Is Sen. Cotton right to criticize NYT for suggesting American flag ‘divisive’?


Fact Box

  • On Monday, July 5, 2021, Senator Tom Cotton criticized The New York Times on Fox for suggesting the American flag was a “divisive symbol” and that Americans “should be proud of our heritage and our founding principles.” 
  • Over the holiday weekend, on July 3, 2021, The New York Times tweeted, “Today, flying the American flag from the back of a pickup truck or over a lawn is increasingly seen as a clue, albeit an imperfect one, to a person’s political affiliation in a deeply divided nation” and posted the controversial article “A Fourth of July Symbol of Unity That May No Longer Unite.”
  • The American flag was first established on June 14, 1777 by the Continental Congress. The red and white horizontal stripes represent the 13 original colonies while the stars are the 50 states of the Union. Valor, innocence, perseverance, and justice are symbols of the flag.
  • Francis Scott Key was inspired by the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and wrote the “The Star Spangled Banner” (listen here).
  • According to a YouGov poll, reported by Five Thirty Eight in 2018, Republicans are more likely and continue to be more patriotic over Democrats.

Andrew (No)

The mere fact that an op-ed piece over whether the flag has become a divisive symbol could cause such an uproar clearly demonstrates the level of division around it. Senator Cotton should be able to understand this. The article lays out examples of both those who fly the flag out of respect, as well as those who use it to symbolize an overt, aggressive form of nationalism. Instead of picking a fight with the Old Gray Lady, Senator Cotton should be asking what he can do to bridge this divide.

Two examples of the flag’s ability to divide are readily apparent. Athletes kneeling before the flag during the national anthem have stirred up foment. The so-called “thin blue line” flag represents respect to law enforcement to some and a desecration of the flag and a symbolic nod toward racial violence to others. Senator Cotton’s claims are dangerous because they can be used to quell dissent. Anyone viewing the flag as not representative of their values can be written off as radical and anti-American when they are simply speaking their truth.

One wonders why the flag has such outsized importance in America in the first place. Other nations don’t have such extreme rules about folding, displaying, and disposing of their flags. Are their citizens less patriotic? Unlikely. Certainly, one’s actual love of country is more important than a piece of cloth used to symbolize it. Elected officials such as senator Cotton should focus their efforts on truly patriotic tasks such as promoting vaccination, restarting the economy, and ending racial injustice rather than headline-grabbing lazy patriotism centered on flag worship.


Stephanie (Yes)

The New York Times blatantly mocked Independence Day when it referred to the American flag as ‘divisive.’ Thankfully, Arkansas Senator Cotton rightfully stood up for Old Glory in openly criticizing the publication. The Times’ article cited examples of the American flag being polarizing in communities, including instances of individuals assuming that people who fly the flag must be Republican, thus causing tension. It continued that Republicans are indeed more likely to identify with the American flag than Democrats. Of course, President Trump’s voter base was brought up in the discussion, perhaps because he was adamant about America First policies as President and Presidential Candidate.

Yet, it is still disheartening that it has come to this point, as the American flag, of course, represents all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. She represents America’s freedom, expanded upon from those established in England and Western Civilization as a whole, and the American people’s liberty from a tyrannical government. It honors the sacrifice of the many brave men and women who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today. However, any group condemning a symbol that should unite the nation is clearly part of the division problem.

The timing of the Times commentary is also tasteless in doing so over the 4th of July weekend when countless Americans proudly flew the flag, as is customary on patriotic holidays. It should not be considered divisive, but if it is for some reason interpreted as such, then one could make the same argument for any flag that represents a nation or idea. In this case, that idea is the United States of America, and as Sen. Cotton boldly stated: “We should teach our children…to be proud of and celebrate America’s traditions.”

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