This entry is a couple of days overdue, but I’ll put it out there anyway. For those of you who know me, and for those that don’t, I have always considered myself an F.D.R. Democrat. If you’re not sure what that means, look it up on Google of whatever search engine you care to choose. The election is what it is and the nation has spoken, and I’ll be the first one to say that President-elect Trump deserves a chance to prove himself, even if I have little faith that will happen and am keeping our passports within reach. Hell, we thought worse when Ronald Reagan was first elected, and we managed to survive (some say thrive) through those years.
Still, his Tweet from the other day keeps gnawing at me and gives me cause for uncertainty: To paraphrase, anyone burning the flag should have their citizenship revoked or face, at the very least, a year in jail upon conviction.
Here’s the problem with that, and it’s called the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, the one that guarantees free speech. That guarantee is for everyone, the educated and opinionated as well as the loose screws, xenophobes and knuckleheads. Elsewhere in the world, burning one’s flag guarantees a bullet in the back of one’s head and usually the same fate for family members. The Thought Police in such countries have little patience for subversive opinions or actions and they have plenty of practice in taking action. A free press is a guarantee of open discussion and our right to vote means that our opinion is heard.
Generations have fought and died for our right to freedom and to vote. I cherish our veterans and their sacrifices, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Still, one who protests, under our Constitution and our guarantee of free speech, does have the right to burn Old Glory, as distasteful and as espicable as that act may be.
One of the toughest moments in my life came a number of years ago when making a donation on Memorial Day at a table manned by a local chapter of the New Jersey Disabled Veterans. I was asked to sign a petition against flag burning and I declined. The toughest part was explaining my stance to a WWII Marine veteran who had left a limb and his innocence of youth on Iwo Jima.
“Whether you agree or not, you fought and sacrificed for freedom and the very right for someone, anyone, to voice their opinion, even the fool whose choice it is to burn the flag or march in a white hood under the banner of the KKK. Freedom of speech can never, must never have bounds.” He looked at me and didn’t say a word, yet his tears spoke for him.