By MIKE DONOHUE
On the day Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was announced, I saw a sad sight that affirmed something I’ve suspected for a long time. I was driving through the country and passed a large house. A man, the owner I presume, was up on a ladder, taking down an extremely large American flag that had been hanging on his house. The timing was suspect, to say the least. On the day that the most controversial president in our nation’s history has been confirmed as defeated, this man’s display of the flag was no longer necessary. Why?
Henry Rollins said, “You always know the mark of a coward. A coward hides behind freedom. A brave person stands in front of freedom and defends it for others.” Cowards and hypocrites have hidden behind the American flag during the last couple of years, using the exercising of “their rights as Americans” as a poorly veiled disguise for their hatred, their bigotry, and their tyranny.
Something has changed here in America. I first noticed it when “Married With Children” hit prime time. As a child, I watched blowhard Ralph Kramden get put in his place by his wife Alice time and time again on “The Honeymooners.” She wasn’t mean or cruel, she loved him, but when she saw him getting too big for his britches she delivered a well-timed one liner to point out his grandiosity, not to wound, but to correct, to help him get right-sized again. “All In The Family” pushed boundaries addressing more controversial themes, but the point of the jokes was always to expose Archie’s bigotry. Innocent people were never the target of the humor. The targets of previous TV humor were people whose behavior had crossed a line, and they got put in their place for it.
“Married With Children” demonstrated a change in the target and the spirit of the humor. Suddenly, audiences began laughing when Al Bundy made crude jokes about his daughter’s sexual behavior, and no one spoke up. “America’s Funniest Home Videos” followed soon after, and audiences laughed uproariously when people fell and got embarrassed, or hurt. Kids going headfirst over bicycles, tables collapsing under people dancing on them, multitudes of crotch injuries caught on tape became the norm. People laughed, and I didn’t hear many people asking what I was asking: “What’s funny about people getting hurt?” I cancelled my cable and read more books.
It was only a few years down the road that a man running for the highest office in the land visibly mocked a reporter with disabilities on national TV. It should have ended his candidacy right there, but it didn’t. Far from it. His outrageous behavior escalated, and his supporters became more excited, more zealous, more fanatical in their support of him, and the reason is simple: Donald Trump has given people permission to be proud of things about themselves that they should be ashamed of, and they’re overjoyed for it.
Not all Trump supporters are bad people. Not by a long shot. I know many who, by all accounts, are good, decent men and women. They seem oblivious to the significance of his evil, which I cannot fathom, but they don’t seem evil themselves. Not all Trump supporters are ignorant, vile racists, but every ignorant, vile racist I’ve ever met or heard of is a Trump supporter, and it’s easy to see why: he validates them, and in doing so they no longer have to cave in to the societal pressure to act like decent, civilized human beings. Free at last, free at last, in the most perverse bastardization of the spirit of freedom this country was founded on.
I have always loved my country, but have become sickened by what I have seen it become. I have come to cringe at the sight of an American flag. I have seen more of them the last few months than after 9/11, when our country displayed them proudly as a symbol of unity, and love of our fellow men and women. Now, it seems like it has become a badge of honor among bullies, whose “Fuck Your Feelings” on a Trump poster speaks volumes about the lack of respect for others they so pride themselves on. When did not giving a damn about others become fashionable? Under a president who makes no secret of feeling the same way? Or is he a symptom, the culmination of years and years of our society becoming more and more OK with things that just aren’t right?
Am I absolutely sure that the man who was taking down his flag was removing it because Trump lost the election? I am not, but I am sure of this: It’s time for decency to become important again. I want to feel pride in my country, and to not feel fear when a group of trucks decorated with American flags rolls down the street. We have a long way to go, the narrow margin of victory in this election proves that, but we have begun, and we must keep moving to undo the wreckage of our past. Love America, but love the people in it, too. If you love this land of liberty and justice for all, then display your flag with pride, but don’t be a hypocrite. If you take your flag down, if you don’t need it anymore because Donald Trump lost the election, then you’ve proved what I’ve sensed all along: all that flag meant to you was “bullies welcome here.” Well, you’re not welcome anymore.
Mike Donohue is a father, grandfather and friend who hopes for a better world for his family and loved ones to live in. He is a licensed chemical dependency counselor, former professional musician, political moderate, and has published articles related to local music, addiction recovery, and human rights. He also created a video montage that was shown at the 2017 and 2018 Women’s March in Seneca Falls.