Red Flags (#226)

You know what I was excited about when Andy and I bought our house?

Putting up a flag pole. I couldn’t wait to fly seasonal house flags.

I envisioned a flag with flowers for summer, an autumn flag with falling leaves, a black cat for Halloween, and Christmas flag with a polar bear. Of course I would fly the Stars & Stripes for Independence Day.

As soon as Andy got the flag pole installed, I went shopping. The local stores had all kinds of flags. The American flag was easy to find, of course.

Typical flag example.

The majority of the flags were filled with overly cutesy, cartoony children and animals. Not my style.

The remaining flags celebrated alcohol. Also not my style (though if they ever make a beer and bourbon flag, I’m totally getting it for Andy).

No one seemed to make flags for thirty-two-year olds that don’t drink. At least not in my neighborhood, which definitely was mostly retired, blue-collar, and catholic.

No shortage of celebratory drinking flags.

I gave up and went shopping online. There I found the flags of all sports teams and a greater selection of Hallmark’s finest flags.

I finally found Houseflags.com; they carried some realistic silk prints. I indulged in an orgy of seasonal buying and house flagged with gusto.

We got a new neighbor across the street with young children. She went in for cutesy  flags, changing hers almost as much as I did. I found a flag with loons to remind my of my beloved New Hampshire. She put out flags lauding beach life and alcohol. Another neighbor tried to match us, then finally told me one day, “That’s it. I can’t keep up with you guys. I’m just gonna fly the American flag.”

This fit it in with my conservative, retired neighborhood. 50% of all the houses flew American flags until they were bleached and battered. I passed one neighbor on flag duty almost every morning at dawn. He put out the Stars & Stripes at first light, and took it in every night. The only time he flew a different flag was when UCLA had a football game.

My house-flagging neighbor’s husband got tired of being out-patrioted and put up a second flag pole to fly the U.S. flag daily.

This past year, I’ve been too busy trying to keep up with the news to worry about house decor. I’ve watched in horror as the Trump administration has looted government agencies, supported white supremacists, tanked NATO, refused to honor its international treaties, and put brown babies in internment camps. I’ve marched. And marched again. I’ve donated money, time, and writing and research to resist and support those in the most danger.

I forgot about flags until it was June. June is Pride month in the United States. I live near a middle school. I overhear multiple kids who are gay or bisexual. Many of them have conservative parents. One Latino boy only revealed his gay crush after swearing another boy to secrecy, saying, “It’s worth my life if my father ever finds out.”

I cried when I heard that. I wanted to adopt that kid immediately and tell him he could live with me and crush on anyone and I would still love him.

As I am not the Trump administration and know that kidnapping is wrong, I went looking for a rainbow house flag instead. I found one easily. I guess those house flag folks realized there is money to be made in modernizing their inventory. For Pride month, I flew that flag daily. One mom saw it at after school pick-up. She yelled, “I LOVE your flag!”

Another asked me why I was flying it. I told her, “Maybe some of the kids at the school will see it and take heart.”

She hugged me.

My white, conservative, American flag-flying neighbors have pointedly said nothing.

This morning, I took down my rainbow flag as one of those neighbors was passing. He nodded approvingly and said, “You’re going to put up the American flag today, right?”

“Nope.”

“But it’s Independence Day! Today, of all days, you should fly the flag!”

I folded up my rainbow flag and asked, “Would you fly a Nazi flag?”

“No! Of course not!”

“Neither will I.”

 

Still We Reap (#225)

In my AP history class in Northern Virginia, we held an annual debate about the Civil War.

I know, right? What’s there to argue about? Slavery bad. Confederacy wrong. I thought captaining the team for the North would be a slam dunk.

I forgot I was in Virginia, Confederate flag central.

The South got to fire the opening salvo. They whined about how much money ending slavery would cost them. They threw out numbers and words like “recession” and “economic hardship.” The math whiz on our side tried to counter, and it turned into an argument on numbers. That morphed into aggrieved Southerners insisting that the North was tyrannically forcing an abhorrent lifestyle change.

The South never conceded that slavery was morally wrong, let alone a horror show of torture, rape, and children being ripped away from their mothers to be sold. Their arguments were all “states rights” and economic hardship.

After class, I cornered the Southern captain and asked him where the hell he got his numbers.

He laughed and said, “We made them up.”

*****

Decades later, I’m still arguing. Conservatives are still making shit up. Our conversations generally go like this:

Me: Trump is terrible. He’s a self-admitted assaulter of women –

Conservative: No, he’s not all those women are liars.

Me: He was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by the pussy.

Conservative: He only did that once and that was 13 years ago and didn’t you ever do something you were ashamed of 13 years ago?

Me: Clinton got impeached for having an affair with an intern. You don’t think Trump should get the same treatment for a) cheating on Melania with Stormy Daniels, and b) paying her off during the campaign?

Conservative: The Democrats just made it up to sink Trump. And that porn star just wants to make money, she’s hardly credible, there’s no proof. She’s dirt and he’s the President of the United States. (Think I’m making up these excuses? If only!)

Me: But Trump admits he paid her off!

Conservative: Powerful men do that. And if he did, that’s between him and the Lord and it has nothing to do with our country which he’s doing an amazing job running.

Me: Are you outta your goddamned mind? We’re in a trade war, the tariffs are hitting everything from steel to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, we’ve got internment camps for babies, plus racists assaulting and killing people because Trump encourages other racists.

Conservative: He is not a racist!

Me: Yes, he is! He was sued by the government for racist landlord policies. He says that Mexicans are rapists, Latinos in general are animals, and only wants white immigrants! He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville “very fine people!

Conservative: I read his speech. It wasn’t racist.

Me: You’re saying it’s not racist to support racists?

Conservative: You Democrats. Always with the name-calling.

Me: How is calling a racist a racist name-calling? And the hypocrisy of it all – you support a man who constantly insults anyone who disagrees with him, calling them liars, losers, fat, ugly, stupid, low IQ, etc.

Conservative: He speaks his mind!

Me: So actual insults by Trump are okay, but calling him a racist for his racist insults is not.

Conservative: He’s the President and he’s a great man, and he made so many sacrifices, giving up his privileged lifestyle and his paycheck to be President and we should support him.

Conservative: He’s using the Presidency to make far more money for his businesses than a Presidential salary.

Conservative: See? He’s a good businessman!

Me: He’s both unethical and a crap businessman, which is why only Russian banks would lend to him, which is why he’s susceptible to Russian blackmail and why the Russians interfered to make him President –

Conservative: That’s fake news!

Me: No, it’s a real investigation, and all intelligence services agree there was Russian interference—

Conservative: Because they’re all Democrats who hate Trump! It’s just a made-up witch hunt by the Dems!

Me: Even the Senate Intelligence Committee Republicans agree that the Russians interfered!

Conservative: They should be investigating Hillary!

Me: They did investigate Hillary! For Bengazi, like eleven times. Then for her private email server – twice! They found no evidence—

Conservative: Lock her up! Lock her up!

*****

I wish I could say the above argument was a parody. It’s more of a daily occurrence. All efforts to introduce facts that don’t support Trump are met with cries of “fake news!” Debate is impossible. As Obama once said, “One of the biggest challenges that we have to our democracy is the degree to which we do not share a common baseline of facts.”

That’s bad enough, but I’d take it one step further. Trump supporters no longer share a common baseline of MORALITY with the rest of the country. When they can’t write off Trump’s own racist and misogynist statements as “Fake news,” Trumpers excuse or ignore their hero’s racism, misogyny, and even his traitorous stupidity. Men who screamed bloody murder about Hillary’s private email server don’t care that Trump uses an unsecured cellphone or allowed the Russians to have the run of the Oval Office.

And don’t say that “the Democrats would do the same thing.” Democratic Senator Al Franken’s sexual misconduct wasn’t nearly as bad as Trump’s affairs or harassment of women, yet he was forced to resign due to tremendous Democratic pressure.

How is such blatant Republican hypocrisy possible?

Let’s go back to the Civil War.

American culture is centered on winning. We love a winner, right? Trump’s most popular campaign promise was so vague as to be laughable, but it resonated with his people: “We’re going to win so much, you’ll be sick of winning!”

Many Americans ate up his promises, perhaps because we’ve never fully understood the value of failure. You can learn from mistakes, but only if you admit you made them and have the fortitude to analyze your own shortcomings. As a country, we celebrate “the American Dream” of success; rarely do we examine our failures.

Much like Trump, who ran business after business into the ground and survived on million dollar loans from his father before he switched to Russian banks.

Perhaps he is the hero we white people deserve — a giant, grabby toddler who has never been told “no” or faced consequences.

When a child makes a mistake and hurts someone, we teach them to recognize the injury and say, “I’m sorry. I did wrong. How can I make it better?”

Yet the entirety of the United States never managed the self-awareness of a kindergartener. Slaves were freed, but we never actually said to Black America (or the Natives we slaughtered), “My God. That was wrong. We should never have done that. What a moral failure. How can we make amends and never do that again?!”

Without contrition, without apology, without amends, the lesson was lost. The Confederacy was venerated instead of reviled.

There was no admission of guilt.

Statues of slave-owners were built.

Americans learned that rich white men a) aren’t wrong, and b) don’t have to say they’re sorry. We allowed them revisionist history that insisted slavery “wasn’t so bad” and slave-owners were “good masters.” We let them get away with Jim Crow. We let them gaslight generations into thinking that states rights are more important than human rights. We let them fly a traitor’s flag and name boulevards after traitorous generals.

Only in 2009 did Congress issue a federal apology for slavery, immediately followed by, “Nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States.”

Never mind those kidnappings. Forget about the genocide, whippings, lynchings, the inability to build up assets — there will be no amends made in the USA.

Compare our attitude with Germany’s. Germany apologized for World War II and paid billions in reparations. (In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is still apologizing for WWII.) Because Germans acknowledged both their guilt and the full horror of the Holocaust, there are no Hitler Highways or Goebbels Boulevards in Berlin. Nazi flags and emblems are outlawed.  Germany vowed to do better and they did — the Germans were the first European country to open their borders to refugees during the crisis a few years ago.

Meanwhile, in the United States, we’re STILL shifting the blame. Conservatives insist that Black Americans are responsible for their own poverty or even being shot in the back by white policemen. Brown migrants seeking legitimate asylum at our borders are ripped away from their children  — and conservatives believe those brown folks deserve it for trying to encroach on white America.

Republicans have given up worrying about facts. Their morality is a sham. Which should surprise no one. For more than one-hundred and sixty years, the majority of white Americans have excused, ignored, or flat-out lied about the horrors we perpetrated on people of color. How can we be shocked when Trumpers excuse, ignore, and lie now?

We taught them it was okay.