Opinion: The American flag must be a unifying symbol that transcends politics
Halpern was Assistant to the US Attorney for 36 years in the US Attorney’s Office in San Diego. He lives in Mission Hills.
I have long believed that the American flag should be a unifying symbol that transcends politics. As a child, I was taught to hang, fold, store and salute the American flag. As a student, I painted a class flag and displayed it proudly in my dorm. As a career prosecutor, the American flag adorned every office and courtroom in which I practiced.
My long-standing connection to the flag is not surprising. For more than 200 years, the flag has played an important role in the history of our country. It represents our staunch independence, our commitment to freedom and justice, and our core belief in the dignity of every citizen. Indeed, for many, it symbolizes the very essence of being American.
On the other hand, throughout our nation’s history – and especially in times of crisis – the flag has been used for political purposes. For much of the 1960s and 1970s, the flag was used as a counter-cultural symbol by people on the “left” who opposed racism, the Vietnam War, and the existing power structure. Civil rights activists marched with the flag in an attempt to pressure politicians to live up to the ideals of freedom and equality. Vietnamese protesters burned the flag, sewn it to the backs of denim jackets, and stenciled it on motorcycle helmets as a symbol of their opposition to the war.
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In direct response to these anti-war protesters, candidates for Congress began to wear American flag pins. In 1972, Richard Nixon became the first president to follow suit. However, due to the numerous scandals surrounding his presidency, flag pins virtually disappeared from the setbacks of American presidents for nearly 30 years.
More recently, many people on the “right” have attempted to co-opt the flag for partisan political purposes. Indeed, the flag was flown by many rioters (as well as many symbols of the far right and white supremacists) who besieged the United States Capitol on January 6. Unfortunately, on that day, a pole bearing an American flag was used to break down the doors. and assault police officers protecting the Capitol.
These rioters – and the politicians who helped them – expressed no form of patriotism, only their mistaken beliefs and political tendencies. A politician from either party who hugs the American flag for the sole purpose of gaining votes, or wears a flag pin only to attract voters, is simply engaging in politics – not showing patriotism .
If our country is to continue as a democracy, no party can have a monopoly on displaying the flag or loving our country. All Americans, and all who hope to be Americans, should be able to draw inspiration from our flag as well. No one on the right or on the left should be excluded.
Our country was built by bringing people together, not by separating them. On Independence Day, I will proudly hoist the flag in front of my house as an American who wants the best this country has to offer to everyone, regardless of their political beliefs.