Roach: Stars and stripes

This Fourth of July was different. I had been mulling over the notion of adding another banner to accompany the Stars and Stripes to add context to Old Glory.
american flag
Courtesy of Getty

Up on the lake, on the Fourth of July, it is our custom to get the big American flag out from our closet and hang it from the deck railing some 12 feet in the air.

It looks splendid and proud.

When I first did this many summers ago, I measured the railing so that our nation’s banner would be perfectly centered.

The nails are permanent, standing by the entire year to play their supporting role in our national celebration of independence.

We have another smaller flag that our kids and their friends fly as they set out on our little boat to tour the lake and wave at neighbors. One year, they even had Fourth of July hats made that proclaimed, “America. Back-to-Back World War Champions.”

It’s all done in good fun with a dollop of pride.

This Fourth of July was different. I had been mulling over the notion of adding another banner to accompany the Stars and Stripes to add context to Old Glory. Perhaps a Pride flag. Or a Black Lives Matter banner.

Why? Because extremist forces throughout our land have bastardized the Stars and Stripes. Folks who believe in outlandish conspiracies, white supremacy and the overturning of free and legal elections have claimed the flag as theirs while calling themselves patriots — when, in fact, they are exactly the opposite. They have tried to change what the American flag represents.

Up in the north woods you occasionally see these guys driving a pickup truck with two flags flying off the bed; one the Stars and Stripes, the other a flag that proclaims the name of America’s only twice-impeached president.

In the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, it is difficult to look upon a flag celebrating that Former Guy flying next to the American flag without seeing an act of desecration. When these guys pull up next to me on the street, I wince. Not only for what they stand for but for what they have done to our flag.

It’s as if the Stars and Stripes has been hijacked. Given what he tried to pull off after losing the election, the mawkish photo of the Former Guy smothering our flag with an oily hug has become one of the most uncomfortable photos in our nation’s history.

I still believe in an America that longs to be great. I like to think our grand democratic experiment, though flawed, doggedly aspires to something better for all. We began with slavery but fought to extinguish it. Women were denied the vote. It was corrected. When fascism threatened the entire free world, we defeated it. Slavery is America’s moral stain. But we also elected a Black man as our president. And a Black and South Asian woman as our vice president. How can that not be progress?

Are we capable of being a hot mess? Sure. But it’s a beautiful hot mess.

We are now in an interesting time of self-examination. We are questioning how our history was taught in schools. Being more honest about who we are and where we came from. Seeking truth over accumulated fiction. This is good. It is yet another expression of our nation trying to become a better version of itself.

Perusing Amazon this season, I saw plenty of banners that could fly next to Old Glory. There was a BLM fist proclaiming, “Say Their Names.” A slew of rainbow flags. Banners that carried a litany of statements that proclaimed “Science is Real,” “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” “No Human is Illegal” and “Love is Love.”

To me, most of them seemed not quite right. Too wordy, or lacking hope.

And then one popped out.

It said, simply, “EQUALITY.” As in, all of us are created equal.

I like that.

Now, where are those nails.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at that says Subscribe with covers of Madison Magazine