America . . . Love It or Leave It

What does the cross represent? It is a symbol of Christianity.

What does the color pink represent today? It is a symbol of support for breast cancer victims, survivors, and for research to end this illness.

What is the rainbow? A symbol of the Gay Rights Movement.

What is the American flag? A symbol of the United States of America.

I repeat, the flag is a symbol, a piece of dyed material. It is not “freedom” or “democracy” or “justice” or “patriotism” itself. It is a physical item representing inanimate objects and intangible concepts. Nothing more.

Therefore the American flag is not a country. It is not a constitution. It is not a government. It is not the men and women who have died in the name of their country.

But many Americans are obsessed with symbols, especially our nation’s flag. Do not, they insist, in any way or form, tread on it. It deserves our loyalty, our 100% respect. Always. Under all circumstances. By challenging it in any manner, they apparently feel, makes one un-American, non-patriotic, and a traitor.

They think nothing, however, of turning the image of the Stars and Stripes into a breast-highlighting, tight tank top, underwear with the likelihood of becoming pee or skid mark-stained, mud flaps, or icing on a sheet cake.

But when pro-football quarterback Colin Kaepernick expresses his concerns about racial injustices in the United States by sitting through the flag-adorned national anthem at a football game, he is called a traitor by misguided Americans who do not understand the basics about democracy and freedom. They condemn him, accuse him of being disrespectful to an arbitrary symbol, and shower him with hate for expressing his feelings, utilizing his freedom of speech, and, quite simply, pointing out that America could be better; it could do a better job of being what it is supposed to be to all citizens.

The reaction to Kaepernick’s actions and statements bring me back to an earlier period in my life, to the Vietnam War Era, when opponents to America’s policies and actions were told by faux-patriots that when it came to America, “love it or leave it.” The solution, they felt, was that simple. America was not wrong. It did not make mistakes. It did not need improvement. If you didn’t like it in the USA, get the hell out or shut up. Freedom of speech, in their hypocritical world, did not include questioning government policy or disagreeing with the establishment, system, or majority.

While I have not actually heard anyone wanting to banish Kaepernick from the US, banning him from football has been proposed. But would banning him make the problems in our society he wants corrected go away? Ostracizing him may be a moot point, however, as his value to a team has been greatly reduced in recent years due to poor play. But his right to free speech has not been reduced.

It seems to me, all Colin Kaepernick is saying is he wants to see America better itself in those areas it needs improvement. And here is the irony: many of the Americans most angered by the football player’s actions may be supporters of Donald Trump and his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” That implies they believe there is something wrong with America. That means they doubt America. If that is the case, then, by using their “patriotic” standards, aren’t those people the traitors, the un-patriotic Americans?

If Kaepernick’s desire is to prod America and its government into improving and being what it is meant to be, then isn’t he merely expressing Trump’s catchphrase, but from a different perspective? Perhaps his version might be “Make America Great for Everyone. Finally.”

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