OPINION: On Flag Day, respect what it stands for

The recent claim that the National Park Service had banned the flying of an American flag in Denali National Park over Memorial Day weekend stirred a controversy that reached the national news. A park user had complained to an NPS employee about a 3 x 5-foot flag mounted on a construction vehicle that was making noise, and the employee had passed the complaint to the Federal Highway Administration, which manages the Park Road. FHWA then advised the contractor, who complied with a request to remove the flag to “maintain park visitors’ experience by keeping a low profile.”

To advocates of road safety and preserving the wilderness experience for thousands of park visitors, removing the flag was reasonable given its size and the distraction it caused. To Sen. Dan Sullivan, it was “an outrage… that defies all logic.” To the Fairbanksans who organized a “convoy” to the park to protest the removal, and to those who applaud them, it was a scandalous attack on patriotism. In honor of Flag Day (June 14), it’s a good time to shift focus from flag-waving and events in the park to the much more significant challenge of fostering respect for what the flag represents: American ideals of democracy and our unity as a free people. In these days when both our democracy and unity are under sustained assault from within, it’s a good time to question what many of today’s self-professed patriots are waving the flag for.

First, do they wave the flag for freedom? What freedom means, and what freedom requires, may be debated, but most of us recognize that we have many individual rights as Americans that most people across the world do not enjoy. With freedoms of speech, assembly and the press, we can express what we think, gather with those we choose to pursue common goals, and receive news of the world without censorship. These freedoms and others are founded on the concept of governmental restraint: Officials do not have unbridled power to act as they wish. Yet when top officials demonize those who express opposing views or report unfavorable news, then call for mistreatment and violence against fellow citizens with whom they disagree, respect for these freedoms is profoundly jeopardized. The likely outcome if such attacks continue? Citizens who are fearful and silenced, and freedoms that disappear.

Second, do they wave the flag to support our nation’s commitment to equality? Officially, our country does not accept hierarchies of power and opportunity based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion or national origin, and we do not deny seats at the table of prosperity based on prejudice. Yet Americans have long been bitterly divided on the question of who gets to be “equal.” In the not-too-distant past, we enforced Jim Crow laws to keep Black Americans and other people of color at the margins of society; we allowed women to be denied educational, employment and other opportunities; and we permitted harsh penalties against LGBTQ+ people simply for being who they are. Most Americans now accept that these laws were harmful and exclusionary, and we’ve made progress towards breaking them down. But moving closer to the promise of equality has met a virulent push-back. Now any efforts to foster understanding of the history and impacts of centuries of discrimination are dismissed as the work of “radical left woke-ism,” and we are encouraged to abandon a goal central to our nation’s identity: equality and justice for all.

Third, do they wave the flag to honor the rule of law? Despite a jury’s verdict that the former president committed serious felony crimes, many Americans condemn the court and jury instead of the wrongdoing. And they’re silent about the former president’s long history of contempt for other judgments of America’s courts, including the felony convictions of five close associates during his presidency, the 1,000-plus convictions of his supporters for storming the Capitol, and the two civil judgments against him for defamation and falsifying business records. His conduct both inside and outside of courtrooms is disdainful and derisive, and he routinely violates court orders designed to ensure fair proceedings. He has fought to delay the three criminal trials he still faces so the American people cannot see the evidence against him before the election. That his political party, including our own Sen. Sullivan, has joined the bandwagon to criticize our justice system rather than condemning the former president’s bad behavior shows just how sharply its platform has veered from “law and order” into lawlessness.

Fourth, do they wave the flag to support religious liberty for all? Our founders well understood that deep conflicts and violence arise when governments officially condone one religion over another and persecute people based on their faith. They chose to honor religious belief by protecting all faiths from discrimination and creating a secular government — one committed to keeping church affairs separate from the affairs of the state. Yet many who cloak themselves in American flag today are Christian nationalists who claim that we are a Christian nation that can and should impose Christian beliefs on everyone. Many rights we take for granted would fall victim to the theocratic state they envision.

Finally, do they wave the flag for the most important ideal of all — democracy? Our country’s founders were painfully familiar with the harms arising under an autocratic ruler — the king of England — and instead designed a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” To ensure against tyranny, they dispersed official power among three branches of government instead of concentrating it in a single person. Yet it’s increasingly clear that many powerful Americans are eager to see the role of the people curtailed and the guardrails against tyranny dismantled. They condone the former president’s lies about the 2020 election and his willingness to disregard voters and interfere with the peaceful transfer of power. They accept his increasingly authoritarian views and debase themselves by bowing to his will, despite full knowledge of his corruption and widespread doubts about his fitness. They promise to fill official ranks with his loyalists and mount an aggressive campaign against anyone with the courage and integrity to stand against him. Despite claims to love our country, they strive to recreate the one-man rule our founders fought against, not to protect the democracy to which we pledge allegiance.


This Flag Day, those who wave the American flag out of respect for American principles are the true patriots. Those who wave the flag as part of the present campaign to abandon these principles should find another banner for their cause. As we now know, the upside-down flag, the “Appeal to Heaven” flag and the Confederate flag offer options for that dark future.

Barbara Hood is a retired attorney and businesswoman who lives in Anchorage.

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