They are listening

Sara Beth Wald

I learned in school the American flag is sacred and the general population confirmed this. I remember once at a sleepover watching a mother of a friend cry when she saw an image of someone burning a flag on the news.
The schools still try to teach kids the flag is sacred. My son comes home every Veterans Day and Memorial Day with patriotic art projects and homework assignments that encourage an understanding of democracy.
But the hard work done by teachers is constantly watered down by the media, by special interest groups, and marketing campaigns that use the flag as a punch line or a tool for manipulation.
I worry that my children are going to associate the American flag less with the blessing of democracy and more with catchy beer slogans and powerful special interest marketing campaigns.
By the time my kids have the maturity and patience to watch a speech by an elected official on television, they’ve already been inundated for years by millions of images of star spangled bikinis and political ads by special interests slamming the very people standing before that same flag talking about public policy that effects their lives.
Why should they take it seriously?
How does my children’s generation even stand a chance of loving America when America doesn’t even seem to love itself?
During this nastiest of election years, I can’t tell you how many time I’ve heard the word “idiot.”
“Hillary is an idiot.”
“Trump is an idiot.”
My kids ask me who Hillary is, who Trump is. I explain to them that they are the two frontrunners in the presidential election.
I can see the tickertape of their thoughts running across their foreheads. “So no matter who wins, our next president is going to be an idiot.”
Of course our candidates are throwing out insults and appealing to our basest character. They are simply speaking our language. It’s the only way they can possibly win.
We want our kids to show pride for themselves and respect for others.
Yet the adults around them are waving flags while calling each other idiots. And we all lose a little dignity, a little pride.
Because we are all Americans. When we are unable to have a mature discussion, when we are unable to disagree civilly, we all lose.
How can we teach our children to love themselves as Americans when we aren’t saying anything good about America?
It’s not a perfect place, but it’s all we’ve got, and I believe it’s still great.
This 4th of July, focus on all the good that is America.
If you watch a parade with fire trucks and police cars and antique tractors, if you grill more food than you can eat, if you stay up late to watch the fireworks, if you go to bed in a safe, comfortable home, then God bless America.
Stop worrying so much about all the ways America is failing you and realize how lucky you are to live here.
And for the love of the flag and all those who have died to protect your very privileged life, make sure you tell your kids how grateful you are to live in the United States of America.
They are listening.

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