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LIPTAK: Why I Put My U.S. Flag up Again, as Hard Winds Blow

I just put the Stars and Stripes back up outside my house. Though hard winds have kept blowing it down, I put it up again. Having it regularly knocked down has me reflecting on what it means in 2024 to be American. 

It means the same thing it did for my grandparents — being grateful for this life, liberty and working to follow the better angels of my nature each day.

In 2024, though, the noisiest winds are coming from two old men who desperately want to be president, again. These two are the antithesis of what those at my house dream of for America and what my grandparents dreamed of for me.

Why are we here? There has been a great unraveling of everyday virtue and community. Blame the usual suspects — broken families, addiction, isolation, apathy, plain old selfishness — call it what you will.

And there are those who want to advance the notion that is America in our totality. They’re wrong.

Federal leadership has been outmatched by the challenges of today. It’s unclear if “We the People” truly are. We fail. It’s part of the human condition. I think, today, American neighbors seem less tolerant of each other’s flaws and weaknesses.

Maybe because they make us see our own?

The cost of the illusion of having the world on our own personal digital string may allow less room for our very real, often troubled neighbor. But virtue abides anyway.

I recently maxed out my debit card buying inexpensive hummingbird feeders. I had $9. It cost $9.25. The shabby-dressed woman next to me offered up a quarter. She could have put it to good use for herself. But she didn’t. No words were exchanged except for my thanks.

A beacon of hope is the little girl who ran to me for a hug in church, though we were strangers. It is the other shopper who extended her purse when mine was empty. It is the driver on the highway who let me merge into traffic when no one else would.

For one moment they showed me what is truly great about America. If there is anything great about America, it’s those shoots of virtue that spring up every day from a weary and worried populace.

We are good people, but we’ve been listening to leaders who are often telling us what we want to hear rather than the way things are. Exploitation is not representation. It is often the first step to tyranny.

Will I be able to write to you freely in four years, or will my words be suppressed as an enemy of the state? 

It is a revolting thought to me. Encyclopedia Britannica online describes us in the early times this way: “They all believed in democracy in the sense of a rough equality of opportunity and (after John Locke) the possession by every man of the basic human rights of life, liberty and property. During the 18th century, barriers between the colonies were steadily reduced…The newspapers and pamphlets of one province were read widely in others.”

Some of us have changed. Some people are haters now. Others are exploited, helpless, scared, or don’t see that the problems of America are their problems too. We believe in life, liberty and prosperity, but we don’t agree on when life begins, where personal freedom diverges into civic neglect. And many rent property while fewer of us own it.

The answer starts with Ben Franklin. “Doubt a little your own infallibility,” he told the creators of the Constitution. If he were here, he might advise us to respect each other, your ancestors bled together for all of us. Show respect to their grandchildren. Remember, together we are stronger than we are divided.

But the answer ends with us. Step up now, or the republic as we know it may be lost to history.

Tomorrow will be a new day. What do you want it to be as a free person? Will you offer a hug, an uncinched purse string, a call to Congress, or an uplifting word? No MAGA hats or gender pronouns are required for my tomorrow — just kindness and action.

So, the flag flies here at my house, day and night. It doesn’t fly for Trump’s meanness. It doesn’t fly for Biden’s unwillingness to confront evil. It flies for you. It flies for me. It flies for the better angels in all of us.

That flag outside is only an idea. It’s always up to us together whether it will be a light in the darkness or a piece of gaudy aging fabric.

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