Jewish Journal

Jasper Johns’ Flag and American Aspirations

My wife, friends and I visited the Los Angeles Broad Museum’s exhibit of Jaspar John’s work last evening and over dinner we considered what the flag means to us in this era of Trump. I’ll offer my own view in a moment, but I want to put Johns’ work in context.

He produced these variations of American flags in the early-mid 1950s in the midst of the Cold War, and a number of galleriers in those years were hesitant to show them out of fear of reprisal from hard-right cold war warriors who might accuse Johns and the galleries of anti-Americanism.

As my wife and friends are all baby-boomers, we grew up in our teens associating the American flag with the Vietnam War. We were never flag burners, but the flag held very negative associations in those years with the Law and Order crowd of Richard Nixon and Vietnam Hawks.

Today, Donald Trump’s tyrannical and chaotic regime and the damage he is doing to the “American brand” could also tarnish the image of the American flag as a symbol of the United States in this country and around the world.

Today, I regard the American flag as an aspirational symbol of American democracy, the US Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the freedoms it promises. I regard it as the embodiment of the long march towards equality and justice for those who have been excluded from America’s mainstream since the Revolutionary War politically, racially, religiously, and socio-economically. This includes all minorities, peoples of color, Muslims, women, LGBTQ, and yes – us Jews too.

Those who know me forgive my eternal optimism even though I am not blind to the damage Trump and company are doing to America, the environment, and the good image of our country around the world.

My hope is that in the 2018 mid-term elections, that the masses come out to vote and that the democrats take control of both houses of Congress, and then impeach, convict and remove this President from office. Though we would be then stuck with our current Vice-President whose extremist vision of America is dangerous too, a Democratic Congress can stop the descent of these United States into the darkness of pre-enlightenment years while getting ready for a new President in 2020 who can reverse much of the actions of Trump by executive order.

As I stood looking at all Jaspar Johns’ works, not only was I stimulated, provoked, and inspired by his artistry and vision, but thoughts about who we are as a people and nation came flooding through me.

I recommend visiting the exhibit. Before going, be sure to download the Broad podcast so you can follow the commentary as you move through the galleries. You will need tickets and reservations in advance.