Patriotism in 2022: Red hot anger, White rage and a blue-streak

June 10, 2022 1:39 pm

An FJB sticker that can be purchased online for a construction hard hat (Screenshot via Nasty Truck).

Editor’s note: Please be advised this column contains graphic language and may not be suitable for all readers. 

With so many options available, how’s a patriot supposed to choose?

Residents are snatching up t-shirts, bumper stickers and a popular yard flag that says, “Fuck Your Feelings. Trump 2024.”

That’s an oldie but a goodie, recycled from 2020.

We don’t normally publish those words in a column or otherwise. And, most of the time when we do, we employ the old cartoonist approach, using asterisks, number sings and exclamation points in place of the letters in “cuss words.”

However, if the word is good enough and common enough for it to be put on a flag, sold on the street corners of Montana and then flown in houses right across from elementary schools, the words should be good enough to publish, right?

That’s point.

Even in a society that has become more accepting of language that would have normally been reserved for sailors and the French (although why they got saddled with being the Western world’s potty mouths, I don’t know), it’s shocking to see bumper stickers, t-shirts and flags flying in yards with such coarse language.

And if this were just a prudish reaction to the language, that would be one thing. It isn’t that I am trying to be a schoolmarm. My own kids can testify that at the right time, mostly while driving, I can weave a string of invective together that is quite descriptive.

In other words, if the language were the only the problem, it would be a fairly stuffy and straightforward approach. I loathe censorship, and would probably say the best way to handle offensive language is by ignoring it. After all, I grew up with a collection of “Parental Advisory” stickers all over my cassettes, the product of busybody Democrat Tipper Gore and her one-woman crusade to bring back the days of Pat Boone.

This isn’t about offending my delicate, snowflake sensibilities or even about political correctness. You want to have a spirited, even ornery debate? Let’s go. I’m your guy. But telling someone to “eff off” has never settled an argument or advanced a political ideology.

From the coded “Let’s Go Brandon” t-shirts, a wink-wink-nudge-nudge joke that conservatives tell each other, a sort of password to identify other similarly clever conservatives, to the latest iterations of resistance, which include the letters “FJB,” in which the “JB” stands for Joe Biden, it’s distressing to see most of this foul-mouthed merch emblazoned with stars-and-stripes-colored letters or against a backdrop of the American flag.

It’s not that I worry that by putting those aggressive and unoriginal messages on a flag will give the wrong impression of America, it’s that I am worried it’s giving off exactly the correct message.

By plastering a Buick with “FJB” bumper stickers, we’re normalizing a coarseness in everyday discourse that cuts off conversation. And once we stop engaging, exchanging ideas, we’re doomed. Moreover, if it’s gotten to the point where the only response on either side of the political spectrum is to drop the f-bomb, we’re at an even more dangerous point.

As much as I would like to blame this on former President Donald J. Trump’s only successful talent which is marketing and merchandizing his own brand of mediocre products and even worse thoughts, he couldn’t sell any of it without willing buyers.

Items that tell people to literally eff off, or suggest telling the president to do so while cloaked in the stars-and-stripes – and being so proud of the fact that you’d want to put them on clothing and cars for the world to see — is symptom of something much larger.

For all the disdain aimed at former presidents and leaders, I can’t believe bumper stickers or t-shirts that said, “Kick Jimmy Carter in the peanuts,” would have been acceptable. There has always been acrimony and discord in American politics, even personal attacks. The American public dealt with morally suspect presidents, including Grover Cleveland and Warren G. Harding. That’s nothing new.

Yet my children can be disciplined for using the bumper-sticker language in the public schools, and rightfully so. How do I, as a parent, explain that it’s fine for people to display yard signs or parade around in t-shirts, but they can’t or shouldn’t use the same language? And, if this generation’s accepts the coarsening of its language and the dulling of ideas, what’s the next step? What are their children going to accept in the arena of public discourse?  Why should I encourage our children to have reasonable, calm conversations with the other side when all they’re going to be told is to do the anatomically impossible?

Before pounding out an angry response to this commentary chock full of what-aboutisms, including signs that were displayed at protests for Black Lives Matter or some antifa rally, there’s a difference between a protest and homemade signs, and an entire industry that has marketed and capitalized on such vulgarity.

The same party which talks about necessity of bringing back God in more public spaces, which urges prayer in school and the righteousness of Jesus, also seems to embrace this sort of hostile merchandise. And telling someone to f-bomb their feelings seems about as far away as you can get to Jesus’ words: “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

Forgive me that I doubt the sincerity of those same people who are so worried about a graphic passage or two being found in the books of the school library, yet accept these “f”-laden messages from their political party. If they were truly worried about the content, they’d be worried about all content, regardless of whether it’s in a library or on a flag pole.

And I am astonished at those who are so concerned about what they see as the lack of respect when professional athletes and other members of the public kneel during the National Anthem but then have the audacity to co-opt the flag and use its colors and patterns in a message that is as decidedly unpatriotic as “FJB.”

The irony is as members of the right are telling the rest of us to stuff our feelings (not exactly their words, of course), they have put on bright display their feelings and it doesn’t look like they’re about to quietly demur.

To them, I get it – show me a person in 2022 who isn’t angry about politics.

But now that you’ve told everyone who pulls behind you at a red light about your anger, what are you going to do about it?

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.