Patriots: What’s an American?

Before writing this latest post on Digital Divisiveness, I reread something I wrote after Newtown. That’s what got me started on the subject. It’s not about gun control, it’s a plea for us to look in the mirror as a country and ask what we’re about, what we value, and what we’re for. About a year ago, I wrote a piece about what the American flag stands for in the face of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. In the last couple weeks since the topic has erupted, I wrote more about it and even made what should be a crystal clear sketched version of it. The only time I’ve ever gone directly at gun control, it was in the context of my father’s well-armed mental illness. Amidst the subjects of race relations, guns, freedom of speech, mental illness, and MAGA in general, there’s a core theme. A central question: What’s an American?

Sketchnote Journal - 112
Here’s the Flag. What’s it mean to you?

In the eight presidential elections since I turned 18, I’ve voted for Republicans four times and I’ve voted for Democrats four times. That doesn’t mean I’m unbiased. What it means is that I’ll make an informed decision on what I think is best for the country at any point and evolve my opinions based on what I see. I feel patriotic when I vote and when I see the flag, our nation’s symbol, flying in pictures of Iwo Jima, on the moon (SIX of them. We’ve been to the moon six badass times.), as W spoke to unite the nation after 9/11, and more. It’s ironic that the symbol of unity is now represents our divisiveness.

The recent massacre in Las Vegas brings much of this back into focus. It was such an extreme act that even the NRA is willing to budge half an inch on it. There may be a ban on the “bump stock” modification which helped Stephen Paddock shoot hundreds of people. It doesn’t address the mental health issue, the 33 guns Paddock bought over the last year, and it doesn’t even address the bump stock issue because they’ve been sold, can be fabricated, and bump firing can be done without the stock at all. It’s a mostly meaningless and obvious half an inch. But this is what it took:

This is what it took. For half an inch.
This is what it took. For half an inch.

Meanwhile, this is an ad from the bump stock manufacturer, Slide Fire. I’d like you to watch it and keep your eyes closed until the voice tails off and the music finishes. Then watch the rest.

In case that’s too much, the gist is that the founding fathers of our nation including Jefferson, Paine, Madison, Adams, and Franklin are looking down on us from heaven and understand what they’re trying to do. That their product is an act of reverence to the Constitution which shines as one of mankind’s greatest works. Those are pretty much quotes.

So is the symbol of the Constitution a firearm which was used to kill nearly 60 Americans and wound about 500? Does that shine over the rest of it which formed our republic and the other nine Amendments in the Bill of Rights at inception plus advances to it since? Does a gun culture define a patriot? What happened to the flag? Or maybe respecting the flag means respecting the 2nd Amendment plus our military and veterans? There’s a religious aspect too which underlies conversations about the Constitution. Many view it in an almost holy light and representative of Christianity. As Donald Trump said in his inaugural speech:

From Donald Trump's Inauguration
From Donald Trump’s Inauguration

These words and that image are stark contrasts. Trump ties his definition of patriotism to total allegiance to the United States of America. As I spelled out above and has been described several times over, the players taking a knee are absolutely doing so in respect of the flag and veterans. When they stand in unity, they stand against police brutality  – in particular to blacks – and saying their voices aren’t being heard. So when they’re called SOBs and told they’re not patriotic, they’re being told that they are not patriotic by an official standard and not living together under God in unity.

Very specifically: Their respect for the nation and belief in freedom of speech and their rights under the Constitution do not meet current patriotic standards. They’re not God’s people. They’re not patriots. When the crowd boos, they’re saying that they agree and don’t want the players to have voices. And yet how can they cheer a player when they give an all out effort and make a play? Are they people or not? Or are they people who don’t meet a standard and are lesser Americans – or not Americans at all?

If your heart isn’t open to a very specific brand of patriotism there’s not only room for prejudice, that prejudice is led by the president. And you’ll receive more venom than Neo-Nazis and the KKK when they march with torches under the protection of a militia carrying semi-automatic weapons (with bump stocks? who knows?). But if they fly the American flag in addition to the Confederate one and salute it with raised arms when they shout “Heil Trump! Heil Victory!”, then that’s OK.

So when I pose the question “What’s a patriot?” or “What’s an American?”, I’m being very very serious. When the answer is restricted by an ultra-national militarized belief, the term “patriot” takes on a sinister tone. And the free press which questions it is under constant assault from the administration. Is this what 1930’s Germany was like? We’ve seen group after group come under attack:

  • Mexicans/hispanics – The escalator ride. Calling Sheriff Joe a hero.
  • An early disavowal of who David Duke even is. “Many sides” when talking about Neo-Nazis and the KKK.
  • Gays and transgendered people – Can’t be in the military and civil rights laws don’t apply to them.
  • Muslims – Mike Flynn’s speech at the RNC and the travel ban.
  • Blacks – Calling for protesters to be roughed up during his campaign and offering to pay legal bills. NFL SOBs.
  • #FakeNews when stories run contrary to a narrative.


The following picture is from a man running for governor of my state, Georgia. I hadn’t even seen it until after the first draft of this was written. God-centric messaging, fear of others we need guns to defend ourselves from, a patriotic undertone, and trashing liberals – who presumably are anyone who doesn’t agree with him on God and guns.

Brian Kemp doesn't want to be governor for everyone.
Brian Kemp doesn’t want to be governor for everyone. It’s his platform.

I for one don’t think the founding fathers are smiling down from heaven. I think their values have been perverted at the core and we’ve got decisions to make about the nation. Otherwise, the values the flag represents may as well rest with the flags on the moon.


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