Steinberg: Saying the Pledge of Allegiance to a faded flag

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The morning sun shines brightly through an American flag during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony at Fort Gordon, Ga., Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. File Photo. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

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I pledge allegiance …

The sky was yellow Wednesday evening, so I took the flag down before the rain came. Thursday morning before work I put it back out, sliding the aluminum pole into the unsteady brass holder on our front porch, immediately placing my right hand against my heart and saying the pledge because, well, that’s what I do.

… to the flag …

The old flag is faded. The field of royal blue is now more of a bluish white. I probably should replace it. But it was a quality flag. I got it when we bought the house 16 years ago. The stars are embroidered; none of those cheap printed flags.

… of the United States of America …

But I like the faded flag. It seems apt. Not that we are a country fading, in decline — though we certainly seem to be, especially of late, divided, bickering, hating each other, unable to function while our problems deepen and our rivals thrive. We are into the second quarter of our third century. Not a young country anymore. Could we possibly go from the recklessness of youth straight to the folly of age without ever being wise?


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… and to the Republic …

A word that doesn’t get considered much. We are not a confederation of independent states, each jealously guarding our local traditions and prejudices, though that’s how many of us behave. We are a republic, a union where “supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives.” Note the absence of “some” in that definition. Not held by “some people” Not “rich people.” Not “white people.” Just people. All people.

… for which is stands …

I never understand those who equate patriotism with knee-jerk celebration. Love sometimes means clear sight and hard truths plainly told. We slaughtered our native people and drove them off their land — not a practice we invented, but one we excelled at. We enslaved. A shameful history, but taken in full, one with flashes of glory. The good and the bad, not always in balance, but always in competition. We failed our ideals but we had those ideals. Not everyplace on earth did, or does.

… 0ne nation …

Not because we’re all white, or all Christian, or all men, or all straight. We never were that nation; only pretended to be. For a long time. We never were and are less so now. The most repugnant thing about this most repugnant presidential campaign of 2016 is that one candidate — no need to say his name, it gets said enough — pretends he will turn the ship of state around, flip the bird to everyone treading water, and head toward his mirage without them. Not that it’s his fault — he is a symptom, not a cause. Too many Americans happily hoist his sails, swab his decks, declare this obvious sham their captain, so eager are they to sail off the edge of the world with him, fleeing their fear, unaware it will dog them to the ends of the earth.


Sometimes I say it, sometimes I hum. “Under God” was jammed into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 by a skittish Congress seeking to score a symbolic victory against the Godless communists. They didn’t realize that forced faith, like forced patriotism, is hollow. Just like those castigating that backup quarterback for protesting the National Anthem, oblivious to the fact that he isn’t undermining the liberty we all enjoy. He’s demonstrating it. Freedom to mouth accepted platitudes isn’t freedom, it’s gilded oppression.

… with liberty …

Always balanced by responsibility. My freedom to paint my lawn blue ends at your property line, your freedom to make a fist ends at the tip of my nose. So many across the spectrum don’t get that.

… and justice …

Fairness. Reasonableness. The hope that you will be judged, not by what other people of your faith do, not by what I’m afraid you might do, but by what you actually do, who you actually are, “the content of your character,” to quote Dr. King.

… for all.

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