Liberal Activists in the US Need to Reclaim the American Flag.

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner

One of the most striking images from the demonstrations in Israel has been the sea of blue-and-white flags. Leaders of the massive protest movement, challenging Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s efforts to weaken the judiciary, have made the Israeli flag a symbol of their cause. The message is powerful: the people in the streets are the true patriots, fighting to restore the best vision of what their flag represents, Israel’s democratic roots and its historic commitment to judicial independence, diversity, and free expression. It’s time for liberal activists in this country to adopt the same approach and to reclaim the American flag as a symbol of their activism.

The flag is an important symbol of patriotism, a visual expression of pride in the ideals of what one’s country should represent. On the left, those feelings are in short supply in the United States, especially among younger liberals. A Gallup poll last month found that only 39% of Americans are “extremely proud” to be American. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to be “extremely proud” (60% versus 29%). Only 12% of Democrats between the ages 18- 34 say they are extremely proud to be associated with the United States.

Their negative feelings are undoubtedly fueled, at least in part, by the deep polarization and rancor that infects our national politics. This polarization has been exacerbated greatly by former President Trump who has gone out of his way to wrap himself in the flag, sometimes quite literally. He has linked the flag to his brand of false patriotism, America First rhetoric, xenophobia, racially incendiary innuendo, and divisive nationalism. Because liberal activists have not actively embraced the flag as a symbol of their campaigns, they have ceded its emotional power. This has allowed Trump and those around him to distort the flag’s most aspirational meaning. These activists also are missing an opportunity to connect on a visceral level with millions of centrist and conservative Americans who feel a strong sense of patriotism, and who are wary of those they feel do not share their own pride in this country and what it represents.

Read the full Forbes article.
Michael Posner is the Jerome Kohlberg Professor of Ethics and Finance, Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.