The only time I want to see a US flag this Thursday is if it’s being properly handled:
Oh I can see you all rolling your eyes already. But it’s good that you’re just rolling your eyes. It shows that you’re not shocked. And the truth is, there’s nothing shocking about hating America. It’s about the most ordinary thing there is. Millions of people around the world hate America for entirely justified reasons, and you should too.
Where did “America” start? When we say “America” in English, we generally don’t mean the geographical concept of America which goes from the Arctic all the way down to Chile. I mean the United States of America. At a certain point this country subscribed to a sort of pan-American ideology, but in a supremacist fashion where only a certain group of people had a right to America. The early history of the United States, as a result of this perspective, is one of genocide. Land was cleansed of Native Americans and Mexicans for use by white Anglo men. The enormous population of Americans of sub-Saharan African descent is the result of one of the most brutal campaigns of genocide and exploitation the world has ever seen, yet there are white Americans today who fear peaceful coexistence and intermarriage with the descendents of the victims simply because it would erase the fragile and stupid concept of “whiteness” that is so important to them (that’s an article by my dear colleague Solomon Wong, which you should go ahead and read if you’ve got time). But this isn’t just a fringe view, it was for decades the basis of US immigration policy, so that a country in a land which was historically not “white” could remain white forever in spite of taking in huge numbers of immigrants and in spite of many people who wanted to come who were not, you know, “white.” This is something the US shares with other stupid colonial white Anglo countries. This is how the United States as we know it came to be, and these racist ideas were normative among the horrible founders of this stupid country.
If the fact that this country was founded by people who said some pretty words about popular sovereignty means we should ignore all of their crimes and racist views, then why don’t we all become Maoists, choosing to focus on his love for poor villagers and belief in people working together against imperialism (he was certainly eloquent while discussing both), while ignoring all the mass murder and repression and whatnot?
But many people will still protest. Of course the founders of the country look bad by today’s standards. What leader from over 200 years ago would today seem progressive? People 200 years ago were all backward. It’s a fair point, I suppose, but one rarely acknowledged by the sort of people who celebrate July 4th (in fact, I’ll confess that I planted this point, because I am better at playing devil’s advocate than my enemies seem to be at defending their own positions). With this sort of justification in mind (I presume), well-meaning liberals argue that on July 4th, we are celebrating the birth of a “nation” which stands for positive things. Those crimes are surely crimes, but the overarching “message” of America is a good one: Equality and democracy and all that noise.
First of all, this is in contradiction with a lot of the US’s behavior in the modern world, which has been anti-democratic and destructive. Secondly, it relies on the assumption that democracy is the answer to life’s problems, or creates equality. As a secular humanist, I judge behavior not based on how “democratic” it is, but based on how moral it is (which I judge through the nigh-universally agreed-upon Golden Rule). I acknowledge that this is not a cohesive ideology for changing society on its own, but better to let such an idealistic focus on morality guide pragmatic action than to blindly subscribe to ideology, including a worship of pragmatism so obscene one cannot honestly argue that progress is being made.
Thirdly, it assumes that US society is really democratic, which has been a matter of dispute for some time.
If it turns out that America is not democratic, or that democracy is not a good thing, or that America stands for something bad at an “inherent” level, will you stop celebrating July 4th? To me, few holidays mean much of anything. I don’t believe in Abrahamic religion at all, but I still celebrate a bunch of silly Abrahamic holidays. Perhaps this is how some people might view July 4th.
But most people do take offense at the idea that the United States is not somehow worth celebrating. They do not just want July 4th as an excuse to party, but legitimately feel upset at the insinuation that there is something “wrong” with America. At the very least, they will claim that for all its imperfections, the United States has the “potential” to be “the greatest country on Earth” (as if Singapore, Indonesia, India, Turkey, France, Gabon and Brazil don’t all also have that same “potential”). They will point to the constitution (which defined Blacks as being worth “three fifths of all other Persons”), as if I couldn’t just point to the much more progressive constitution of South Africa. If America’s “potential” comes from its constitution, South Africa must therefore have more “potential.” If it doesn’t come from the constitution, what does it come from? The genetics of its population? The soil? Both these lines of thinking reek of fascism.
But then you’ll have to forgive the patriots, as they so very much want to believe.
Many readers will take this as some sort of attack on them because they are American. But I only write this because I am myself a US citizen. Some dead white guy once said that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” What is the value in believing a country (any country, not just the current global empire and death-dealer that I and my target audience are citizens of) “stands for something” or is “good”? If a position is defensible, it shouldn’t need a flag (US or otherwise) to legitimize it. If I were a citizen of Russia, I would be saying much the same thing. Except you know… in Russian.
If tomorrow our flag and constitution both simply consisted of the words “kill ’em all,” some of you would desperately try to say that these things didn’t constitute “real” America. And again, I would question what makes something “real.” Does the country’s essence emanate from the soil within and only within the borders of that country, so that in Canada everything is different? Or is the exact genetic mix of all US citizens at any given moment the real source of the “true” essence of America, and again, if so, why is that not so in every other country on Earth?
On the other hand, if tomorrow I was allowed to write the constitution, I still wouldn’t say that that was what made my position right or that our struggle for human progress was mandated by that constitution, because I would still be judging our species as a whole, and would only view that constitution as a reflection of that imperative. The worship of the constitution or of the US flag is no more logical (no matter what known fascist warmonger Christopher Hitchens told you before he became a corpse) than any backward religious dogma. Perhaps its modern origins make it look more convincing, but then few Americans would give the same credit to the writings of Karl Marx (and if you’re a critical thinker with as much Marxist training as I have, you’re very aware how culty Marxists can get), which frankly make far more sense than the stupid patriotic writings (past or present) of most fans of the United States of Nonsense and Lies.
America has no inherent value, July 4th is a masturbatory display by the most dangerous country on Earth, and the lives of innocent children matter more to me than the stupid abstract concepts which obviously exist to justify oppression and murder that many of you will celebrate this week. We shouldn’t be celebrating, we should be protesting.