I hadn't stood, hand on heart, to give that pledge since sometime in - did we still do it in high school? You know, I plumb forgot. So when I joined up with the 46th District Democrats, I was actually a little surprised to discover that we begin each meeting with the Pledge. Facing the flag. Hands to hearts. From a bunch of so-called lefties? I'm iconoclastic enough to appreciate the fact that, following the Pledge, someone in the room is always heard to append, "Play ball!"
The original Pledge was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister, the Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy, to reawaken civic pride in America which he felt had ebbed in the decades since the Civil War. He had wanted to includes the words equality and fraternity, but had to delete them because the educators of the time would not permit the idea of equality for African Americans or women.
Bellamy was, in his way, a cool dude, and knowing he was a "socialist" gives me a better understanding of what he might have meant by that pledge. It seems that America, to Bellamy, was not so much a place as an idea, an idea of freedom, justice and - yes - equality and fraternity - and it was allegiance to those ideas that he had in mind.
Not the "love it or leave it" variety of allegiance that the idea of loyalty to flag and country has taken on in the ensuing years. But a commitment to continue to extend the basic principles under which it was assumed the country was founded.
Jonathan Haidt lists Loyalty as one of his six Foundations of Morality. According to his surveys - Survey says! - Conservatives value Loyalty far more highly than do Liberals, but I think the questions he asked to determine Loyalty were inadequate. In terms of the Pledge, what Loyalty do we feel to the virtues on which we feel our nation to be founded - Liberty and Justice For All? And what of the unspoken, yet intended, virtues of Equality and Fraternity?
And how have his findings contributed to the skewed view that too many Conservatives have of their Liberal fellow-citizens - that we are not loyal citizens of our country? Why should Loyalty insist that we approve unquestioningly? Why can't Loyalty include an equal allegiance to improve, to cultivate, to make progress on bringing closer to fruition those virtues in which we all continue to believe?