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The illustration embedded above is a parody of an imagined American flag in a Saudi Arabian context and should remind us of how a second Donald Trump term might have threatened the nation’s secular governance.
Even if Trump: The Sequel might not have changed the flag, it would have almost certainly narrowed the essential chasm between church and state to a knife’s edge.
The official green Saudi flag is emblazoned with a sword, instead of a rifle (on this fictional American flag). And instead of being inscribed with the U.S. flag’s “In God We Trust” slogan, the Saudi flag carries a a similarly religious proclamation in Arabic that means: “There is no God but God; Muhammad is his messenger.”
To be sure, the two states aren’t really that far apart in religious tenor, except perhaps for the desert kingdom’s infamous if only occasional beheadings for apostacy.
Whereas the actual U.S. flag at this moment carries no religious symbolism, the faith phrase “In God We Trust” is the United States’ official national motto. It wasn’t always. Congress in the 1950s during the virulent anti-Communist McCarthy Era voted to replace the Founding Fathers’ original motto (E pluribus unum — “out of many [colonies], one [nation]” — with “In God We Trust.”
It’s an after-the-fact political ad-on, not a religious tradition.
Trust me, if Christian Right-controlled Republicans had majority power in the House, Senate and Presidency, they might very conceivably move to have “In God We Trust” superimposed on the current American flag. Indeed, the Trump administration in its first term was well on its way to actively promoting a Christian theocracy in America.
Fundamentalist evangelicals already had the president in their pocket because of the size of their electorate, and even cabinet members were routinely promoting Christianity — Catholic and Protestant. Attorney General Bill Barr even went so far as to condemn a supposed “militant secularism” tearing the country apart and the need for government and the people to return to so-called “Judeo-Christian traditions and morality.” (See above a video of his 2019 speech at Notre Dame University.) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for his part, says he’s waiting joyfully for “the Rapture,” when Jesus will supposedly return to Earth in the Final Days. I wrote a post about Pompeo in August, here.
To get a fuller sense of the aggressive, anti-democratic Christian devotion of Barr (a fundamentalist Catholic) and Pompeo (a conservative Protestant), read about a couple of their faith-slathered recent speeches: here for Barr, and here for Pompeo.
Reading about and hearing the speeches of these guys should not make anyone confident that they wouldn’t be completely on board with putting the inherently unconstitutional “new” national motto on our flag for starters. And supporting a Christian theocracy, quasi or actual, in America.
So let’s not be naïve in thinking that super-devout, theocratic Saudi Arabia is any more committed to Islam over everything else than scheming Christian Right politicians are to embedding Christianity as deeply as possible into the warp and weft of public life.
Even if our flag remained the same.