Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The problem with banning flag burning

I first wrote this story back in 2006.  I revised it for my collection of politically themed short stories Political Pies in 2012.  And now, thanks to Trump, it’s relevant again.

“Star-Spangled Ploy”

Slamming his fist on his podium, Senator Conant exclaimed, “And that is why I voted for a Constitutional Amendment to ban flag burning.”

This was met with uneven applause from the packed auditorium. 

“Thank you, Senator Conant.” The Moderator then turned her head slightly towards the Senator’s opponent.  “Mister Drake, same question.”

Drake smiled.  “I agree with the Senator that it is a shame,” his hand slapped his podium, “that we can’t send our kids outside without a burning flag being crammed down their throats.  I believe ….” He pointed at the audience, then brought his finger to his lips and tapped it a few times.  “I believe I’ve never actually seen a flag being burnt, other than on TV when foreigners – outside US jurisdiction – were protesting America.  Have you, Senator?” Without waiting for an answer, he looked to the audience.  “Has anyone here?” After a slight pause he asked, “Yet how many of you are struggling with obscenely high energy bills?” Drake raised his hand, which was joined by scores more.

Drake took a deep breath.  “For those of you pained by the thought of a flag being burned, I understand and respect your sentiment.  But amending the Constitution to ban flag burning is not the solution.  If anything, it will make matters worse.”

Holding his hand out, as if to silence any remarks, Drake said, “Let me explain.  A few flags are burned each year in this country in protest.  I repeat, a few.  Very few.  I don’t have the exact number, but I would bet it is less than a hundred.  Now, if this amendment passed, a date will have to be set for when the law takes effect, say January 1st.  Do you know what would happen on December 31st?  Thousands, tens of thousands of Americans would gather in Washington, D.C. and in cities large and small across the nation.  And just before the stroke of midnight, they would light thousands upon thousands of flags on fire.  Your options are to either know that a hundred flags are burned each year, or watch as thousands are burned before your eyes.  And it would not end once January 1st came.  People will take pieces of cardboard, draw a flag on it, and burn that.  Unless the ban is Draconian in its description of what constitutes an American flag, such an act would be perfectly legal.  And I suspect that people will line up before the White House, and the Supreme Court, and in thousands of other places and burn these cardboard flags day after day after day until the Amendment is repealed.” Drake shrugged.  “The simple truth, a Constitutional Amendment banning flag burning will only result in hundreds of thousands of flags and flag-like objects being burned.  Period.  That’s the only thing that will happen.”

Drake jabbed his podium with his finger.  “Now, of all the problems facing America today, flag burning is number 3,714.  Call me crazy, but I think the first 3,713 problems are far more important.  Problems such as: Social Security, health care, national security, education, immigration, gas prices, crime, incompetent leadership, the deficit, the environment, unemployment, racial tensions, rogue nations, poverty, decaying infrastructure, bigotry, foreign and domestic terrorism, drug abuse, invasions of privacy … I could go on and on.

“You may ask, given all these problems, why is flag burning such a big issue?  Well, I have a theory.  I believe flag burning is a ploy being used by certain elected officials to mask the fact that they,” Drake looked directly at Conant, “have accomplished nothing.” Drake pointed at a random audience member, “Nothing for you.” Pointing at more people he continued, “Or you, or you, or your child who can’t afford to go to college, or your grandfather who has to go to Canada to get his medication, or your wife whose job was outsourced, or all of us when we pay an arm and a leg at the gas pump.”

Pounding his fist on his podium, Drake raised his voice, “We have wasted enough time on this diversion.  Let’s get back to the real problems of America: yours!”

The auditorium shook from the applause.

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