A Nation in Perpetual Mourning?

I’ve been meaning to write about this issue for some time, and I guess the recent controversy over how long the national flag ought to fly at half-staff in honor of Sen. John McCain offers an appropriate opportunity.

When I was a boy, it was unusual for the flag to be flown at half-staff. The first time I recall the flag being flown at half-staff was when former-President Harry S Truman passed away, followed a month later by the passing of former-President Lyndon B. Johnson. I remember how unusual it was to have the national flag flown at half-staff for so long a period of time.

Today, it seems, the national flag is lowered to half-staff for any tragedy or loss, local or otherwise. The Orlando shooting. The Las Vegas horror. Plane crashes. Last year, when a Tennessee state trooper was killed in the line of duty, the national flag at the University of Tennessee hospital was lowered to half-staff. As well, other federal officials and even local civil officials are presuming the authority to order the national flag flown at half-staff, an authority that is reserved for the U. S. president or, under certain circumstances, governors and the mayor of Washington, DC. I personally think this is not only bad form, but a poor reflection on our nation and contrary to our national interest.

It seems that we are becoming a nation in perpetual mourning and have turned the lowering of Old Glory to half-staff into a form of virtue signaling.

What is worse, what was once reserved for significant times of national mourning has been transformed into yet another opportunity for cultural and political jousting. What was once regarded an honor reserved for those who served the country long and well has been transformed into a dishonor if one is not accorded the same amount of time as another or not accorded the honor at all. It has turned into the saddest of cultural and political competitions. “The flag was lowered to half-staff for five days when Sen. Kennedy died, but only two days when Sen. McCain died. How disrespectful!” People on social media are already talking in advance of how long the flag should be lowered to half-staff when Sen. Bob Dole dies! “McCain was a veteran. If he doesn’t get as many days as Kennedy, who never served in the military, it’s an insult to veterans!” I can already hear it: “Bob Dole was disabled. If he doesn’t get as many days as McCain, it’s an insult to the disabled!”

I don’t mean any disrespect toward Sen. McCain. I voted for the man when he ran for president. The argument is that he deserves to have the flag lowered to half-staff because that has become the tradition for senators. Well, if that is what people want, then make it the law. The rules for lowering the flag to half-staff are clear: the day of death and one day after for members of Congress. But, McCain was a war hero and served in the Senate for three decades. As such, he deserves to have the flag flown at half-mast until the day of his internment. Yes, but there are many war heroes, and since we are no longer a country of citizen politicians but of career politicians, there are dozens of current and former men and women who have served in Congress for decades. Will it now be regarded an insult if any veteran or any member of Congress does not receive the same number of days Sen. McCain will receive?

Because of this, a week that ought to have been reserved to mourn and honor a great American has been turned into a week of petty political maneuvering and bickering. Now, that’s disrespectful to John McCain’s memory and the service he provided his country. But, given our divided nation, it seems the only memorial of which we’re capable.

Think about it: we are experiencing as a nation a relatively extended time of  international peace and domestic prosperity. I almost said we are “enjoying” a relatively extended time of international peace and domestic prosperity. But, in fact, we’re not enjoying it at all. Instead, we’re like children in the back seat of the family car on the way to Disneyland, fighting over who got the extra chicken nugget, who has the better view of the van’s video screen, and that the other sibling has the gall to be looking out my window! Here we are with the resources to be on our way to experience a delight that most of the other kid’s in the country, much less the world, have little hope of enjoying, and we fail to appreciate it. We would rather fight over trifles and imaginary slights.

If I were president (God-forbid!), I would immediately issue the following decree:

“After the days of national mourning for Sen. John McCain are completed, the future practice of lowering the flag to half-staff will follow the rules for doing so to the letter, regardless of the event or person to be honored. Should the people of the United States want the rules for lowering the flag to half-staff changed, I encourage them to petition their senators and representatives to that purpose. I order all other federal and all local civil officials to respect the rule that the ordering of the national flag to half-staff is reserved to the President of the United States (or, under certain circumstances, to governors and the mayor of Washington, DC). There are many persons who have offered great service to our country. There are many events that touch us deeply as a nation and sadden our hearts. But, we cannot become a nation in perpetual mourning. Only in rare and unusual circumstances of national mourning will the flag be flown at half-staff. The flying of our national flag at full-staff is a sign of our strength and resilience as a nation. It will and ought to be the proper station of this noble symbol. God bless America!”

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.


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