Donald Trump has done it countless times with social media this election cycle. With one firing of a 140 character tweet, a controversy is ignited and the country erupts. This time, it was with the issue of flag burning. The timing is interesting, given it hasn’t been an enormous problem this year and it hasn’t come up this cycle. Yet he suggested it should be a crime punishable by jail or loss of citizenship.
With such a radical proposal, the debate regarding flag burning is again ignited.
There are a few points that are at the core of the debate. First, what is the nature of the flag? The debate tends to stem from the importance of the symbol. Is it just a simple colored cloth that is a symbol — just that and nothing more? Or is the flag representative and thus reflective of what our country is and stands for?
From the former perspective, the answer is simple. It’s just a piece of cloth and thus has no significance beyond the symbolism surrounding our nation. It does not require the protection of the law and the heavy hand of the government to stand up for it.
But what about from the perspective that the flag represents our country’s legacy and is thus reflective of our core values?
A couple centuries ago, the founding generation fought a revolution against the British crown to secure freedom. Despite the heavy hand of the monarchy and the violent attempts to shut down the colonists, the Americans won and became their own country. We have since expanded on this legacy through freeing the slaves and granting equal rights to women and minorities.
The American Republic is supposed to stand for freedom and liberty. This was the intent of the founding fathers, as first shown in the Declaration of Independence and embodied through the careful debates that would ensue after. The Articles of Confederation’s loose governing structure is a direct result of the founders favoring a weak central government. The Constitution was an attempt to create a balance between government and freedom.
But at the heart of everything is the desire for freedom. So where does the American Flag enter play?
If we accept the premise that the American Flag represents our Nation and everything it stands for, we then accept that freedom is the foundation of the Republic. When the thirteen states threw out the Articles of Confederation and drafted the Constitution, it was to provide a more efficient, stable nation. It wasn’t to regulate our every personal move. This point is reflected in the Bill of Rights, which was introduced to protect the individual from the government.
Burning the flag is not an act of aggression against the government or another individual. A self-owned American Flag is no more directly representative of the Nation as a common Pocket Constitution or reprint of the Declaration of Independence. Does freedom mean the right to express ourselves by doing as we wish with replicas we own? Or does freedom mean the force of government imposing punishments upon private citizens for doing as they wish with their own personal replicas?