Memorial Day. The flags go up — many for the summer — and the red, white, and blue bunting adorns small towns across America. For many, the patriotic displays and Old Glory fluttering in the summer breezes are nostalgic reminders of an era before Trumpism. They are reminders, for those who respect what America stands for, of the values of leadership, integrity, and fundamental equality and tolerance that the country stands for.
There is a fine line between enthusiasm and extremism. One the one hand, patriotism, unity, and confidence bolster a country’s morale and prominence; and on the other, radicalism, intolerance, and fear spread discord. Donald Trump’s rapid ascension to power in the United States has been an unfortunate lesson in extremism. Trump has contributed to the rise of a new homegrown American Taliban-like radicalism.
For almost two decades, the American military has been fighting ceaselessly against an army of extremists in jacked-up, flag-flying pickups that threatens to destabilize the Middle East. Women and men alike have sacrificed their lives as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, and sons to battle intolerant and oppressive guerrillas. In addition to depriving individuals of rights and freedoms, the austere and radical interpretation of Islam promoted by the Taliban stokes regional and national rivalries that contribute to a divide-and-conquer mentality.
Trump’s Taliban-mimicking army of warriors do not wear turbans or speak Arabic, and only some wear beards, but like their counterparts, many of them can be spotted in jacked-up Fords and Chevys with American flags flying. Trump’s personal militia terrorizes towns and neighborhoods across the country — using brash intimidation in the name of patriotism to sow intolerance and fear. They holler and shout, just like their leader, but say little. They demean women and ridicule opponents. They promote xenophobia and bigotry. They resort to base violence and thuggery. They have forgotten and deserted every decent and fundamental value that their ragged fluttering flags stand for.
No one has a right to America because they pay taxes, were born in the United States, or fly a flag. Men, women, and children of any race, color, creed, or nationality have a right to America because of the foresight and wisdom of three dozen men who had a vision when they signed and enacted the Constitution. They have a right to America because of what America is — a symbolic and historical refuge of equality and acceptance.
As enthusiasm and extremism engage in an epic battle for America, individual actions, and not Trump himself, will ultimately dictate the nation’s future. There is nothing wrong with flying a flag proudly for Memorial Day or for every day.
However, the extremist flies the flag as a warning to immigrants; to scare and shame his neighbor into abandoning her political views. An enthusiast flies the flag to welcome the weary as an open door; to invite debate as a symbol of American political, ethnic, and religious diversity that accompanies its freedoms. An extremist flies the flag to silence the press, and an enthusiast flies it in hopes that more opinions will be heard. The extremist uses the flag as a weapon to beat his opponents while the enthusiast uses the flag to raise people up.
As Trump marches through his first term as the anti-president, the nation grows more divided under his regime. It is a nation, where for the first time in its history, the majority is in fear of the minority — afraid to speak out, to express opinions, to disagree. America is a violent place where journalists are beaten for questions and old women are accosted for their faded Hillary stickers. It is a place fostered by Trumpism where pick-up driving, flag-flying extremists threaten the stability of every basic right of each man, woman, and child.
Despite the dark days clouding America, there is hope. The United States is a resilient nation where individual perseverance and optimism prevail. It is a nation that derives its communal strength from personal struggles, and relies on the experiences of hundreds of millions of immigrants, refugees, and travelers. It is a place where two strangers stand up and give their lives to defend a Muslim on a train.
While Trump continues to spew and encourage hate and isolationist policies, Americans should question his words, his promises, his values. They must ask, “Does he stand for the America that we know?” as he belittles rights and builds walls. Besides, what good will all the flags be when there is no press to cover them and walls to prevent the rest of the world from seeing them?