Flags of Freedom

A 35-star version of the US Flag
A US flag with 35 stars in the field, created after West Virginia was added to the Union.

So there’s a controversy with Nike again, because Nike pulled a line of shoes showing the so-called Betsy Ross flag.  (You’ve seen it — it’s the one with a circle of 13 stars.)  It’s not entirely clear why Nike did so.  Some sources says it’s because Colin Kaepernick asked them to (and if so, it’s not clear why he did, although Vox claims it’s because “he argued, is pulled from the era of slavery and doesn’t warrant celebration”).  Further investigation seems to indicate that some white nationalist groups have started using the “Betsy Ross flag” as an emblem.

Of course, Nike’s decision immediately sparked the entirely-predictable vapor-swooning and outrage to be expected of the snowflake GOP. Doug Ducey, the governor of Arizona, instantly canceled financial assistance to Nike for a $184 million plant that would supposedly employ 500 people. Since I oppose corporate welfare, this seems like Ducey was driven to the right action by incorrect reasoning, but hey. Of course, it seems like Ducey is willing to inflict economic harm on his citizens for a political stunt, but that’s hardly surprising. Or maybe the original deal was unnecessary so the impact will be minimal.

Aside: Ducey ranted “Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism. … ” This could win some sort of irony award, since after all, the story that Betsy Ross sewed the original flag is itself a myth that few historians credit at all. This fiction was in fact invented by her grandson and used to sell flags and copies of a painting depicting the fictional scene.

Ted Cruz also inveigled about the Nike decision but really, the less time spent on Ted Cruz, the better.

This whole kerfluffle got me thinking, once again, about how one of the most damaging blunders of the past forty years, socio-politically, has been the abdication by the left (or even center!) of any claim to patriotism. Somehow the Republican Party has secured a stranglehold on the symbols and myths of our nation. Of course it’s easier when you romanticize the past and elevate all the players to near-godlike status, when you admit to no error or nuance. But even though there’s a lot to answer for in America’s past, there’s a lot that’s ennobling, uplifting, and good. A nation need not be perfect to be valued, and I take a lot more comfort in the ongoing struggles to render us a “more perfect Union” than in any fictitious perfection we’ve allegedly achieved.

So it’s time to reclaim the icons of the nation. Modern-day secessionists keep trying to resurrect the Confederate battle flag. White nationalists now claim the first flag of the US. What can those of us opposed to those groups claim? For me, it’s this: The 35-star flag of the Union, added in 1863 when West Virginia joined the Union. The two years for which this was the official flag saw the Emancipation Proclamation, the re-election of Abraham Lincoln, and the utter defeat and destruction of the armed insurrection that threatened the Union. It saw the official end of slavery in the United States, both de facto (Juneteenth) and de jure (passage of the 13th Amendment, though technically that was completed under the 36-star flag). It thus flew over the greatest burst of freedom in United States history.

(There exists a more traditional, all-rectangular 35-state flag as well. I like circular one for its distinctiveness and its echo of the so-called Betsy Ross flag.)

So, on this Independence Day, if the brouhaha around the “Betsy Ross” flag engenders some unease, proudly salute the Union flag instead. It’s a safe bet no white nationalist group is going to try to co-opt the flag that ended slavery and began the process of establishing legal parity among the races.

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