Diversions : My Pledge of Allegiance

Mark Cohen, Peak to Peak.  I pledge allegiance to the truth. Not to the United States. Not to the flag. Not to the republic for which it stands. We are not “one nation,” except in a legal sense. Some Americans don’t believe in God. The few that try to define “God” before discussing it can’t agree on its meaning, so we can’t proclaim we are “one nation under God” with confidence that we mean the same thing. We are not indivisible. And we do not have liberty and justice for all.

 

Now, some readers are already thinking something like, “If you don’t like America, move to North Korea.” That’s a straw man argument – a lazy way of attempting to refute an argument I’m not making. I’m not saying America is the worst place on Earth. I’m saying America is not what it claims to be, is not what its founders intended, and is not as good as it could be. And that’s why I won’t pledge allegiance to it.

 

To pledge allegiance means to promise unquestioning loyalty. The Pledge of Allegiance asserts our flag is a symbol for our republic. I won’t pledge unquestioning loyalty to a symbol. And I won’t promise unquestioning loyalty to a republic any more than I would promise it to a wife that repeatedly cheated on me.

 

Let’s break it down. Are we “one nation?” We live under the same legal system and within the geographic boundaries of the land known as the United States, so we are one nation in that sense. But that’s about as far as it goes. Historically, a nation’s citizens shared a common religion, ethnic background, and language, and so were likely to share similar values. America was different. What was supposed to unite us was a common belief in democracy, liberty, equality, free speech, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and the values embodied in the Bill of Rights.

 

These shared values provided some national cohesion throughout most of our history. When America was mostly a white Christian nation we were willing to tolerate a few immigrants, minorities, and people of other faiths and pay lip service to these values. But when those others began taking part in politics and gaining power, it made many white Christian Americans uncomfortable. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. White evangelicals became more active in politics and we saw the rise of groups such as the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family. (Who doesn’t love alliteration?). And the truth is the first loyalty of many evangelicals is to Jesus – not the Constitution. That’s a big problem if you want to claim we are “one nation.” Many don’t really believe in equality, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or separation of church and state. They’d vote for Hitler if he proclaimed himself pro-life, railed against gay marriage, and cited a Bible verse now and then. We can’t be “one nation” when a large percentage of voters rejects the core values that are supposed to unite us.

 

If we don’t all believe in the concepts embodied in our Bill of Rights, what common values hold us together as a nation? None. Zip, zero, nada. Nothing unites us. That’s why we don’t care whether our fellow citizens lack healthcare or our children are starving.

 

Are we “indivisible?” We are more divided than ever. That’s largely the fault of conservative politicians and their politics of hate. John Erlichman, an advisor to President Nixon, admitted before his death that the true purpose of Nixon’s “war on drugs” was to put blacks and hippies in prison so they could not vote.

 

President Reagan vilified “welfare queens,” intending a clear reference to black women when the truth is 40% of SNAP payments go to whites and only 25% to blacks. George H.W. Bush used the Willie Horton ad to defeat Michael Dukakis, suggesting a Dukakis presidency would result in the immediate release of hundreds of thousands of blacks from prison who would then rape and kill white women. Republicans demonized immigrants even though President Obama deported more illegal immigrants than George W. Bush. Trump is just the logical conclusion to all of this. In today’s America neo-Nazis are “very fine people,” but a football player kneeling in peaceful protest is a “son of a bitch.” Why would I pledge allegiance to a nation where political leaders act this way and many citizens embrace it?

 

Do we have “liberty and justice for all?” Ask the survivors of all the blacks shot by police while they had their hands in the air. Ask those that spent years in prison for possession of marijuana while distilleries denoted millions to politicians that opposed legalization. Ask workers that lost their pensions while corporate crooks went free.

 

America once took pride in being the best. We defeated Hitler, rebuilt Europe, established a Peace Corps, landed a man on the moon, and helped cause the Soviet Union’s collapse. But here is a hard truth: we are no longer the best. Not even close. We are the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare.

 

 

In a recent study of 57 countries, American kids ranked 17th in science and 24th in math. 21% of our children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. And a significant percentage of people who are supposed to be my fellow citizens don’t care. Conservative chicken-hawks praise our military, but in 2014 then Senator Jeff Sessions called veterans care “an entitlement we can’t afford.” Why would I pledge allegiance to a nation where many are satisfied with mediocrity and clearly don’t care about their fellow citizens?

 

Speaking of schools, Americans once took pride in knowledge and use of reason. George Washington wrote, “Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be free and ignorant at the same time, it expects what never was and never will be.” We accepted this for years and paid taxes to educate our children so they could become good citizens. But today many Americans see education as bad. 58% of Republicans have a negative view of higher education. They believe doctors and engineers just appear spontaneously. And if you don’t like facts, you either ignore them by asserting “the evidence is inconclusive” or you just make up “alternative facts.” Why would I pledge allegiance to a nation where many leaders and citizens embrace ignorance and reject logic?

 

Adolph Hitler pledged to “make Germany great again.” Trump promised to “make America great again.” Trump used the exact same quote, changing only one word. George Santayana once wrote, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Why would I pledge allegiance to a nation where a significant percentage of voters are either too dumb to see the parallels or just don’t care?

 

American likes to think the U.S. is a world leader, but Trump plans to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Just a few days ago the U.S. voted against a U.N. resolution condemning the death penalty for LGBT people. Why would I pledge allegiance to such a nation? This nation’s actions embarrass me.

 

And what about this republic for which the flag stands? Is America even a “republic?” Our elected representatives don’t represent us? They represent the corporations that donate money to their campaigns. That’s why Americans pay two to six times more than the rest of the world for brand name prescription drugs. That’s why we have for-profit prisons. That’s why Wall Street crooks don’t go to prison. That’s why six Trump corporations could file bankruptcy, but student loans are not dischargeable. Corporations have better lobbyists than students. Our Republican Supreme Court says corporations are people and have the right to buy politicians. (Thanks Nader voters!). Why would I pledge allegiance to a nation that accepts this?

 

And putting aside the influence of corporate money, do we even elect our supposed representatives? I don’t trust computerized voting. Former CIA Director James Woolsey stated, “If I were a bad guy from another country who wanted to disrupt the American system … I think I’d concentrate on messing up the touch-screen voting systems.” Diebold corporation manufactures such machines. Diebold’s chairman once held a $1,000-per-head GOP fundraiser at his 10,800-square-foot mansion and pledged “to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President.” (George W. Bush). Republican politicians don’t care about the possibility of this kind of fraud because they don’t care about the integrity of the process – they care only about winning. Why would I pledge allegiance to a nation whose leaders don’t care about the integrity of the process?

 

Then add in the fact that the Republican FBI Director made a statement days before the election clearly intended to affect the outcome. Mix in the fact that a corporate owned media ignored Trump’s ties to Russia because a close election generates more viewers and more advertising dollars. Sprinkle in a dose of Russian meddling. It’s easy to have doubts about the election’s legitimacy. Which is why, for the first time in my life, I join those who say, “He’s not my President.”

 

I served four years on active duty in the Air Force and three in the reserves. I had a relatively safe desk job in a very secure building, but I was proud to do it. My parents were Air Force officers. My brother served in the Coast Guard. My cousin graduated from Annapolis. My uncle was an Army major. Another cousin is a police officer in Phoenix. But I will no longer pretend America is something it is not. I pledge allegiance to the truth. If you want me to pledge allegiance to a flag, build a nation that inspires me rather than one that embarrasses me.

 

[Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Mountain-Ear.]

Mark Cohen

Mark Cohen, J.D., LL.M., is a lawyer in Nederland, Colorado. He is also the author of the Pepper Keane mystery series. A former chairperson of the editorial board of The Colorado Lawyer magazine, one of his interests is the use of Plain English rather than legal jargon.