Barreling northeast on I-35 from Austin to Dallas in early March, my sister, husband, and I tried to ignore the flag-festooned caravan in the right lane. But we couldn’t avert our eyes. We listened to radio reports about the semis, pickups, and cars snaking their way to Washington, D.C. and realized we were witnessing the “People’s Convoy” in action.
With U.S and Texas flags streaming, the vehicles had a mishmash of messages on their sides. We’d encountered these phrases before but had never seen so many in one rolling place: “We Will Not Comply,” “My Body My Choice,” “Stop the Steal,” “Let’s Go Brandon,” and “Don’t Tread on Me.”
This protest on wheels originated in Canada, which had imposed regulations on truckers crossing the border from the U.S. To limit the spread of the coronavirus, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in mid-January that the unvaccinated either would be denied entry into the country or would need to quarantine. Truckers defied the new rules and gathered in the capital, Ottawa, to block traffic and disrupt trade. Police broke up the protest in mid-February and arrested some of the truckers.
The convoy we saw carried American supporters of these truckers. The drivers’ messages, however, were mixed, conflating an aversion to vaccination with a belief that there had been a vast conspiracy to steal the last presidential election. That made us mad. What ticked us off most, though, was the way the drivers had co-opted our flags. Flying the Stars and Stripes and the Texas Lone Star from their vehicles, they obviously believed, proved they were the true patriots on that highway — not us.
Flags are complicated. They can announce membership in a group or support for an idea. Sometimes, they signify harmless pride in a sports team. And sometimes, they are dangerous, using pride in nationalist or racist identity to demonize others. The black swastika on a crimson background still strikes terror in many hearts, as does the confederate flag.
I think of that convoy’s flags now as I drive on Route 6 and see American flag decals, often accompanied by stickers saying “Trump 2024 Take America Back” or “Trump Save America Again.” Like the people in Texas, these drivers are using the American flag to declare their belonging to a distinct tribe. And it means that I can’t put a flag decal on my car, because that would signal support for putting Donald Trump back in the White House — an idea I can’t stomach.
I object to the use of my nation’s flag for such dark and dangerous purposes. I think it’s time to reclaim the flag, to fly the Star-Spangled Banner from a flagpole in front of my house and to slap Old Glory on my car. If others joined me, we might stop the flag from being used as a secret handshake to exclude those who actually respect the Constitution.
In Dr. Seuss’s classic story “The Sneetches,” published in 1961, the Sneetches who have a star on their bellies discriminate against those who don’t, whom they consider inferior. This leads to a windfall for Sylvester McMonkey McBean, who makes money applying stars to Sneetches without them, then removing them for even more money, as each group tries to assert superiority over the other.
Eventually, the Sneetches agree to end their star wars, restoring harmony and unity:
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars
And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.
Maybe if all of us Outer Capers fly flags, by the summer it will be clear that all of us are Americans, and no one is better or worse on the beaches.
Cathy Corman, a regular contributor of book reviews to the Independent, lives in Brookline and Wellfleet.