“One of the hallmarks of the Trump era is the alacrity with which intelligent people embrace stupidity.”― Stuart Stevens, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump
Over the past few years – and certainly during the 2020 Presidential election process – Facebook and Twitter users have noticed a flood of right-wing memes and shitposts that make outrageous and patently false claims.
Because 2020 saw the unhappy and toxic confluence of the global COVID-19 pandemic and another U.S. election cycle in the Donald Trump era, most of these memes either made false, dangerous, and reckless claims about the novel coronavirus, or they were bogus claims about the integrity of our country’s election system. Taking their cue from the then-President Trump, right-wingers and trolls worked overtime to come up with memes rife with myths, distortions, and outright lies about how the “evil left” hates America and wants to destroy everything that represents American culture, society, and values.
One particular meme that has been making the rounds since at least the fall of 2020 claims that the Pledge of Allegiance – which is “an expression of allegiance to the flag of the United States and the Republic of the United States of America,” according to Wikipedia – is no longer recited at the start of each school day by teachers and students in American public schools.
While it is true that four states out of 50 – California, Hawaii, Vermont, and Wyoming – do not have mandatory recitations of the Pledge in public schools, the truth is that in the other 46 states, including the very Republican-run Florida, students still hear the “Call to Colors” bugle call, recite the Pledge of Allegiance that was adopted by Congress on June 22, 1942, six months after the entry of the United States in World War II.
There have been several versions of the Pledge since Francis Bellamy, a socialist Christian minister from Rome, New York, wrote the first Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition that commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. As part of a movement to place an American flag in every schoolhouse in the country, Bellamy wrote this:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
In 1942, Congress adopted a revised version of the Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Nearly 12 years later, at the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, conservatives in Congress and elsewhere decided it was necessary to make a contrast between a “Christian” America and the atheist Soviet Union, which was then in a Cold War with the U.S. and the West. On Flag Day (June 14) of 1954, the U.S. Flag Code was amended, and the Pledge was given its final version, which is still in use today:
Per the U.S. Flag Code:
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.
This was the Pledge that I recited, sometimes with enthusiasm and conviction, and sometimes bleary-eyed, sleepy, and by rote, every school day from the start of the 1972-73 school year (when I began third grade at Coral Park Elementary School) to the end of the 1982-83 school year (when I graduated from South Miami Senior High School).
“The truth is messy. It’s raw and uncomfortable. You can’t blame people for preferring lies.”― Holly Black, Red Glove
While it is true that politics is not exactly a human endeavor known for its commitment to honesty, good-faith behavior, or candor, it is fair to say that what passes for conservatism in the United States (indeed, in most of the Anglophone world) is an exercise in deceit, exaggeration, and deliberate intent to spread disinformation and get the “base” riled up.
And because conservatives here, there, and everywhere hold certain beliefs that are normally positive and admirable, such as love of country, loyalty, and affection for national symbols, the one surefire way to get conservatives angry is to accuse the opposition – which is always described in such pejorative terms as the “evil left,” “Communists,” or “hateful liberals” – of doing everything it can to “destroy our Nation and its freedoms.”
“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”― Joseph Heller, Catch-22
This morning, I came across a meme, created by what I politely call a “Republican-leaning” group on Facebook, suggesting (without explicitly saying it outright) that the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer said in American public schools.
The meme (which features an old-timey 1950s-era photo like the one below) doesn’t outright say, “The evil leftists that hate America took the Pledge of Allegiance out of our schools!”
No. The way the meme is worded is more insidious, especially if you are (like me) someone who uses words for a living and knows how propaganda is created.
Rather than claim outright that liberals (a group that includes ME) have eradicated the Pledge of Allegiance from public schools, the clever propagandists wrote something like “Remember when we used to do this in schools every day?” (I should have copied the text, but there are many variants of it floating online. See illustration below for a typical right-wing “Pledge lie.)
The unspoken – but clearly understood – subtext in these memes is:
“OMG, they took the Pledge of Allegiance out of the public schools!”
Below that meme, two Cuban-American men, who vote GOP, wrote:
“They need to bring it back.”
“They don’t say the Pledge anymore.”
Mind you. These comments were written by two men in their late 50s who more than likely have not seen the inside of a public-school classroom since they graduated from high school in the early 1980s. If they are like many of my friends with young adult children, they do not know every detail about their kids’ daily routine when they were in high school, either.
Many conservatives – especially those who are 50 or older – tend to believe what right-wing media tells them. And one of the most insidious lies that the right is pushing (among so many of them) is that the “left” has eradicated the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.
So. Not. True.