Those who object to the rainbow flag and what it represents are not fellow citizens concerned that society cannot function without clear social markers of the differences between men and women. They are “haters” and “bigots.”
The rainbow flag has taken on special significance in our regime. It is the flag of our globalist elites, symbolizing “diversity and inclusion,” principles that they regard as the source of their right to rule.
“Regime” is a technical term in political philosophy. It refers to the source of political authority. A regime defines essential matters about which “we all agree.” This agreement establishes the boundaries of legitimate political contestation, and it treats as traitors, rebels, and revolutionaries those who overstep and transgress.
America’s regime has long been that of a constitutional republic. We litigate, organize, and in some cases protest. Politicians exploit procedures to angle for advantage. Elections are contested. And all of this is supposed to operate under the limits imposed by our rule of law. But our regime is always more than constitutional provisions. It also concerns what counts as a legitimate opinion in public life, and what is beyond the pale. In this domain we have undergone regime change.
In Return of the Strong Gods, I argue that after 1945 a powerful consensus took hold, one that prized the virtues of the open society. Speaking after the end of the Cold War, President George H. W. Bush summed up this consensus when he praised “open borders, open trade, and, most important of all, open minds.”
Over time, this consensus came to define our regime. It asserted that diversity and inclusion were not terms of one political party. Rather, they were “American values.” President Obama perfected the art of equating his political agenda with the regime. He countered his adversaries by stating, “That’s not who we are,” which meant that his critics were beyond the pale. When gay marriage was deemed a constitutional right, he lit up the White House with rainbow colors, confident that he was affirming “America” rather than asserting a partisan position.
The rainbow flag was inevitable, perhaps. After 9/11, Katha Pollitt wrote a piece for The Nation that bemoaned all the American flags that were suddenly everywhere. She felt bereft. “There are no symbolic representations right now for the things the world really needs—equality and justice and humanity and solidarity and intelligence.” She wished for a strong symbol of “social justice, women’s rights, democracy, civil liberties and secularism.” Why couldn’t feminists, gay rights activists, and proponents of a more inclusive, affirming society have a flag?