Having been out to Southold, I’ve seen the old potato (sorry, Dan Quayle) truck with the American flag painted on its side.
It’s been there a long time. But its message today is ominous.
The American flag flies in paint on the side of Peter Treiber Jr.’s potato truck, a local landmark parked permanently on County Route 48, doing little more, he thought, than drawing attention to his family’s farm.
Until he tried to sell his produce.
The American flag is now “owned” in the minds of some as a symbol of conservatism, if not Trumpism. Others have simultaneously abandoned it, whether because they don’t want to be pegged as a Trumpkin or they see it as a symbol of a nation perpetually mired in “systemic racism,” and they are not racists. But Treiber’s flag had been there before this shift in perception happened and he’s no Trump supporter. What’s a guy to do?
“She said, ‘Oh, whew. You know, I wasn’t so sure about you, I thought you were some flag-waving something-or-other,’” Mr. Treiber, 32, recalled the woman saying and citing his potato truck display. “That’s why she was apprehensive of interacting with me.”
He paused: “It was a little sad to me. It shows the dichotomy of the country that a flag can mean that. That I had to think, ‘Do I need to reconsider having that out there?’”
The woman, whoever she may be, wanted to buy some veggies from a farm stand, but was “apprehensive.” It’s unclear whether she was afraid of buying cukes from some MAGA nut because he would infest her with his Trumpiness just by coming close to him, or that she wouldn’t support the farm stand by transacting business there if she believed the person tilling the soil held a political view she found anathema. Maybe she feared that the purchase of a bouquet of sunflowers came with a harangue about how Trump really won “by a lot”?
Last summer, the drive at Casa de SJ needed to be redone. It’s oil and stone, and it gives the feel of a country house rather than the more formal feel of asphalt, It was done by a guy named Steve, who drove a red Ford pickup with an American flag on a pole in a hole in the truck bed. It was a pretty prominent feature and I asked him about it.
Steve told me he’s done that since he left the Marines. To him, its meaning was that he was willing to sacrifice his life for his country. He loved his country. Then he told me that he thought he lost some jobs because of it, because people ascribed a political meaning to his flag. As it turned out, he voted for Trump, not so much because he loved the guy, although he didn’t hate him either, but because the alternative was worse. I told him I was not a fan of Trump, but that none of this had anything to do with him redoing my drive. I also told him that I didn’t see anything wrong with his flag. He got the job. He did it really well. Not that it matters, but he wasn’t a white guy.
When I bought Casa de SJ, I found a very old flag in a closet, left behind by its former owners. It was the flag that came with the house, and had been flown at the house on occasions like today. As long as it’s not raining, I plan to put it out today, to fly the American flag to celebrate Independence Day. Maybe someone going past will see it and ascribe some political motive to the flag. I don’t care. They don’t define me or the flag. My choices aren’t influenced by whatever crap floats through the heads of others.
My family didn’t step off the Mayflower. My family didn’t amass wealth off the backs of others. My family didn’t amass wealth at all. For membership in a “privilege” race, they really sucked at being privileged. But I’ve done pretty well and thank my lucky stars that America gave me that opportunity. I will fight for that opportunity for everyone. And one of the reasons I love America is that, for all its warts, anyone can succeed with a little luck and a lot of effort.
We can’t make our sins of the past disappear, even if we aren’t the ones who committed them, but we can give every person the opportunity to make the most of himself or herself possible. From many, one, and the one is a people who live in a miraculous land of opportunity if we choose to take advantage of it. You can see it otherwise, and that’s fine, but this is how I see it. And I will proudly fly our flag today in honor of what’s great about America and to reflect the opportunity it gave me and gives everyone.
Happy Fourth of July, America. Thank you for all you’ve given me.