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Unsold Fourth of July op-ed #1: The shafting of Betsy Ross

Thursday 7/4/19

I would imagine anyone would conclude that what I mention I write, what they see that I write, is the sum total of what I write. How could anyone write that much, let alone more? Well, it's a fraction of what I write. Again, disturbing, isn't it? A central theme of my life. Various forms of disturbing. Even the good things, it seems, are disturbing. I wrote this this week. Had to eat it. Couldn't get any money to buy food to eat with it. But, it is very good.

Why is everyone okay with shafting Betsy Ross?

By Colin Fleming

As Colin Kaepernick makes executive decisions for Nike, I have to wonder why no one speaks up on behalf of Betsy Ross. Could it be that no one knows anything about Betsy Ross in this age when we purport to be so wonderfully well-informed that we can rule, like iron-fisted judges, on what is morally acceptable and what ought to carry you straight to the devil?

There are a number of dangerous precedents being set with decisions that, remarkably, center on sneakers. That sounds like a dispatch straight from Cloud Cuckoo Land. I would not argue that there are hate groups who venerate Ross’s flag, holding it up as some kind of warped symbol of a bygone era when humans owned other humans like chattel. Humanity has known scores of lows; this particular valley is hard to beat, outside of Nazi Germany.

But what is to stop a hate group from making the Nike logo their decal of choice? We cannot cede over things that already have established forms of positive meaning, simply because a band of bad people got their mitts on them. We are complicit in shifting the locus of meaning by acquiescing, capitulating, say, “No, it’s not worth the fight, you baddies win.”

Betsy Ross, thankfully, was awful at letting baddies win. She was one tough, admirable, talented woman, who did a lot for this country. We are supposed to be all about equality now, correct? Sure, that’s lip-service for a lot of people, a power-grab for others, white knighting for more still, but why on earth is no one looking out for Betsy Ross? Where is she in the feminist narrative?

Because I will tell you what Betsy Ross did, and what she gave to this country. She was widowed twice over because of the belief she had, and her families had, in the American cause. She had people die on her, her main partners in life, because she believed in this growing Republic. She married a third time. That fellow was the guy who served time in a British prison with her second husband, and it was from this new person in her life that she learned that husband #2 had died.

Can you even imagine that? There is a very good chance, too, that Ross was the mysterious widow who risked her freedom and life—and aspects of her dignity—to distract Carl von Donop, a fearful Hessian commander, after the Battle of Iron Works Hill, which rerouted him away from Trenton, where one of the most crucial battles of the war was fought the day after Christmas, 1776. The presence of Donop and his forces could have created a different result.

You know who I bet has never done anything like that? Colin Kaepernick, which almost seems beside the point, but also all of these mealy-mouthed capitulators, who fob off totems of value, symbols of principle and character, because it’s just easier to do that than dig in, countervail, reestablish that which should not be going anywhere.

One of Ross’s first gigs was making flags for the Pennsylvania navy. She made a lot of flags, a lot of signage, and upholstery, you might say, for this nation. She made enough that eventually she went completely blind.

So, let’s do the math, yes? This woman believed so much in a cause that she lost two husbands on account of it, her eyesight, and people right now, who have, I am thinking, little idea what this level of sacrifice means, want to fork over her conviction and artistry to hate groups, because an ex-quarterback that some people are scared of for reasons I don’t understand at all says so?

And yeah, artistry. She was a flag virtuoso. She was the Charlie Parker of flag makers. She had big time chops. Look at the beautiful understanding of planar fields and how to animate them and speak to us with resolute symbolism that is never sententious. Do you think that is easy? None of this is easy. And it should be far less easy for the people in the here and now to do wrong by this amazing woman.


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