Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Un-American Populism

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, July 9, 2002 --  

The incredible ability of American politicians to focus on trivial issues for political ends reared its disgusting head last week over the issue of the Pledge of Allegiance. Soon after a federal appeals court ruled that the use of the words "under God" in government schools violated the First Amendment, politicians began tripping over themselves to oppose the ruling, prove their overwhelming patriotism, and compete to say "God" as many times as possible in a single sentence. With polls showing that 89 percent of Americans support the inclusion of the phrase in the pledge, it was a sickeningly perfect populist issue.1

But there was a larger issue at hand -- one that actually merits public discussion. In the week of Independence Day, Americans should recognize that the larger meaning of the pledge is antithetical to America's founding.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

By asking children in government schools to make this pledge, the government is soliciting a promise of loyalty to the state (referred to as "the flag," and "the republic,") no matter what terrible things it might do to its people. This offensive elevation of the government over the people is simply fascist. Contrast this abomination to the words of the Founding Fathers, who had a love of country, not state.

...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of (the People's Rights), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government? -- The Declaration of Independence

Whoa. They're saying that citizens have a right to overthrow the republic when it becomes oppressive of their rights. So much for pledging allegiance.

Ironically, the British crown tried to instill allegiance to their flag using similar loyalty oaths during the time of the American Revolution. The Founding Fathers found these oaths to be tools of repression. It is likely they'd view the pledge the same way -- whether or not the nation is "under God."

In the defense of politicians and pro-pledge nationalists, it's unlikely that they think enough to realize how un-American the pledge really is. They just force kids in schools to recite it as a knee-jerk attempt at patriotism. Fortunately for the kids, none of them know what it means, anyway. I remember a slightly hippie junior high school substitute teacher who made us go through it word by word and explain its meaning. Most kids were shocked to learn that that pledge says "under God" and not "Under Dog," and that the nation is "indivisible" and not "invisible." With such rote regurgitation of a mindless pledge, it could as well be a pledge allegiance to Satan. Nobody would even notice.

Those of us who are thoughtful adults, however, should do what the Founding Fathers would do and refuse to say the pledge. At a time when American citizens are sitting in military prisons without the right to due process or even to see a lawyer2, the defiant tone of the Declaration of Independence seems much more appropriate than the submissive Pledge of Allegiance.


1. The Washington Post, Post/ABC Poll: Americans Want Tighter Regulation of Business, July 1, 2002

2. See Losing the War on Terror, June 11, 2002