Messen: A Call to Protest

We must protest — and consider our right to burn the American flag.

by Timothy Messen | 1/19/17 12:26am

After President Barack Obama’s historic presidency, President-elect Donald Trump will follow him into the White House with a regressive agenda. He is responding to and playing on fears many Americans rightfully have in ways that may enrich his family and inner circle of supporters. This cynical appropriation of American nationalism that enabled the takeover of the government by an ultra-wealthy cabal has brought latent hatred to the surface of public life.

Since Trump’s election on Nov. 8, 2016, we have seen an increase in sexual and racial violence that has drawn us a portrait of an America where racial profiling and sexual paternalism — as well as sexual harassment — are dire realities. Trump has ignored the values of this republic: freedom, equality, individualism and diversity. Today, we are living in an America that not only turns a blind eye to racism but also entrenches institutional racism while rejecting the principles of gender and sexual freedom. Trump’s proposed border wall and Muslim ban are shining examples of his discrimination-based proposals. We shall not yield to this bigotry under the banner of patriotism.

The days, months and years to follow will be decisive for America. Right now, we need more than a dialogue in the pages of our newspapers and on our television screens — so much more, as guest columnist Adam Gardner Med’17 suggested in a column on Jan. 12. We need action, because little will be achieved by discussions of whether Trump supporters are good or bad people since Trump’s politics implicitly and explicitly threaten Americans and citizens of the world.

We need more than discussion because history does not repeat itself; it rhymes. In ignoring our own dreadful history that has brought us injustice, misery and murder, we risk writing a new verse of history to rhyme with the centuries of slavery and genocide on which America was founded and has glacially acted to reform thanks to the liberal republican values our history classes teach us we need to utilize against injustice. We need to be strong, stand up and speak out. It’s time to stand up for yourself and stand up for others. We need to act and stand up for our integrity, rather than be lulled into complacency by “unification” as Trump and his supporters have advanced.

Trump tweeted on Nov. 29, 2016 that flag burners should be stripped of their citizenship or sentenced to jail. We should neither take this threat nor his ignorance of the First Amendment lightly. The best way to defend our rights is to exercise them. To place the value of the American republic on a piece of striped cloth with 50 stars on it, rather than the liberties and democratic institutions that make this country remarkable, is to misplace and misvalue what is wonderful about living here. Polish-German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg once wrote in a critique of state censorship in the early years of the Soviet Union, “Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters.” She added: “If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege,’ the workings of political freedom are broken.” The Trumpian rhetoric of unity attempts to undermine exactly that freedom of dissent and the working of political freedom. To burn the U.S. flag is fully within our rights. Ceding ground on this right for fear of disturbing some unity, which has never really existed — much like the “Great America” Trump tells us is past — capitulates to the anti-civil libertarian views already clearly voiced by the incoming administration.

In this moment, we need neither unity nor healing but an active and engaged citizenry unafraid to exercise its rights. I invite Dartmouth’s community to join me on the Green this Friday for a discussion on what rights are threatened by the incoming administration, what steps we can take to ensure that they are not simply taken away and what burning an American flag might achieve. And then, if we so wish, we will burn the flag, for we are free to do so.

Anyone interested in attending Messen’s discussion on Friday should contact him personally.

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