Treat the Flag Like Shit But Don’t Burn It!

American Flag

I find it curious that there are still people who think that burning the American flag is some terrible thing. A lot of people want to make it illegal. But could there be any form of speech that the First Amendment most clearly applies to?

If you think that the United States has betrayed its own ideals, what better way is there to say so than to burn the American flag?

When I was a kid, it was widely believed that if a flag fell on the ground, it had to be destroyed — by fire. Or maybe burying it. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to throw it in the trash. Regardless, this was the kind of thing that you supposedly did out of respect for the flag.

It turns out that most people say you do not have to destroy a flag that touches the ground. But it doesn’t matter. It shows that how one treats the flag is open to opinion. And it changes over time.

I know it’s shocking to many, but we all show our patriotism in our own ways. What I don’t like is people who get angry at others while they show a facile kind of patriotism themselves.

Flags in My Neighborhood

The neighborhood I walk each day features dozens of American flags flying outside houses. Almost all of these houses feature multiple trucks and badly managed lawns, so I know they are owned by conservatives. And not one of these flags is taken down at night or in bad weather. I know because I take walks in the early morning and at night.

I also know because many of these flags are badly worn. One is obviously fraying when viewed from across the street. And I’m sure that these people think themselves very patriotic. “Remember last year when I bought a flag and hung it up?!”

Facile Patriotism

This is very much like the yellow ribbons that I saw on cars during the George W Bush administration. It showed that you supported the troops! It’s set-it and forget-it patriotism.

This fetishization of the American flag is thus literal “virtue signaling.” It the kind of patriotism that signals that you are a Good Person as opposed to people like me who have a more nuanced but active patriotism.

And by and large, these flag-wavers are the people who are most offended by the burning of the American flag. In Shoe0nHead’s video, these free-speech champions were mostly all for laws against flag burning. The people who didn’t think it should be illegal were mostly military, who I would hope would also treat their flags well.[1]

I have little doubt that many of the insurgents on 6 January 2021 had well-worn flags outside their own houses. They don’t love America so much as “America.” Easily won patriotism is just as easily lost.

But I totally defend their right to treat their flags badly. I’m just not as accepting of the way they treat our country.


[1] It’s amazing how many people bring up the burning of the BLM flag without understanding the issue at all. It was stolen from a church and then burned. The issue was never that you can’t burn a BLM flag. Yet in their minds, there was some special law that protected BLM. It’s amazing! It’s like the old NRA bumper stickers, “I’m ignorant as fuck, and I vote!

Image via PxHear — it is in the public domain.

The Public Square Must Be Public

George Caleb Bingham - Stump Speaking

A lot of things people say are both true and wrong. A good example of this is the claim that the First Amendment only applies to government censorship. This is true. But are we also going to say that this is good? I don’t think so.

In a world where the commons is now owned by private companies, we need to expand upon the First Amendment. And we need to be broader when we talk about free speech.

None of this should be seen as a defense of Donald Trump or conservatives more generally. The major social media platforms have been doing nothing but helping the conservative movement. Just look at the top shared articles on Facebook in any given week. It’s always overwhelmingly conservative articles with a couple of mainstream news items and nothing leftist at all.

Just as with the War on Christmas, what conservatives think is fair is for there to be great limits on everyone else while they get special rights. But there are major (Real!) free speech issues with the private ownership of the public square that greatly harm leftists.

Who Controls Speech?

The biggest political story since Republicans stormed the Capitol is that Amazon kicked Parler off their servers. The power of Amazon in the web hosting business has been a huge problem for years. If you pulled the plug on AWS, the internet as we know it would be gone. They host everyone! This is the biggest problem with Amazon, not its retail sales.

Parler seems to be a toxic entity on the internet. I have no problem with them being shut down. In fact, I’m happy about it. However, I don’t think Amazon should be the one to make that decision.

Similarly, I don’t have a problem with Trump being kicked off Twitter. But this example is illustrative.

Had Trump been an ordinary person, he would have been banned from Twitter years ago. In fact, I think that had Trump been a Democratic politician with leftist ideas, he would have been banned from Twitter.

So the question is not, “Why was Trump banned?” It was, “Why did it take so long”? And I think we know the answer to that. It’s because Trump is good for the bottom line. Fuck any concerns about the public good.

The Obvious Solution

Some people think that the big social media companies should become utilities. But to my mind, utilities are just a bullshit way of allowing the private sector to make a profit on things that are effectively collectivized. I’ve certainly not seen it working well here in California with PG&E.

So I say we just collectivize all of these things. We democratize the process of algorithms instead of allowing our country to be destroyed just so Mark Zuckerberg can add a few dollars to his store of wealth.

Now some may wonder why I had to write an article about this. What I’m proposing is really simple after all. And that’s the thing. Nationalizing general social media companies is distinctly outside the Overton Window. And that’s bizarre because the status quo is to allow the public square to be completely controlled by a few very rich individuals who have very different incentives from what is best for the public.

The Public Square Must Be Public!

So it’s obvious that the public square should be public. Yet we don’t generally talk about this because we are so caught up in a paradigm of socialism vs capitalism. But the progression of capitalism over the years has been to make more and more public space private.

When people like Adam Smith and Thomas Paine were writing, the world was far more public than it is today. It was still possible to go and find farmable land that didn’t belong to anyone. Not so today. Try farming an unused piece of land somewhere near you and see how long it takes for the police to come and arrest you.[1]

This isn’t rocket science. It isn’t brain surgery. It’s something that a toddler could understand. The public square should be public.


[1] Note that so-called libertarians are in favor of everything being private property. It shows that libertarians don’t really care about liberty. They care about private property. This is why a world run by libertarians would be a dystopia.

Image cropped by Stump Speaking by George Caleb Bingham in the public domain.

Jacob Blake and the Revolution

Jacob Blake Protestor

Wednesday morning, I woke up to the news that there would be no charges filed against the officers responsible for paralyzing Jacob Blake, including one officer who shot at his back seven times (four shots him him). It was sad but not surprising. The truth is, as a society, we’ve decided that blue lives matter more than anyone else’s. But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the problems we face with policing and racism because reactionaries stormed the Capitol.

Contrast in Black and White

It was quite a contrast. On one hand you have an unarmed black man facing away from an officer shot in the back. And on the other, the Capitol Police were shockingly nice and accommodating to people who were literally staging a revolution.

Many people have noted that had the insurgents been black or brown, the police would have sprayed them with bullets. Clearly, this is racial. But it is more than that. It is about affinity.

If there had been a bunch of white people there storming the capital in the name of social justice or other liberal causes, I believe there would have been more shooting. Certainly not as many had they been black. But still a lot.

Police and Military Affinity

This is a major problem in the United States. Just as in the Jim Crow South, the police are on the wrong side of history. Police tend to be more conservative — especially when it comes to how society ought to police itself. (I’m sure that a large number of officers did go into policing because they wanted to help people. The problem is what they mean by “help people.”)

Traditionally, authoritarians gain power because the military backs them. Right now we don’t have to worry about that because Trump is not that popular in the army — and distinctly unpopular among the officer corps. But what about next time? What about when someone like Trump comes around who’s much better at talking to and about the military?

Another issue is the 147 Congressional Republicans who objected to the presidential election results even after the attack on the Capitol. I have no doubt that almost all the Republicans would have been for throwing out electoral votes if they had control of both chambers of Congress. It’s just that some were smart enough to know they couldn’t actually steal the election so it wasn’t worth putting out their necks.

Whose Votes Matter?

I don’t pretend to have much affinity with conservatives. They’re mostly people who lack empathy and don’t care about facts or knowledge. But I do share enough affinity with them to realize that they are human beings with different beliefs who vote differently than I do. And I understand that in a democracy their voices must be heard.

The issue with racism is that it allows people to see others as less human. As less valid. I don’t think that his supporters actually believe that Trump got more votes in the election. I think they believe that Trump got the most votes from the kind of people who matter.

So the responses to the attack on the Capitol and to Jacob Blake are the perfect contrast of what’s wrong in this country today and, well, let’s face it, forever.


Jacob Blake Protestor by Becker1999 under CC BY 2.0.

The Aesthetics of Revolution — Trump’s Capitol Siege

Trump - Stop the Steal - 6 Jan 2021

The storming of the Capitol building on Wednesday was, as so much during the Trump era, shocking but not surprising. Also, like so much of the last four years, it has been analyzed well by others. What I think I might have to say that I haven’t heard is about what these would-be revolutionaries did once they got inside.

Cosplay Revolutionaries

If I could look past the despair I feel of seeing our imperfect but existing democracy crumble, Wednesday was pretty funny. Once the mob got inside the Capitol, they acted like the proverbial dog that catches the car. They had no plan. So they did some vandalism.

But mostly they just took selfies of themselves and explored the area. It reminded me of what my friend Will and I did when we managed to break inside the college recording studio. (Note: we didn’t break anything. It just wasn’t that hard to get past the locks. And we had a bit of experience with that…)

I’ve made fun before of cosplay socialists. I still think they are ridiculous; they make leftists look silly; and they hurt the cause by making social progress sound easy. But I wasn’t prepared for the pretend revolutionaries on the right. They don’t even have real complaints!

Offended Conservatives

Conservatives have been very good at appropriating the aesthetics of social justice without having the cause. Aesthetics without content.

We see this a lot with conservative dust-ups over liberals not using the right word. And admittedly there are some really pathetic liberals who do the same thing. But they aren’t co-opting it. They are pointing out real problems even if the specifics are nonsense.

Conservatives, on the other hand, really think that it’s just a game. None of them were really outraged when Hillary Clinton said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession…” Conservatives love opportunities to pretend to be offended when they aren’t.

And the nation as a whole does too. For example, a politician who uses the n-word will probably have their career ended. But no one is surprised when the n-word is unleashed. It is always following a long time in which the speaker has shown themselves to be a racist.

This kind of dedicated never-read-the-subtext game is beloved by the vast majority of Americans.

The Oppressed Elites

The one thing Trump has been very good at is allowing all of these people who are not oppressed to think that they are. To think that the results of one election that they don’t like are tantamount to tyranny. Of course, even if Trump had won these people would claim to be oppressed.

Nothing new here. Just think of John Wilkes Booth killing Abraham Lincoln. He was convinced he was Brutus striking a blow against the tyrant Julius Caesar! You have to ask why Booth felt he lived under tyranny. After all, his life was good. But he, like the “revolutionaries” on Wednesday, had convinced himself that minor complaints justified a violent response.

Brought to You By the Media

The media is a huge part of the problem here. They allow conservatives to pretend to be oppressed simply because they cloak themselves in the language of the oppressed. Conservatives are always given the benefit of the doubt. We’ve seen this most clearly with Donald Trump.

When Trump says something that is demonstrably wrong, the media claim they can’t call it a lie. After all, how can they know what’s going on inside his head? He might really think it’s true! Then they tell us that Trump thinks he really won the election! Suddenly, when knowing what goes on inside Trump’s head helps him, they are psychics!

The rules are simple. If it makes Trump look better then they can get inside his head. If it makes him look worse, though, they can’t. They don’t want to be unfair!

And this opens the door for media outlets that will go far further — who will make a buck telling people that their basest inclinations are Right and True.

More Than the Insurgents

But the insurgents who attacked the Capitol this week have been condemned! They had to be given how much coverage violence that happens adjacent to liberal protests get. But even this criticism is limited to the mainstream. In conservative media, it was really leftists who stormed the Capitol!

But all the others who support these would-be revolutionaries are given a free ride. The 45 percent of Republicans who say that the attack was justified are given a pass. We are told again and again that they really believe that the election was stolen.[1]

Well, that may be. But they are the ones who have chosen to get their news from OANN and The Epoch Times. They are the ones who continue to vote for politicians who lie to them.

[1] Check out this wonderful bit of false equivalence from The Washington Post. Yeah, a lot of Democrats were unhappy about 2004. First, what do you expect after 2000? Second, things were bad in Ohio in 2004. And people always grumble after an election loss. In 2020, we have a candidate who lost the popular vote by over 7 million votes and still they are certain that the election was stolen. A lot of political science research is remarkably facile.


Trump at “Stop the Steal” Rally 6 Jan 2020 by Voice of America. It is in the public domain.