False flags of selective outrage

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

One of my favorite lines in Bill Watterson’s iconic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes is when Calvin remarks to his imaginary pet tiger Hobbes: “Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”

I often find myself wondering what aliens would think if they came down to Earth amid some of our dumbest moments as a species. Like now, for example.

I am, of course, referring to the local jackass who drives around town with the enormous flags from his truck, which read, “F-ck Biden and f-ck you for voting for him.” I have received many emails from Sandpoint residents asking if there is anything that can be done about this troll, as if I have the power to do anything but write these words. Most are certain his public profanity is illegal and complain that the police are not taking action against him, but everything I’ve read confirms that this, as ugly as it is, remains protected speech under the First Amendment.

So what can we do? Are we now resigned to watch this ninnyhammer sputter around in his crappy truck, forever proud in displaying his ignorance? Yes, if that’s how he chooses to live his days, there is nothing we can do about it other than pity him. As my dad used to say, “You can’t fix stupid.”

I am curious, though, where is the line for the police to take action. Let’s imagine the flags read, “F-ck the police.” Do you think he’d made it two laps around Sandpoint before being pulled over for some reason or another? How about if they read, “F-ck Jesus?” Would that still be protected speech? What about if they read, “I f-cked your mom”? Where exactly is the line? Asking for a friend.

The U.S. Supreme Court established a test that judges and juries use to determine whether something is obscene thanks to a handful of cases, Miller v. California being the most prominent. The Miller test deems something obscene if the material in question satisfies three conditions (I’m paraphrasing here):

1. Whether the average person finds the material as erotic, lascivious, abnormal, unhealthy, degrading, shameful or containing a morbid interest in nudity, sex or excretion;

2. Whether the average person finds the material depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and

3. Whether a reasonable person finds that the matter lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

It would be hard to argue that the Biden flag doesn’t satisfy the first two conditions, but since it involves politics, the offensive material is likely to remain protected speech if challenged in court.

The problem lies with politics in general, which have become offensive in recent years. Lacking policy points to debate, the lunatic fringe of the far-right seems to have abandoned all efforts to make its points using reason, instead relying on a scorched earth campaign of culture war, provoking outrage and “owning the libs” whenever possible. The fact that mainstream Republicans turn a blind eye to this sort of behavior — which was exhibited at the highest level of our government for four years — is proof enough that the conservative movement in America has become permanently derailed.

Turning the coin over, during the BLM protests last summer during which a group of armed Second Amendment activists trailed a bunch of teenagers while they marched across the Long Bridge, I read countless comments on social media disparaging these protestors because one of them carried a sign that read, “F-ck Trump.” So where is the outrage now from these same conservative voices? On the other hand, where was the outrage from progressives regarding the “F-ck Trump” sign?

The fact is, we are all operating under a strange Machiavellian system of selective outrage — yes, all of us. What stirs outrage in one situation receives barely a passing remark in another, so long as the offensive material supports our personal agenda. 

Liberals disparaged the police during protests in the summer of 2020 when rioting and looting took place in some cities, but “backed the blue” after the Jan. 6 insurrection — which did happen, no matter how many gaslighting conservatives attempt to frame it as a “peaceful tourist visit.” Conservatives have spouted “law and order” as a unifying tenet of their party for decades, but have fallen all over themselves trying to revise history to claim the Jan. 6 insurrection was merely a few “patriots” practicing their First Amendment rights when they stormed the Capitol, beating police officers and, ultimately, leading to five deaths.

Also, let’s be honest here about the effectiveness of these flags. When was the last time you saw a political yard sign and changed your mind about who to vote for because you liked the font or color scheme on the sign? When’s the last time you saw a Confederate Battle Flag flying from some idiot’s truck and said, “You know, I think I identify as a Confederate now, thanks to that handy flag”? 

When I see people with those stupid political flags fluttering behind their vehicles, they don’t make me feel proud. They don’t make me think about the political message. They don’t make me question my own biases and reexamine my beliefs. They make me feel embarrassed for the person who flies them, because they are becoming a parody of the terror group ISIS, whose members are also well known for displaying the movement’s flag on their own crappy trucks. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Bottom line: If you are so desperate to make your point that the only way you have left is to fly a host of offensive flags for the sole purpose of provoking outrage in the same community in which you live, your cause is shit and you should be ashamed of yourself.

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