On flags and fascism

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Right-wing politicians have made no secret of their disdain for the rule of law as well as our current state of democracy.

One of the more blatant acts of far-right hostility to our current government was Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s flying an upside down flag at his Washington, D.C. residence signaling support for the Capitol insurrection in the days after January 6, 2021.

Alito said his wife hung the flag in this position after a contentious dispute with a neighbor, which predictably garnered more than a few side-eyes and outright eye rolls.

Interestingly, it appears that flag raising seems to be an Alito pastime because he hung another “Appeal to Heaven” flag at his New Jersey beach home. The hanging of the second flag is even more ominous and disturbing because of its close association and identification with both far-right Christian nationalists and the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol.

Initially a Revolutionary War banner, the flag features philosopher John Locke’s motto in his Second Treatise on Government, in which he used it to describe the right of revolution. However, far-right Christian nationalists have recently adopted the flag in their attempt to impose their imperious will on the United States and its citizens.

Many argue that right-wing dark money has deeply influenced the current Supreme Court, an influence that conservative legal activist Leonard Leo spearheaded — he reportedly displayed the same “Appeal to Heaven” flag outside his home in Maine. Alito’s flag raising understandably and justifiably raises questions among his critics about his impartiality in his rulings. House Speaker Mike Johnson recently flew the flag outside his office in Congress.

Historically, placing the American flag upside down is a symbol of alarm, distress, and duress. However, over the past few decades people have increasingly used it as a symbol of political protest and defiance. This controversial act is at odds with military tradition, which demands that people treat the flag with honor, decorum, and respect.

The truth is both the political left and right have displayed upside-down flags as an expression of their displeasure and dissatisfaction over a plethora of issues, including the Vietnam War, the war in Afghanistan, gun violence, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion and, in many cases, election outcomes. In 2012, Tea Party followers inverted flags at their homes to signal disgust at President Barack Obama’s reelection. Four years later, some liberals and progressives engaged in duplicative behavior after Donald Trump’s election as president.

Justice Alito and the political right in general have long ceased employing dog whistles to communicate fascist messages. They are aggressively promoting their searing and blatant rhetoric and fascist ideology while simultaneously taunting their critics without fear or shame. The rest of us can do nothing to stop them from advertising their fascist sympathies. Their impunity is part of the argument against democracy.

In its blind thirst for power, the current Republican Party has become rapacious, barbarous, and amoral, determined to attack and overturn any election outcomes or social movements that undermine its agenda. We have already seen the GOP engage in this sort of undemocratic activity with voter suppression and the duplicative election laws they have enacted.

Truth be told, Republicans made the decision decades ago never to alter their regressive values. Instead, they have decided to repress all entities whose ideology does not square with theirs. The agenda for their extreme elements is to employ alarming, abrasive, hyperbolic, and ominous rhetoric, no matter how irresponsible or dangerous. The more outlandish they can appear to their followers, the better. Ethics, civility, decency, facts, principles, and morality can all be damned. It is a party largely bereft of any responsibility.

The undeniable truth is the MAGA right has no regard for the constitution or other people’s rights. They have made it clear they will stop at nothing to secure their own right-wing dystopian society regardless of the havoc they create in doing so. Needless to say, the current state of political affairs is grim.

The 2024 election may be our last hope to preserve democracy as we know it. This will require everyone to become proactive in fighting, quelling, and outright defeating reductive forces of dystopian fascism immediately.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.