by Sean Kosofsky
All Politics is Loco
This holiday season many of us will be wrapped in the warm thoughts of family, friendship, pretty holiday lights and our most attractive winter outfits. Many of us will drink eggnog, eat too many cookies and lie to children about Santa Claus. It is just what we do.
I have been doing a lot of thinking about cultural customs that we perform or engage in without thought. One of them is the Pledge of Allegiance. Since we were very small many of us were taught the same things about Santa Claus that we were about religion. And we were taught that family was important and patriotism, too. It is time to give more thought to the Pledge of Allegiance. So curl up with your hot cocoa, throw up the sash or eat your figgy pudding but please indulge me in examining our national addiction to obedience.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Word for word, the Pledge of Allegiance is an orgy of patriotic idolatry. First of all, the pledge focuses on the individual, not the family, the community, or the state in which you live. “I pledge” means that each of us as individuals are expected to make a personal commitment and promise to fulfill what we are about to promise. Who is monitoring us? Who is checking to see if we are allegiant? The CIA? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security? Our nosey neighbor? What does it mean to pledge allegiance? Basically we are all on our own and must be constantly on guard to make sure we are dutifully wrapped in the flag.
And why are we pledging allegiance to an object? No really…why? If the goal is to get Americans to be loyal to their country why are we not promising our loyalty to the Capitol Building, the White House or to the U.S. Constitution? Symbolism is important and it runs through much of our culture and many of our religions so I understand what the U.S. Flag is supposed to represent but let’s be clear that it does not mean only one thing.
The flag means many things to many people. Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan would have very different ideas about what the flag represents. For some it was westward expansion and for others it was the extermination of Native Americans, and for others it was land. Nowadays people will say it stands for liberty, justice and freedom, but can they explain what they mean. After 9/11 it really bothered me to watch so many Americans slap American flags on their homes or on their cars without the simplest understanding of why. I asked my friend why he put an American flag sticker on his car and he was speechless. Patriotism for patriotisms sake!
“One nation, under God. indivisible” is my favorite part to pick at. We are not one nation. As John Edwards has declared on many occasions, “there are two Americas” – and probably thirty or forty Americas. Native Americans have been raped, murdered, displaced, robbed and lied to by this America. Poor people have been thrown under the bus by this America. Huge corporations own this America. If we were truly living in “one nation” there would be no need to spy on our citizens, and we would all devote our nation’s resources to caring for each other and work to eliminate poverty and injustice. But we don’t live in that nation. We live in a nation divided. So divided we can’t even agree that war is bad and health care is good.
Our U.S. Constitution and the founding fathers were clear that we have a separation of church and state. There is no religious test for President and there shouldn’t be a religious test for citizenship. It doesn’t matter if you worship a sky god or tree gods, one god or fifty. You can be an American and be Godless. Now that is the American way.
Whenever my friend Tom Zerafa says the Pledge he always waits for the end. “With liberty and justice FOR ALL.” He always says the last part louder so everyone can here. He is making a point. This pledge is empty as long as each American saying it is actually pledging liberty and justice for all Americans. If you voted for the marriage ban, or the Affirmative Action ban or for George Bush the second time, you have no right saying the Pledge of Allegiance. You should be saying you’re sorry instead.