We have the Right to Remain Offended: UC Irvine Students Banish American Flag

s-AMERICAN-FLAG-smallAcademic political correctness has completely jumped the shark. The Associated Students Legislative Council of my alma mater and former employer, the University of California, Irvine recently passed a piece of legislation prohibiting the display of the American flag in the ASUCI common area. Apparently they believe the Stars and Stripes are not “inclusive” enough for their rarified post-adolescent tastes. While the resolution passed by 6 to 4, council president Reza Zomorrodian bravely opposed this foolishness and the UCI Student Executive Council vetoed the measure tonight. However, the Legislative Council could still move to overturn that veto. Let us encourage them to drop the matter. There is so much wrong with this piece of student legislation drafted by Matthew Guevara that it is hard to know where to begin, but let me start with this twisted excerpt as an opener:

“Whereas a high-quality culturally inclusive spaces [sic] is essential in any society that embodies a dynamic and multifaceted culture.”

Firstly, the flag of the US cannot be “anti-inclusive” it is the embodiment of inclusiveness. It does not represent a traditional “nation” defined by race, religion, ethnicity or culture. It represents a bold experiment in personal liberty and equality. It represents the idea that a state can be founded on principles rather than tribal connections. It says, “God knows we are not perfect, but we aspire to perfection and we are united by that aspiration.” I’m sorry, but I’ve been around the world and I don’t believe there is any nation on Earth with a more “dynamic and multifaceted culture.” Not even close.

On the point of imperfection, the council’s resolution noted, “the American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism.” Yep, we’ve done that bad thing and worse: land grabs from Mexico, flirtation with empire in the Philippines, genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans. It’s a damn ugly record, but these entitled students want to expunge the symbol of the only system that is able to adapt and avoid repeating such errors.

The kids at UCI are intelligent and well educated (a state and federally subsidized education), but they lack the wisdom required to see the deeper lesson here. Voting for this imprudent rule misses the crucial point that we all know what America has done wrong because we have freedom of thought and speech. We acknowledge the sins of our past and unlike, say China or Iran, we don’t just rewrite history to hide our blemishes. We publicly debate, self-criticize, apologize and then move on, having learned in a way most other nations cannot.

Our forebears shed blood to expunge slavery and a later generation had to fight to make civil rights a real thing. They did these things under the very banner these students propose to dispose of. We are obviously still working on our problems in a very public way, but we constantly move forward. Every other tolerant and multicultural nation on Earth learned from America. Love it or hate it, the American flag represents a global ideal in a way that no other national symbol can. America is exceptional and I say it’s OK to say that, because we are free to speak.

A fundamental inability to understand free speech is captured by another tortured gem of political correctness from the resolution:

“Whereas freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible can be interpreted as hate speech.”

Huh? O.K., let me be totally clear: I hate people who want to limit free speech; yep I said “hate!” Thomas Jefferson who hated them as well as demonstrated by the words inscribed in his memorial: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” It is time for liberals and conservatives alike to understand that the value we gain from our freedom of expression is far more important than the feelings of any hypersensitive individuals or group. No person or group may take our fundamental rights away from us.

Consequently, I would never suggest that the members of the UCI student council not be allowed to express their thoughts or pass stupid resolutions, no matter how badly they have offended me (I am very offended). I’m proud to live in a nation that lets even entitled little brats publicly express their ignorance, because that is their right in the United States of America. Even though I truly hate their actions, I will defend their right to offend me. Like our nation, I did some pretty dumb things when I was young as well.

Greg Autry completed his MBA in 2002 and his PhD in 2013 at UCI. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor with the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. You can find him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/gregwautry