Saying the pledge

After the tsimmis last week of the kid being arrested for not saying the pledge to the flag[1] in a Florida (!) school, I have studiously avoided writing this post — and to be honest I thought I had already written it. But I think the story is worth telling.

First, let me state up front that I find this country’s hyper-patriotism more than a little problematic, and the idolatry enveloping the flag is particularly offensive to me since it involves the forced public display of my-country-right-or-wrong-oh-yeah-why-don’t-you-just-move-somewhere-else devotion.

Until the early 90s I was agnostic about the pledge. As long as we all understood that it was an empty gesture, who cares? But then something happened that was so vile, so disgustingly hypocritical, that I became about as anti-pledge as you can be.

It was summer, probably 1993 though the exact year escapes me, and I was once again in Valdosta as the chair of the media department at the Governor’s Honors Program [GHP]. One day I ventured into the TV room of the faculty dorm, where the usual gang was glued to C-SPAN. (GHP is one big nerd camp.)

What was going on that had them so enthralled? The Republicans in the House of Representatives had introduced, as was their wont, an amendment to the Constitution to “protect” the flag, and a vote was in process.

Let me repeat that: ignoring the fact that the Constitution has never been amended to protect the government from the people — quite the reverse — the Republicans were attempting alter our foundational document to “protect” a piece of cloth.

Their cynicism was visible from space: their goal was to wrap themselves in that flag and cast the Democrats in the House as UNPATRIOTIC, KENNETH, for not wanting to gut the freedom to criticize our government. THE FLAG, KENNETH! SACRED SYMBOL OUR TROOPS FREEDOM ARGLE BARGLE HENNGGGHHH…

Now, Dale, I hear you asking, how are you so sure that the Republicans were cynically manipulating the legislative process to provide empty talking points to their amygdala-based base? How do I know that they no more cared for “protecting” the flag than they do protecting poor people?

Easy. We were watching the vote, remember, and it was slow going as the representatives clicked their little buttons at their desks: yeas and nays slowly edged up. The suspense was palpable. Would the amendment pass? Would it be sent to the states for ratification, where of course state legislators would be too craven to vote against it?

A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds of both chambers of the Congress to vote for it to be passed, which in the House would be 290 votes. That meant that if it got 146 nay votes, it failed.

Slowly the yeas and nays climbed. The yeas were slightly ahead. Savvy political junkies that we were, though, we watched the nays. Suddenly the vote tally clicked to 146 nays. The proposed amendment was dead.

And that’s when the yea votes soared. Once it was certain that it couldn’t pass, once they knew that this stupendously bad-faith legislation was safely dead — all those Republican cowards rushed to vote for it so they could go home and point their virtuous fingers at all those traitorous Democrats for defeating an amendment to “protect” our flag sacred symbol our troops freedom argle bargle hennggghghh…

In other words, the Republicans didn’t want this thing to pass. If they had wanted it to pass, all those yea votes that rushed into the public record when it was too late to make a difference would have been cast to begin with. They deliberately waited until enough of their peers had the guts to kill it before they cast their vote. Even more: they proposed this pernicious amendment to the Constitution in the first place and brought it to the floor for a vote knowing it should not be passed.

That’s how I know the whole pledge thing is a bogus, cynical ploy to suppress dissent, to shame people who think maybe our allegiance is not due to a piece of cloth, to draw a bright circle around those who are uncritically “patriotic” and to keep the rest of us out.  I have not said the pledge since then; I refuse to be a part of or to support that sham.

Your mileage may vary of course, and I have no objection to your choosing to say the pledge with all your heart. You may however want to think about the fact that the very people who keep telling you that saying the pledge is simple, virtuous patriotism — and anything else is not —have been manipulating you. I’ll let you decide why.

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[1] Of course it’s a little more complicated than that, but whatever happened was triggered by the flag-worshiping substitute teacher worshipping the flag and not the Constitution for which it stands.

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