Cultural wars and US identity crisis loom with anthem and flag

Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/29 22:23:40

Photo: Screenshot of the petition "Changing the American Flag and National Anthem" launched on the website

A petition launched on the website aims to change the US' national flag and anthem has received over 1.09 million signatures as of press time. The petition calls the Star-Spangled Banner "outdated." It also proposes changing the blue in the top left corner to black "because Black Lives Matter" and replacing the red stripes with yellow ones. 

Such a petition is meaningful to many Americans - including people of color and white people - who are dissatisfied with racism and Francis Scott Key, a slaveholder who wrote the US national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner."

However, a strong segment of the population opposes changes to the anthem. Due to the political split in the country, it is almost impossible for people who signed the petition to achieve their goal through the US Congress or their president. 

In September 2018, the US national anthem was criticized because of Key's racist past. Some felt that it ran "deep in slavery's soil." Given what is happening now in the US, some feel it is reasonable to demand a new anthem be drafted. 

Nonetheless, the situation in the US is not favorable enough for Americans who want changes to it. But as pluralism develops rapidly in the country, such proposals may possibly make it at some point in the future, particularly with a line referring to slaves. 

The petition is actually part of the chain reaction triggered by George Floyd's death. From renaming confederate military base names, to tearing down statues including that of George Washington, and to removing names of people such as Woodrow Wilson from universities, we can see the deep cultural divide in the US has escalated to war-like status.

People like George Washington used to be worshiped by Americans, many of whom now view the "Founding Fathers" as slaveholders and racists. This is leading to a national identity crisis. 

The fact is, when it comes to national identity, most Americans used to refer to early historical leaders - white people who spoke English and shared a Christian god. But since the 1960s, with the development of pluralism in the US, many Americans began referring to the very original spirit of the United States Declaration of Independence and tried to get rid of the racist-related practices that violated ethics in defining what Americans are. 

This self-identification struggle comes along with the cultural one. Today more than ever, it looks like it is resulting in a serious national identity crisis in the cultural wars. Americans say they are loyal to the US, but which one: the slaveholder-ruled one, or the one with real justice and equality that they are still fighting to build? 

The deep divides in the US society show serious differences among Americans and their problems of national identity. Americans' sense of loyalty could thus be reduced because they are confused about whether they should believe in their nation. Such confusion will likely be long-term. 

Whether the US is prospering or receding depends not on how powerful their weaponry is, or how developed their technology and economy are. Instead, it will relate to how unified they are through self-identification, common values, and national identity. Lacking such domestic consensus and being deeply stuck in severe struggles of identity and culture, the US seems likely to continue to suffer from division, which could lead the country on a downhill path.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Xu Hailin based on an interview with Li Haidong, a professor with Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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