Staff Columnist

Iowa's phony patriotism is bipartisan

A bill to mandate the Pledge of Allegiance proves popular with lawmakers of both parties

State representatives stand at their desks during the Pledge Of Allegiance in the Iowa House chambers, Wednesday, June 3
State representatives stand at their desks during the Pledge Of Allegiance in the Iowa House chambers, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

As far as I can remember, there was only one year in my public school education when we recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.

I can’t tell you much about what I learned in Mrs. Johnson’s third- grade class, but I can still picture the American flag hanging on the wall between the bulletin boards. And I remember that one weird word — is it invisible or indivisible? I couldn’t even say all the words correctly, much less grasp the meaning of it.

Now, Republicans and Democrats in the Iowa Legislature want more young Iowans to participate in the daily ritual of honoring the government. Lawmakers are advancing a bill to require all schools to display American flags and offer the Pledge of Allegiance every day class is in session.

The proposal, House Study Bill 155, earned overwhelming approval from the House State Government Committee this month. Just one lawmaker opposed the bill in committee, while 20 others backed it, an unusually bipartisan bill in an era of Republican control of state government. Lobbyists for the state teachers union also are supporting the bill.

The bill is a disappointing but not surprising move by Iowa Republicans, who frequently concoct schemes to impose “traditional values.” This year’s bad ideas include restrictions on trans people using bathrooms, surveilling political activity on college campuses and banning the controversial New York Times 1619 Project from being taught in classrooms.

However, it’s a peculiar position for Iowa Democrats and their friends in the teachers union, who recently have been preaching the importance of local control.

In Iowa, the patriotism is bipartisan, and it’s phony.

The pledge has always been intended for young children, an attempt to instill love of country in the next generation. An early version had people pledging “our heads and our hearts” to God and to the country. The current iteration was written by a socialist-nationalist in the late 1800s and was spruced up with some Christianism in the mid-1900s.

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While students can’t be compelled to say the pledge, first-graders can’t meaningfully understand that choice. Young children are taught to recite the collectivist hymn, memorizing the words before they know what it all means.

Mandating the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms is performative patriotism. Maybe if young people go through the patriotic motions, they will become patriots? Maybe if you pressure people to hide their gender identities and political values, those pieces of their identity will evaporate?

Of course, it doesn’t work this way. It only gives rise to a cheap knockoff of patriotism, not the stuff durable republics are made of.

Even though I didn’t recite the pledge in 12 of my 13 years of schooling, I turned out to be a pretty patriotic guy. I have pro-America tattoos, I’m civically active and I regularly exercise my 1st and 2nd Amendment rights. When I stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner,” it’s because I want to, not because I have to.

My allegiance is to my family and my fellow citizens, and to the ideals of liberty and justice. My allegiance is not to the flag, and it’s certainly not to the government.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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