Weekend Open Thread: Drop the Pledge, It’s Useless

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Last week, people who routinely pledged allegiance to the flag tried to wreck the republic for which it stands — so the Pledge clearly isn’t working

Not long after Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem, I decided that he had a good point — and I stopping standing at DPOC meetings during the Pledge of Allegiance or reciting it at all.  (If anyone had challenged me, my plan was to tell me to my face if they doubted my patriotism, and ask them whether my reciting it would change their mind.)

This was not a profession on my part of any lack of love for the country, which I yearn and strive to improve, but a rejection of that specific variety of hypocrisy known as “cant.”

“Cant” — without an apostrophe — is defined as “hypocritical and sanctimonious talk, typically of a moral, religious, or political nature.”  If you pledge allegiance “to the flag,” it apparently does not stop you from bringing Confederate battle flags into the Capitol — let alone turning it into a potential abattoir for zip-tie bound members of Congress held hostage.

So what does it mean to recite the pledge, other than a willingness to conform to social expectations — or to convince others that they are good patriots, whether they actually are or not?

For some people it’s emotionally satisfying to demonstrate one’s claim of patriotism in front of others.  That’s nice — but it’s an honor too cheaply earned.  Talk, notoriously, is cheap.  The people who most strongly push to mandate the pledge are the same ones who have clearly expressed their disdain and derision for its stated content.

I don’t think that they should be encouraged to do it.  I think that if one wants the warm glow of being recognized as a patriotic American, one should damn well have to earn it.

When I was a kid, a graduating junior at Edison HIgh School in 1975-76, I was the student government’s Commissioner tasked (among other things) with making the morning announcements, which began with the Pledge of Allegiance.  (Once, I stammered on the last line, and the Vice-Principal called me into his office to tell me a one of teachers wanted to know why I had said what he — incorrectly — had heard as “… with white man’s justice for all.”)

But most days, if we had prepared one, we were allowed to substitute what was called a “Patriotic Observance.”  We’d read a historical vignette, or a brief sketch of a historical U.S. personage, or constitutional provision or amendment, or some such.  I’m not saying that they were brilliant (I’m pretty sure that they weren’t), but they were different, and that difference helped keep them from ossifying into can’t.  You could be more moved towards true patriotism, I suspect, from hearing 30 seconds about Thaddeus Stevens or Abigail Adams or Iwo Jima for perhaps the first time than by mouthing the same empty phrases for the thousandth.

Of course, it’s not the phrases that are empty — parts of the pledge are quite beautiful and profound.  (Think of “allegiance to the republic,” “one nation indivisible” — which ironically was later divided by “under God” — and especially “with liberty and justice for all,” which is completely ludicrous coming out the mouths of some of the most avid pledge-makers and -imposers.  It’s their recitation that becomes empty.

I would like to see something like a small hymnal of the spoken word, which might include some patriotic observances, but also some closer readings of the parts of the pledge, “under God” included. (I’ve always thought that phrase to be presumptuous — claiming to be “under God,” given this nation’s sins, suggests that God smiles upon slavery, subjugation, and conquest — which both heartens doctrinaire Savanarolas and goes against at least some of the better parts of religious scriptures — but the linked article makes a cogent claim that Jefferson understood the term to mean that our was a government of universal principles rather than of the rights and dictates of royals.  So there!)

It might contain some short thoughts on what it means to pledge “allegiance” to a particular pattern of cloth, rather than principles. My father has told me that, in courts of fays gone by, lawyers were required to make certain pledges to principles  together “in the presence of the flag” – sign of the country as witness — which seems to me to be very much in the right spirit.  The flag is indeed what we “rally around” to show our group affiliation, but its being a rallying point is a far cry from its earning “allegiance.”

It might contain short thoughts about the intrinsic meaning of “the republic” — noting that this required submitting to the will of the majority in elections unless courts found a result corrupted.

It might contain short thoughts on the indivisibility of the nation, meaning that both benefits and burdens accrue to all regardless of who we are and where we live therein.

It might contain short thoughts of how we, as a multi-religious coountry, can claim to be “under God” — noting the moral kernel common to many religions.

And most of all, it might explain the limitations on “liberty for all” and of “justice for all” in light of the Second Founding in the 13th through 15th amendments.  It might note that “liberty” and “justice” and themselves in conflict and that excessive liberty may undermine justice and maladministration of justice can undercut liberty — and it might incorporate the beautiful phrase adorning the Supreme Court, honored too often in the breach, pledge “Equal Justice Under Law.”

All of that might be a little more thought provoking.

In light of all this, I’ve taken the liberty of doing judtice to our principles with a proposed rewrite of the Pledge:

I pledge allegiance, in the presence of its flag, to the republic of the United States of America — one indivisible nation devoted to the godly principles of liberty and equal justice for all.

I’d say that — but I wouldn’t believe the likes of the Capitol Rioters when they said it.  We make such improvements in small steps.  (But we should get started on that hymnal!)

UPDATE – AOC

This is your pre-Inauguration (and hopefully not pre-Storm) Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about that, or whatever else you’d like, within reasonable bound or decency, discretion, and — on this go-round we should emphasize —  decorum.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)