WHILE WE'RE ALL EXERCISING THE RESPONSIBILITY TO MANAGE our social distance, you might have a little more time than usual to ponder "big ideas." One that's of value in the midst of national attention on pandemics and presidential elections is the concept of what makes folks here in these United States unique in our own special ways.
Different is built into our system in a way that should encourage each of us.
Banding, Binding, and Bonding
We’re Americans, but our identity as a nation is not defined just by focus on the federal government: American = United States = Washington, DC-centered living.
Our central connection is only part of what makes us American. Statehood is just as American as Union, and both are essential to a truly American spirit.
We were founded on the understanding that a group of individual states would band together to accomplish what they couldn’t if kept completely separate. But the states are still “individuals” and because of that, are rightly different from each other in good and healthy ways.
In the founding years of our country, we were Pennsylvanians, Virginians, Rhode Islanders, South Carolinians, and nine other self-directing groups of people. Now we’re also Oregonians, Iowans, Floridians, Nebraskans, Hawaiians—fifty in all. That’s what makes the United States unique.
Sovereign states formed a legally and politically binding way of living together as one while still determining their own ways of life. We’re all proud to be Americans, yet honoring what makes each state special contributes to the well-being of everyone.
As a result, we all have a dual identity as citizens of individual states as well as a unified country, and our mutual affection has formed a rich bond as Americans.
State Your Position
I must admit that I’ve wondered why state sovereignty matters so much and have mulled over the problem of too much centralized authority. I’ve puzzled on how to increase the power of states with respect to the federal government. But I’m not a model of political involvement.
I’ve spent a good many years consumed with making ends meet in my own Different way and raising eight children. As a result, I’ve been less involved in politics and government than I would like. (As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations,” and mine seem to be many.) If you've struggled with that limitation, too, I have a great idea for you.
The idea unfurled one morning as I drove into town.
I passed restaurants (back when they were still operating normally), banks, homes, and shopping centers, appreciating the inspirational sight of Old Glory outstretched in a stiff, balmy breeze. In what we used to call during my ad agency days a “blinding glimpse of the obvious,” though, I recognized something missing from the scene.
Not one flagpole, balcony, doorpost, or rooftop displayed a Tennessee state flag.
I felt a hollowness I’d never experienced before while watching a flag on display. Part of our national identity was missing because the state identity was gone.
We are Americans, but we’re also Tennesseans, Georgians, Texans (don’t mess with ‘em), Californians, New Yorkers, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, and Tarheels. And one simple act on the part of every flag-waving home, business, or church would rivet in our minds the two-fold meaning of being part of the United States of America: When you hoist the Stars and Stripes, you should raise your state flag, too.
When the flag of Kentucky, Wisconsin, Idaho, Arizona, or Mississippi waves proudly below (or on the right hand of) Old Glory, it’s a riveting reminder of what we all stand for, because what we see is what we get. It would be a great show of combined loyalties to see our individual flags flying—in Vermont, Wyoming, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Mississippi, Delaware, Montana, Kansas . . . !
We’re Americans. And we should state that clearly!
Want to fly your state flag?
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