On the door of my office, there are two of those little car-window flags hanging off the nameplate. One of them is Swiss, one is Italian, one for each of my officemates. They’re there for the European football championships, which appears to be the one context in which Europe allows itself to embrace nationalism anymore. This is probably a good thing, as Europe’s embrace of nationalism up to about sixty or so years ago tended to end up in the embrace of large amounts of territory gained and then invariably lost, always at terrible cost.
What's left of that impulse led to thousands of people draping flags and wearing jerseys stretched along the lakefront and the Limmatquai from the Zurichhorn to Central, and a minor fistfight or two at the end of a disappointing match but none of the rioting associated with the Ultras in the American idea of European hooliganism.
Theus, who put the flags on our office doors, sincerely apologized for leaving me out, for not being able to find an American car-window flag in Zurich. First, this is unsurprising although my Confederate Battle Flags in Inappropriate Contexts counter hit two this morning with an older Swiss man wearing a T-shirt from Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Tennessee but what I did find surprising was my reaction to the offer. I really, really didn't want an American flag on my office door.
What is surprising about this, you may ask? After all, I've voted with my feet, and I'm not particularly inclined to come back in the foreseeable future. But I'll always be American, identified at least by my accent in English now and most probably in German later, by the experience of my first formative thirty years, by my culture and my worldview. And while I'm ashamed of things done by my government in my name, and concerned by the continued fallout from a litany of poor policy choices stretching back beyond the beginning of this century to the middle of the last, I'm proud of my country, and of the promise of its history.
But I have no flag. I've never been one to wave the stars and stripes, especially since its defamation after Nine Eleven Changed Everything. But I realized, seeing the tricolors of Germany, France, and Italy, Switzerland's white cross, even Turkey's crescent and star, proudly worn by the kilometers-long crowd, that its defamation is complete. The flag defined by 4 U.S.C. 1 is not my flag. It is the flag of a small coterie of smaller men of a single party, driven by the will to power to maintain their position by fear, men I will not assent to supporting by waving their banner. It does not represent the promise of my history. It's become a symbol of the threat of its end.