along the main roadway, and what we liked or didn’t like about our new community. No one I met wore a MAGA hat or shirt, although it would not surprise me to find out that some of them voted for Trump. I thought moving to Deschutes County would initiate me into a community of more politically active and socially progressive folks. So many people around here are originally from California, so that wasn’t necessarily a long-shot.
But the most progressive folks, it seems, live in Bend, not Redmond. I wasn’t in town a month when I noticed a big ass Confederate flag flying less than a mile from my home. The flag was about three times the size of the home’s front door. I was tempted to go knock on that door and talk to the folks who put that flag up, but I didn’t. What good would it have done? You can’t talk a leopard out of its spots and you can’t talk a racist out of their identity.
If my neighbors are racists, I don’t know it yet. And I hope I never find out. So far, I like all the neighbors I’ve met. Of course, I probably like most of them because I know so little about them. Don’t you find it true that sometimes the better you know a person the less you take a hankering to them? I know lots of people feel that way about me. They write me to tell me that they didn’t like that I put so much of myself into this book or that one. Or they write to tell me that they don’t think I should be speaking out so much about this political view or that one. (Keep it to yourself, they advise). Or they don’t write to me at all but simply write me off. Some have complained that they had bought my books and couldn’t believe I held such “libtard” views. I’m sure you have had similar things happen to you.
Mama was always a great one for telling me to not care what others thought. I used to care so much I tried to make everybody happy.
Prayer helped me get over my need to please.
Prayer and a lot of brokeness.
Then I turned 50, which is just about the best thing that could happen to any woman. There’s a freedom when you turn 50 as a woman that is denied you in your 30s and 40s. I can’t explain it really. You’ll just see for yourself. It’s not that I have ever reached a point where I quit caring what others thought – of course I care. I care because I care about others. But I care in a way that doesn’t demand that I work to please everybody. I care with abandon about a lot of things, and if that caring offends you, then by golly, you just need to step aside because I am going to keep right on caring whether you approve or not.
All that to say, it is because I know who I am, what my core beliefs are, what is important in life, the God I serve, and the faith I possess, that I am able to step out in sometimes the most unpredictable ways.
So when I turned down our street a week ago and noticed house after house after house with an American flag waving, I had a very visceral reaction. I wanted to throw up.
There was a time following 9-11 when a row of flags would reduce me to a puddle of patriotism. In the not so distant past, the American flag was a symbol of safety to me. A thing of honor. My father’s casket was draped in a flag when they carried him to that Tennessee hillside. My brother has that very flag. A soldier friend of mine brought me a flag that flew over Iraq on one of his missions. That flag holds a great deal of meaning for me.
But this president has turned the American flag into a symbol of exclusion and allegiance to him, not the principles this country was built upon, many of which this draft-dodger has desecrated.
He has turned this symbol of hospitality into one of hostility.
So I began to look for another flag to fly in honor of the 4th of July.
Surely, I thought, there had to be a flag that represented inclusion. One that communicated that the Gold Star daughter in this household will not swear an allegiance to the country this president is attempting to create – a country club country where membership is granted only to those deemed worthy, only those with the right breeding, right skin tone, right amount of money in their bank accounts.
“Merit-based immigration” he calls it.
Translated merit means financial rewards to this president.
My grandson was with me when I picked up my flag from the mail.
“What kind of flag is that?” the child asked when I unrolled it.
“It’s a United Nations flag,” I replied. “It means that we love people from every nation. Not just American people.”
“Oh,” he said. “I love all people. I love you and Pa and those people, too!” He pointed at the house where the lady from Vegas now lives. She is a Republican. Of course my grandson doesn’t know that. He doesn’t even know whose house he was pointing at. But it doesn’t even matter to him. Because when you are young and your heart is still pure, you do love all people. Loving all people is our natural state, the way God created us all.
Hate is the learned behavior. Trump has infested our nation with it.
While my allegiance to this country remains, I cannot honor the symbol that has come to represent a madman who seeks to terrorize those he considers “enemies of the nation”:
The free press.
People of color.
Migrants seeking a better life.
The America Trump seeks to build looks a lot more like North Korea than it does the America my father fought and died for.
Perhaps, it won’t be long before Americans are flying flags with a big gold “T” on it.
As for me and my house, we will fly the flag designed by Yale graduate and former National Park Service employee, Donal McLaughlin. In addition to designing the flag for the United Nations, McLaughlin designed the courtroom used for the Nuremberg Trials, and the visual displays that helped the prosecution win convictions against Nazi war criminals.
Read what you will into all of that.
I think a flag that cradles the world in olive tree branches is most fitting for this year’s 4th of July, don’t you?
As you plan your holiday, please find ways to make it an inclusive one.
And remember, if it patriotism you seek – Vote. Voting is far more a patriotic act than flying a flag. That is, after all, why men and women sacrificed their lives for this nation. So that we might continue to govern ourselves rather than being ruled by a dictator:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (HarperCollins).