Be Decent: Don’t Burn the American Flag

Image via nydailynews.com

It is no secret I am a patriot. And as such, I was saddened to hear of the seemingly growing discontent with America as embodied by the Colin Kaepernick-led kneeling for the National Anthem and a professedly renewed prominence of burnings of the American flag.

When you dishonor the flag, you are spitting on the graves of the young boys who left the comfort of their homes to throw themselves onto the beaches of Normandy. You are disgracing the memories of the people who lost their best friends, their limbs, and their sanity going through hell in order for you to have the freedom to wantonly criticize them.

You are allowed to sit for the anthem. But in the spirit of Christmas I ask that we reflect on our good fortune and that we reflect on those who gave for us. I ask that we be decent.

During the Christmas season it’s always important to remember to be particularly appreciative of the blessings that we have. Unfortunately, it is often too easy to fail to appreciate our good fortune. For the past four months, I have been living in Berlin, and while I am very happy to say that living in Germany has granted me many new perspectives on life and the world, I was nothing short of ecstatic to move back to the United States last week. I love my country; I think the United States is the greatest country in the history of human civilization, and after having been apart from its wonderful hills and rivers for so long, I can confidently say I will never take the sight of our national flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, for granted again.

It is no secret I am a patriot. And as such, I was saddened to hear of the seemingly growing discontent with America as embodied by the Colin Kaepernick-led kneeling for the National Anthem and a professedly renewed prominence of burnings of the American flag.

I noticed as I listened to the concerns of these protesters that those who knelt for the anthem and those who burned the flag would often claim to have similar grievances with the state of our union. And whether these grievances were about police brutality, economic or racial inequality, American military involvement abroad, or anything else, it was clear (at least to me) that these were concerns worth talking about.

But engaging in reasonable and civil dialogue about real issues facing our country and disrespecting or desecrating the American flag are two entirely different things.

Objects have symbolic value. The American flag is more than simply a red, white, and blue piece of cloth. It symbolizes American values. Most people that I know, myself included, would never even consider kneeling for the anthem or burning the flag if for no other reason than we love our country. We recognize something that many others, unfortunately, don’t: that America, while not a perfect nation, is a fundamentally moral one. The freedoms we enjoy within our borders are privileges that most people in history haven’t had, and it is so important to be thankful and reverent for our good fortune.   

Now, as I’ve stated earlier, I understand that there are many people who do not share my vision of America. This saddens me, but I do not mean to discount many real concerns that people have. But even if you are thoroughly convinced that America is fundamentally imbued with endemic immorality, manifested in whatever avenue, it is still indecent to dishonor our flag. This is because the flag represents more than the American government. It represents more even than American values. It represents people. It represents people who fought and died for us.

One thing that Colin Kaepernick has repeatedly stated about his protests is that he means no disrespect to the members of the American military. This argument is neither good nor original. And frankly, I don’t really care what Colin Kaepernick or others who make the same argument believe the American flag to represent. The American flag does represent the men and women who sacrificed their lives to defend the United States.

When you dishonor the flag, whether through kneeling during its rise during the National Anthem, stepping on the cloth, or burning it in protest, you are dishonoring the legacy of these people. You are spitting on the graves of the young boys who left the comfort of their homes to throw themselves onto the beaches of Normandy. You are disgracing the memories of the people who lost their best friends, their limbs, and their sanity going through hell in order for you to have the freedom to wantonly criticize them. Why would you disrespect these men and women?

For those of us with family and loved ones in the military, the American flag is what drapes the coffin of the schoolmate being sent home from war. It is what the widow next-door clutches as she tries to fall asleep after having lost her husband. It is what the paralyzed veteran salutes as he listens to the anthem of the nation he gave his youth defending.

If your level of decency would prevent you from literally spitting in the faces of these people, it should prevent you from symbolically spitting in their faces. Because whether or not you want the American flag to represent these men and women, it does. And decent people don’t desecrate the legacies of people who sacrificed everything they had to protect you. In the name of being a fundamentally decent human being, don’t burn the flag. Stand for the National Anthem. But I will not make you. As I look at the American flag, I am filled with many emotions, overwhelmed by a flood of ideals, the foremost of which is the thought of freedom. And as part of our freedoms, you are allowed to burn the flag. You are allowed to sit for the anthem. But in the spirit of Christmas I ask that we reflect on our good fortune and that we reflect on those who gave for us. I ask that we be decent.

Hunter Michielson is an undergraduate studying philosophy and German at Duke University. He spent this past summer working at The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. 

Enough with the Name-calling

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Image via cbsnews.com

Through electing Donald Trump, I see the American people as having rejected the formerly popular strategy of using insults as a form of argument.

It’s been a couple of weeks since the results of the Presidential Election were revealed. I, like many Americans, was shocked to hear that Donald Trump, the controversial and loud-mouthed political novice, had actually won the presidency. I currently live in Berlin, Germany, so I had a wonderful opportunity to, along with several German students, attend an election party hosted by a local university. Given the time zone difference, watching the election live turned into an all-night event, making the emotional ups and downs of this monumental night only more exacerbated by exhaustion.

It’s only every 4 years that we have the opportunity to watch the transition of power within the most influential nation in the history of human civilization occur before our very eyes. It’s a wonderful privilege we have, and watching it all unfold in a foreign country came with a few added interesting elements.

I arrived to the election party before the first polls closed, so I had an opportunity to talk with a few German students about what they anticipated the outcome would be, who they supported, and what they thought of the entire spectacle. Through my passable understanding of the German language (and occasional clarifications in English), I learned that nearly all of the students I talked to both expected and wanted Hillary Clinton to win. In fact, throughout the entire night, I met only 3 students who told me they were pulling for Donald Trump, and even these students were skeptical of his chances. As the night went on, the general mood of the party turned to surprise. And I imagine this mood would have been the same at nearly every election party happening across the world. Whether you were elated or devastated with the results, chances are you did not expect Donald Trump to win.

We’ve seen examples of it in the media, where panels of political pundits wouldn’t even entertain the notion that Donald Trump might be a good person, or have good ideas.

But should we have been surprised?

We all know what the polls said. Even the predictions most generous to our now President-elect gave him less than a 30% chance of victory with some giving him as low as 1%. But have we learned nothing from the Brexit referendum?

The Brexit vote taught us something about how people respond to condescension

This article is not an attack on the systems of polling. Clearly something went wrong with whatever methods and algorithms political scientists and statisticians use to guess the winner, but such an investigation of polling errors is a task for another essay. Beyond polling, the Brexit vote taught us something about how people respond to condescension. During the campaign season we witnessed opponents of the movement for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union decry the “Leave” Campaign as fundamentally rooted in racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and a host of other horrific titles.

But we all know how that turned out.

If you followed the American Presidential Campaign this year at all, you’re well aware that the same accusations lobbed at the “Leave” Campaign were lobbed at Trump’s movement. I imagine that these insults were thrown at Trump and his supporters at least in part to deter undecided voters from pulling the lever for the GOP nominee. The result? Same thing we saw in Brexit.

Should we be surprised?

My problem with many of the criticisms of Trump in this election cycle is not with their existence, but the regrettably prolific argument that a highly critical perspective of Trump is the only legitimate perspective of him to have.

Forget what the polls said. Let’s talk about human behavior. Do you like it when people call you names? Would you like it if somebody called you a racist, a xenophobe, or a bigot? Do you enjoy being talked down to? Unfortunately, many criticisms of Donald Trump throughout this past election cycle have taken on such a pedantic tone. Let me be clear: there are a lot of legitimate criticisms of Donald Trump. I encourage a healthy criticism of the policies of all people who wish to ascend to the highest office in the United States. My problem with many of the criticisms of Trump in this election cycle is not with their existence, but the regrettably prolific argument that a highly critical perspective of Trump is the only legitimate perspective of him to have.

We all have come into contact with someone who, when presented with an argument that challenges their beliefs, will roll his/her eyes and walk away. This dismissive (lack-of) argumentative attitude is in no way unique to this election cycle, but I’ve found such sentiment particularly exacerbated during the Brexit and Trump campaigns. We’ve seen examples of it in the media, where panels of political pundits wouldn’t even entertain the notion that Donald Trump might be a good person, or have good ideas. Take your personal opinions of the man aside and ask yourself: is the lack of willingness to engage in discourse the kind of political society you want to live in? Is it a good thing to approach political conversations believing that your opinion is the only opinion a reasonable person can have?

Many have described Trump’s historic victory as “a blow to the political elite.” I think, in many ways, this is true. Through electing Donald Trump, I see the American people as having rejected the formerly popular strategy of using insults as a form of argument. As with Brexit, the results of the 2016 Presidential election were further evidence that calling people racist, xenophobic bigots actually doesn’t win anyone over. This should not surprise us. If you want to engage people, if you want to convince people, and more importantly, if you want to understand people, don’t insult them for being different. I learned this principle when I was 4 years old; it shouldn’t be that hard to implement it into our political discourse.

Hunter Michielson is an undergraduate studying philosophy and German at Duke University. He is currently living in Berlin studying abroad.