Reclaiming the flag

Today is the fourth of July, and we’ve decided to fly a flag.

My wife and I have both hesitated to put out a flag. We both felt it’s become associated with jingoistic rightwingery, with eagle-and-flag empty bluster and an odor of compulsion.

My wife grew up on military bases, where the raising and lowering of the flag brought the entire base to a full stop. She always pointed out that flag flying was supposed to be a conscious, careful act. It had to be flown correctly, not draped half-assedly from a window or a freeway overpass. It had to be lowered at sunset, unless illuminated. It was a commitment, and a responsibility, not a casual thing.

I’d grown up with a similar attitude—my grandfather would fold the flag properly, and display it properly, and remind us that it should never touch the ground. As a kid I liked the magicalness this placed around the flag. It was a ritual object with magic power, like the crucifix or rosary beads or a mezuzah, and flying it was a ritual act. And like those ritual objects, it served to inspire contemplation and thought.

Flag flying should be an exercise in mindfulness, a deliberate and deliberative act, not an empty, lazy gesture. Flapping it off the back of a pickup truck, or leaving it out all night, or hanging it from a window ledge, is an act of thoughtlessness and disrespect. If the flag matters as the symbol of actions and ideas, it should be taken seriously, and surrounded with civic ritual.

So we went out and bought a good quality flag and installed the pole, which required an old fashioned group-of-guys-at-the-hardware-store discussion of mounting methods. We’re flying the flag to reclaim it from poltroons and scoundrels, from flag-mongering phonys.


Happy Fourth of July! Fly the flag. It looks beautiful on a hot sunny day.


  • I remember a discussion of similar eroded symbolism regarding dress and other issues from one of your lectures. I don’t have much to add beyond great post and love the “We’re fly­ing the flag to reclaim it from poltroons and scoundrels, from flag-mongering phonys” paragraph.

  • Meredith wrote:

    Maybe you could hang a Jasper Johns print instead…

  • Don’t forget to include the mountebanks in your list. (How I love the word “poltroon”–so difficult to use and but so apt in your post.)

  • Yes! How could I have neglected “montebanks!”

    “Scoundrels, poltroons and political mountebanks”

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