Inauguration Day 2017

There are a lot of people who are very concerned about what is taking place in the United States today, and about what will follow after.

I’m one of them.

And there are a lot of different things people are doing about it. And some people have no idea what to do at all.

But I’ll tell you what I’m doing.

I’m buying an American flag.

And I’m going to put it up somewhere.

Maybe you think that’s a strange response. There are a fair number of thoughtful people who care a lot about what goes on in America, who when they see things that disturb or worry them—things past, present, or on the horizon—sometimes get a little squeamish about overtly patriotic symbolism. And I understand the hesitation, but now is not the time for squeamishness. Now is the time for us to rally to the defense of the soul of our nation, to stand up and guard its sacred values, and to insistently claim our ownership stake in it.

This is my flag, and it stands for my country. And I refuse to yield them.

Let’s talk about this country and its symbols for a moment.

America is fairly unusual in the course of history so far. Unlike most nations that have ever risen on the stage of this world, this country isn’t just a particular band of people who share a place and a ruler. The United States of America is an idea that we’re trying to live out. The rare and ingenious act of the founders of this nation was that they did not just establish a form of government; they set up, enshrined in written word for all time, a purpose for that government.
And they were ambitious about it. The goal they set for us when they founded this American experiment was, as Abraham Lincoln put it, that of “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The symbols of this country therefore stand not just for America as it is or has been. Even more than those things, they stand for America the ideal, America the democratic hope, for which dedicated Americans have striven and fought for over two centuries, shedding their own blood in trying to make this republic a more-perfect union.

Second, if you’re an American, the flag and other symbols of America inescapably, unavoidably represent you and me. When an American flag goes up somewhere, it represents you to the world whether you like it or not, and whether or not you choose to take any part in defining what connotations that flag may also carry.

Third, the symbols of America represent, well, America. All of it. Our next-door neighbors and the people living on the other side of the nation; the rich, the poor; they are all America.
And so if we choose not to respect those symbols, no matter what our reasons may be, it will always, unavoidably, also convey lack of respect for America—not just America the set of leaders or laws, but America the ideal, too; and America the people themselves.

So if you’re someone who inclines toward discomfort with open displays of national loyalty, this is a simple fact you need to understand and take into consideration: whenever any group of people intentionally avoids patriotic gestures, it sets up a visible, public contrast, between those who appear to respect and honor liberty and justice and their fellow Americans, and those who do not. This is a foolish and misguided contest you can never win and shouldn’t try.

Yes, a lot of people proudly put on an ignorant caricature of patriotism, one that’s about applauding themselves just for being born here. But real patriotism isn’t self-congratulation; it is aspiration. It is love of country, a love that combines a fiercely protective determination to watch over its well-being with a lofty desire to help it become the best possible version of itself.

So don’t let anybody ever be able to say you oppose your country just because you oppose certain people running it, or certain things taking place in it. You’re fighting for your country when you stand up, and speak up, for its betterment.

So my encouragement to you is this: don’t back away now from the outward signs of loyalty to this nation. Take them up with gusto. Don’t relinquish this country or the symbols which represent it—which represent you. If you surrender them, you are abdicating the opportunity to define what these things mean and the chance to declare your own love of country as real and legitimate, leaving the narrative of patriotism to people who would gladly define loyalty to country as loyalty to the present leaders and their policies.

But as long as you and I instead keep flying this flag in the name of freedom and equality, as long as we keep insisting, every time we pledge allegiance to it, that the republic for which this flag stands is one of liberty and justice for all, as long as we refuse to hand it over willingly, it cannot be taken from us. And as long as it remains ours, whoever flies it while working to undermine liberty and dismantle justice is foolishly waving the symbol of their own ultimate defeat.

So…I’m putting up a flag. And I’m going to fly one proudly these four years as a proclamation of what I stand for. I invite you, too, to consistently, openly, and unashamedly show your love of this country. It is, after all, your country.

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