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Local view: Patriotism isn't measured by how we salute the flag

I cannot revere a flag. Respect, yes, but not reverence for a piece of cloth or plastic dyed in multiple colors. Nor can I hold sacred a song written about a flag. Music and lyrics penned by one man can hardly be accorded veneration.

I do, however, love this country and the ideals to which it aspires. But not the crumbling parchment on which its principles and laws are written.

I cherish the land, the mountains, woods, and waters from which I derive inspiration and joy. But not paper maps of 13 colonies or 50 states, their borders in ink arbitrarily drawn.

And I revere other human beings: American people, family, friends, neighbors, citizens, immigrants, and members of the military who have fought and died for us all. But not a uniform made of fabric, be it Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines.

All of which is why I was at first amused and then incredulous when President Donald Trump used a profanity to call out professional athletes for kneeling instead of standing for a song, "The Star Spangled Banner."

Or when NASCAR team owner Richard Petty proclaimed, "Anybody that don't stand up for the anthem oughta be out of the country," in reference to the same tune.

Or when numerous football fans began burning team jerseys on YouTube because their team waited in the locker room while the song was being performed.

I've been alive a long time, and my earliest experience with angry demands of fealty to sacred songs, pieces of cloth, or other inert objects came while learning ancient history in school. We read of the Roman emperors, fearful and paranoid for their thrones, who commissioned idols to be carved from wood or chiseled from stone in their own image, which they subsequently declared as containing their spirit or encapsulating everything they stood for. You can look it up in the encyclopedia, how they subsequently used the idols as tests for their subjects: Whoever did not prostrate themselves before the idols was persecuted, decapitated, or thrown into the lions' den.

Up until recently, I thought such idolatry was dead, a relic of the ancient past, relegated to B.C., and no longer prevalent in civilized society. Yet there remain some corners of the world where, because of isolation, ignorance, and tyranny, idolatry still holds sway.

In North Korea, for example, every man and woman must carry or wear an idol, a pin with an image of Kim Jong Un or of his father or his grandfather. And If someone is caught without the pin, much like Richard Petty's drivers, they are punished for being disloyal and traitorous.

Until recently, modern-thinking Americans and citizens of other developed countries pitied or decried such quaint and savage customs.

But our newest president says we must pay homage to the flag and anthem only in his specially prescribed manner since, as he said, "It stands for everything we believe in."

In view of what this same man said about Charlottesville, Va., and his proclamations about Mexicans, Muslims, women, African-Americans, dead U.S. war heroes who were Muslim, and the American hero Sen. John McCain, it's clear that what Trump does, in fact, stand for, are sentiments not remotely American. And that his superficial insistence and denigration of athletes, as with those ancient emperors, are likely a decoy to shroud his failures of policy and leadership.

For patriotism is not measured by our posture during the anthem or how we salute the flag. Rather, we define ourselves as Americans by love and sacrifice for our fellow countrymen and respect for each other's freedoms and beliefs.

David McGrath is an emeritus English professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois, a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page, and the author of "The Territory." Contact him at