Hair Furor, (for those of you reading this in the far future, President Trump) has managed to fire up the distraction machine once again. Between these Tweets, and his “fire the son of a bitch” comments at a campaign rally (only months into his term, and he’s already campaigning for a second), he’s trying desperately to distract from the political chaos surrounding him and his administration. War looms with North Korea and Iran, the Mueller investigation of the Russian attacks is about to explode, and the White House has had to install a revolving door in the West Wing to handle the number of people being hired and fired there.  What does orange man focus on? NFL players dropping to a knee during the national anthem.

It’s working though. Watching my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I’m seeing plenty of “deplorables” standing with the President, and denouncing anyone who engages in this peaceful form of protest. Most of them are not even aware of how often the flag code is violated by just about everyone, nor why we only sing the first stanza of the Star Spangled Banner. (really… have you read the rest of it? You should. Here.)

I support Colin Kaepernick and those who stand (kneel) with him. Although I have worked in law enforcement for twenty-three years, with a fine group of decent people, I’m not blind to the racial inequalities and injustices embedded deeply in our systems. For me, it’s simply the idea of how many people have to speak up and say there’s a problem before we (the white community) stop and say to ourselves, “you know, there may be a problem here”? There’s a problem here.

All of the above was setup to tell you this story, which has nothing to do with the national anthem, but does deal with a flag and a tendency to ignore problems.

Years ago, Visalia had two hospitals. Kaweah Delta District Hospital (now Kaweah Delta Medical Center), and Visalia Community Hospital.


Image: Historic Happenings

Back in the late 70’s or early 80’s, I would on occasion drive past the Visalia Community Hospital on south Court Street. On one of my excursions past the hospital, I noticed the flag flying on the flag pole was looking seriously tattered and worn. I thought that was odd for a public facility, and wondered why nobody had replaced it.

I kept looking for a new flag for the next several weeks, but the same worn out flag continued to be flown. Finally, one day, I’d had enough.

I pulled into the parking lot, and went inside to the main receptionist’s desk. The lady sitting there asked me how she could help me, and I asked to “speak to the manager or director of this facility.” She paused, and asked me if I had an appointment. I told her I did not.

Now, this was something very out of character for me. At this event, I’m in my early 20’s, deeply in the closet, and very insecure. To challenge an institution was very much out of my league.

She told me the administrator (I don’t remember what she actually called them, but administrator will do for this story) was busy,  and how could she help me. I told her that I had been driving past the hospital for several weeks now, and the United States flag on the pole outside was in terrible condition, and was long past needing to be replaced.

She and another lady behind the counter just kind of stared at me for a bit. I don’t recall the exact conversation now, but at one point the other woman there made a comment to the effect that even tattered and worn, it was a sign of respect to have the flag on the pole. I was a bit shocked, but I did not challenge that statement. I did ask that they have whoever was in charge advised, and to have the flag replaced. I thanked them, and left.

For several days afterwards, the flag stayed on the pole. Tattered and worn, it seemed that it wasn’t coming down. I was considering a letter-to-the-editor after a few days, but on another pass by the hospital, I noticed the flag was gone. Victory! I kept my eye on that flagpole for the next several days, expecting a new flag to appear. It did not. At least it did not right away.

Finally, after what seemed like a long time but may have been only a week or so, a brand new flag appeared. I did not have to write that letter to the paper, and I felt pretty good. (of course, it’s entirely possible that the receptionist never informed the administrator, or anybody else, that the flag needed replacing. It might have been coincidentally replaced in the normal course of their operations. I don’t know. But the change did happen after I spoke up. We can take from that what we like. I think I was the squeaky wheel.)

We Americans place a lot of stock in our flag, and the ceremonies surrounding it. Rightly so. But when we raise that ceremony to dogma, and berate and humiliate people expressing by their actions the very rights that flag stands for, we’ve gone from patriotism to jingoism. The President may use the flag and the national anthem as distractions from his failures and his fumbling of national and international affairs, but true patriots will respect Kaepernick and his allies, and ask what they can do to help solve problems, not exacerbate them by denying they exist.

Respect the flag, but respect what it stands for, more. Taking a knee in silent protest is respect in the deepest sense, for a patriot.