“I revere the American flag as a symbol of freedom. But behind it is something larger — the Constitution.”

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell

Pandering to a cornerstone of the far right’s political agenda, as Donald Trump, who loves political theater while continuing to treat the presidency like a reality show and considers the Constitution as an impediment to his authoritarian urges, entered the stage to speak at the March 2nd Conservative Political Action Committee conference, he wrapped his arms around an American flag and stood, grinning at the adoring, if not somewhat bewildered, crowd.

On Flag Day he tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail.” 

The same day, Montana Republican Senator and Trump sycophant Steve Daines introduced a constitutional amendment; ‘‘The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.’’  Nearly identical language was used in prior failed attempts in 1989, 2006 and 2011 to penalize flag burning and desecration. 

A flag desecration amendment is a solution in search of a problem.  Trump and his minions motives are purely political, and clearly not seeking to protect the nation from the onslaught of some two or three malcontents who annually torch the flag as a form of protest against their country's policies.  Over 2012 years between 1777, when the flag was adopted, and 1989, when Congress passed the Flag Protection Act and the Supreme Court rejected it (Texas v. Johnson) there only 45 documented incidents of flag burning, about half occurring during the Vietnam War.

In the two hundred and twenty-eight years since the ratification of the Constitution, only five of its twenty-seven Amendments (those imposition of an income tax, outlawing and the legalizing booze and three others dealing with presidential and Congressional terms and succession) were not enacted to specifically broaden and protect the rights of "we the people" or to limit the power of government. 

The president’s rhetoric and proposed Amendment are an assault on the most fundamental of American rights, that of free speech, a solemn liberty our flag is supposed to symbolize. 

While no fan of Senate Leader McConnell, I share his personal contempt those who would desecrate our flag or disrespect our national anthem.  Quoting him, “I don’t share the slightest shred of sympathy with any who would dare desecrate the flag.  They deserve rebuke and condemnation — if not a punch in the nose.” 

In casting a 2011 vote against a Flag Desecration Amendment, he opined, “No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment. Our Constitution, and our country, is stronger than thatUltimately, people like that pose little harm to our country.  But tinkering with our First Amendment might.”

Even Anton Scalia, the Supreme Court darling of conservatives wrote, “If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag.  But I am not king,” and then cast the deciding vote determining flag desecration was constitutionally protected speech.

Then there are practical realities.  How would such an Amendment affect the tens, if not hundreds of millions of flags and pseudo flags presently used on clothing, products and in advertising?  And then, what would happen to a person with a flag tattoo which was damaged? 

The president and every member of Congress and the military take an oath to “support and defend the constitution of the United States”, not the flag, a bald eagle, the Statue of Liberty or other symbol of America.

This Amendment and the penalties proposed by the president represent a clear and present danger to the fundamental liberties of every American. 

Members of Congress who support this irresponsible and partisan legislation should spend a little time rereading the Constitution and reflect on its original intent; that of restraining the powers of government and maximizing the liberties of the governed. 

One is left to wonder if F. Lee Bailey wasn’t right when he pondered, “Can any of you seriously say the Bill of Rights could get through Congress today?  It wouldn’t even get out of committee.