Embarrassing isn’t the only word that came to mind a few weeks ago when I noticed in my neighborhood a large “F––– Biden and F––– You for Voting for Him” flag flapping in the breeze just beneath a pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” flag and above an “All Lives Matter” flag, all three clinging to the same flagpole. This neighborhood is one of those picturesque, close-knit places contiguous to downtown Waco and brimming with enough history that vans of tourists pass by to marvel and gawk and better understand our Central Texas community, an eye-catching stretch complete with its own castle.
Lord only knows what tourists have concluded about our neighborhood in recent weeks.
The house with this crude flag overlooks Waco Creek and is across the street from where my two children grew up, walked to school, rode their bikes and played with friends. They tricked-or-treated at that house (and trick-or-treating is a big deal in this neighborhood). My grandchildren now accompany me on walks past the same house where this flag was raised in obvious anger about the 2020 presidential election outcome. How many kids, some of whom have just learned their ABCs, others still being shaped by parents in matters of civility and neighborliness and citizenship and manners, have read that vile message? Why would my neighbor exercise his right to free speech in such a hurtful, divisive, self-serving way?
Whether the presidential election five months ago brought you joy or grief, most of us have pursued the traditional path of generations of Americans: We’ve put away our yard signs. In doing so, we embrace the peaceful transfer of power that distinguishes our republic. Even if my neighbor wished to fight on in his own tortured mind, surely he could have selected another pro-Trump flag to display without the profanity: “Don’t Blame Us, We Voted Trump” or “Trump 2024: Take America Back” or “In This House We Believe Hillary Belongs in Prison, Joe Belongs in a Nursing Home & Trump Belongs in the White House.” Instead, he cursed neighbors, passers-by and anyone else who voted for Joe Biden.
In fairness, similarly defiant anti-Trump flags exist such as “Dump Trump,” “Impeach Trump: Make America Great Again,” “Stop Pretending Your Racism is Patriotism,” “Anti-Hate, Anti-Lies, Anti-Trump” and, yes, even a crude version of my neighbor’s banner leveled the other way. Yet this particular flag raised by my neighbor mirrors a seething hatred and conniving that we see in action across Texas because of irresponsible, unconscionable rhetoric by elected Republicans such as Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz and our own congressman, Rep. Pete Sessions. Along with former President Trump, they not only balked at accepting presidential election results, they’ve wrapped their resentment up in a threadbare narrative about voter fraud, election irregularities, indifferent jurists, possessed election machinery and the Deep State. Indeed, this hollow narrative is now being used as grounds to pass newly restrictive election measures in the Texas Legislature and elsewhere. Some of these measures will end up in the federal courts; others will remain in force, collectively making it harder for some of us to vote.
How many Central Texans put up such vulgar flags for their neighbors’ kids to see? How many Texans brought Trump and U.S. and “Back the Blue” and Confederate battle flags to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to bludgeon police officers and smash windows? Three days before the assault, our congressman tweeted: “Had a great meeting today with folks from ‘Stop the Steal’ at our nation’s Capitol. I encouraged them to keep fighting and assured them I look forward to doing MY duty on January 6th.” By “MY duty” Sessions meant voting against the constitutional tallying of all states’ Electoral College votes. After fighting actually broke out, he deleted this social media post.
The role Cruz played in the “Big Lie” and subsequent insurrection is more significant. As President Trump spread falsehoods about a “stolen election” via social media, Cruz orchestrated a legislative coup to nullify the election. Cruz not only knew this wouldn’t work — even fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn refused to step over that line — but as a highly educated lawyer Cruz knew such a maneuver was out-and-out unconstitutional. As no less than Vice President Mike Pence signaled, the U.S. Constitution requires that once Congress receives each state’s certificate of vote, paired with a certificate of ascertainment, Congress is to open and count the results — not hatch plots and pursue schemes to undo such votes. Pence, Cornyn and most Republican senators did their constitutional duty because ultimately they were oath-bound. Yet Cruz and five other Republican senators voted to disenfranchise the voters of Arizona; he and six others voted to disenfranchise the voters of Pennsylvania. So much for all that bunk about states’ rights.
“The objectors have claimed they are doing so on behalf of the voters,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said before voting to certify the vote tally. “Have an audit, they say, to satisfy the many people who believe that the election was stolen. Please! No congressional-led audit will ever convince those voters, particularly when the president will continue to claim that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won this election. President Trump lost.”
The real disgrace? Amidst all this turmoil Central Texans suddenly found themselves shivering in the Big Freeze, some of us without electricity or water — a disastrous and deadly consequence of state Republicans failing back in 2011 to address a similarly disabling freeze that also crippled our state-run power grid. And because Republicans in 2011 were more focused on voter ID and gave only lip service to calls to winterize our power plants and energy infrastructure, we suffered again when a worse freeze struck us this winter, even as many Trump disciples preferred to lick their wounds and whine of a stolen election.
Yet the disgrace of 111 Texans freezing to death due to Republican failure to properly regulate the power grid pales alongside the nearly 50,000 Texans who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Texas lagged behind other states in vaccinating its population and as new variants spread across our state, Abbott inexplicably and irresponsibly rescinded the statewide mask mandate. He did so against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and against overwhelming scientific evidence that wearing masks works.
All this brings me back to my neighbor who purchased a vulgar flag advertised online as “a great gift for every proud American” and raised it in solidarity with a customer who, in a posted review of the flag, proclaimed it “a great product for the 80 million people who were ripped off by the establishment and our corrupt politicians refusing to even look at the evidence.” (Trump only got 74 million votes in 2020, but what’s six million or so here and there?) In raising such a flag, and well after the November election, my neighbor reflected the continuing refusal of at least some of us to accept the preponderance of evidence and judgment behind Biden’s win and to move on to new challenges facing all of us as a society, including power when we need it, protection against viral invaders and vigilance against global adversaries who deserve far more of our animus than that leveled at fellow Americans.
Granted, after enough neighbors complained to the city of Waco, my neighbor finally lowered his “F––– Biden” flag, replacing it with a smiley face flag. I’m not sure what message he’s now sending us, but I’m happy to accept his change of colors. I hope he’s ready to quit battling windmills and instead join the rest of us trying to better life in America. We could use his help, not his undying hostility.
Blake Burleson is an ordained Baptist minister and a faculty member in the Department of Religion at Baylor University. The fifth-generation Texan enjoys carpentry, painting, backpacking and travel.