This season, NFL football players have began a protest against racism in America. To demonstrate their beliefs, they kneel during the National Anthem before each game. Their actions have enraged many Americans, including our president, Donald Trump. In response to the protest, Donald Trump tweeted, “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!” (Trump). As shown in this angry tweet, Trump and other Americans view the NFL players’ protest as disrespect to the flag.
Given this controversy, it is important to analyze: what does the flag truly mean? As young and intelligent Americans, it is our duty to fully understand the situation at hand. The flag was created with a wholesome purpose, but it has since grown as a symbol. Traditionally, the American flag signifies the nation’s history, promotes patriotism, and symbolizes American values, but recently it has become a symbol that evokes anger as citizens are becoming discontent with the American situation.
On June 14, 1777, America adopted its first official flag (“History of the American Flag”). The flag was more than a piece of cloth- it gave America a sense of identity. In a literal sense, the flag is a symbol of the United States of America, but in a figurative sense, the flag is a symbol of American values. Since its inception, the flag has undergone 26 changes (“History of the American Flag”). As America grows and develops as a nation, the adaptable symbol of the flag evolves alongside it. Despite the visual changes, the flag has maintained its original rhetorical purpose while assuming a new meaning.
The original version of the flag featured thirteen stripes alternating red and white, and thirteen white stars on a blue background. This design signified the nation’s origination as each stripe represented one of the thirteen original colonies, and the stars represented the thirteen current colonies. As the country grew and acquired more and more states, the flag adapted to accommodate the changes, while still maintaining its historical significance. Flag designers did so by maintaining the original thirteen stripes, and only changing the stars portion of the flag. This illustrates the emphasis America places on its history. The establishment of American was a long and hard battle as people had to endure sickness, war, and many other hardships before the nation was created. Because of this, the historical significance of the flag is a very important aspect of its design. Another historical significance hidden within the flags design is its relation to England. Similar to the English flag, the American flag features only the colors red, white, and blue. Earlier versions of the flag often featured a smaller version of the British flag. While this feature was abandoned, the official American flag did, in fact feature the same colors. This similarity can remind of us of our prior association with England. By incorporating these features, the flag reminds Americans of their civic duty of remembering the origination of the nation and its historical impact.
Another rhetorical feature of the flag is its emphasis on patriotism. Patriotism is defined as devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country (“Patriotism”). In American society, the colors red, white, and blue have assumed a meaning that is directly related to the flag. The mere sight of the colors, especially when paired with the stars and stripes, is enough to evoke feelings of love for the nation. It is a part of our culture. We are taught from a young age to respect the flag as we respect our nation– most children have the Pledge of Allegiance memorized by the age of five. This sense of patriotism is deeply ingrained into our society and it is demonstrated through simple actions. I notice it myself when the student section breaks into a “USA” chant after the national anthem. Not only does the flag inspire patriotism, it also allows Americans to demonstrate their patriotism. Whether it is a simple flag waving above someone’s porch, or a simple Old Navy flag T-shirt, the flag is a common symbol used to illustrate our patriotism.
The flag also embodies values that are important to American citizens. While the meaning of the flag can vary from person to person, the most common values it supports are freedom, democracy, and unity. Since our nation’s beginning, freedom has been high priority. We fought the Revolutionary War in an effort to maintain freedom, and soon after we developed a Constitution with a Bill of Rights– all to secure our freedom. The flag is also a symbol of democracy. As one of the first modern democratic nations, America prides itself in its representative government. As America has begun synonymous with democracy, the flag has embodied that notion. Another, and arguably the most important value embodied by the flag is unity. The flag is the flag of America, and its something all citizens have in common. As Barack Obama said,
In recent months, Americans have begun to lose respect for the flag. Colin Kaepernick, the catalyst for the NFL players’ protest explained his actions: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick is not alone on this issue. The
“History of the American Flag.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 2017.
“Patriotism”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 2 Oct. 2017.
Trump, Donald (realDonaldTrump). “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!” 30 Sept. 2017, 3:26. Tweet.