Talking Points

What the Mara Gay controversy should tell liberals

When Mara Gay, the New York Times editorial board member and MSNBC contributor, told Morning Joe this week that she was "disturbed" to see "dozens of American flags" on trucks in Long Island recently, her comments were quickly and widely denounced as an attack on American patriotism. 

"This is my country. This is not your country," she said, describing how she interpreted the flag-waving Donald Trump supporters' message. "I own this." Gay's newspaper leapt to her defense, saying in a statement that her commentary had been "irresponsibly taken out of context." The Times PR team added, "Her argument was that Trump and many of his supporters have politicized the American flag."

Perhaps the prevailing interpretation of Gay's comment was uncharitable, though it might be asked whether her own take on the motivations of partisans she disagrees with waving the flag of her country and theirs was sufficiently charitable. The problems on the right are real, but liberals are not blameless for the sad state of our political discourse.

Gay claimed that there are "tens of millions of Trump voters who continue to believe that their rights as citizens are under threat by simple virtue of having to share the democracy with others." But she does not recognize that many such voters will hear her call to "separate Americanness … from whiteness" — which to those who do not share her ideological priors may sound like an attack based on skin color — as threatening. They may therefore not feel included in Gay's stated desire to "get every American a place at the table" since they must be "separated" from America or believe she, a writer for the nation's top newspaper, is especially eager to share a democracy with them. They may find it "disturbing."

More broadly, from the national anthem protests to the 1619 Project, there has been a growing if not always deliberate trend on the left toward treating American patriotism and racial equality as somehow in tension. This will only empower the people who genuinely do use the flag in a hateful way.

Our politics are so ugly because large numbers of Americans no longer see themselves in the other side's vision of the country. This is a flag-waving Trump supporter's country. This is Mara Gay's country. We own this.