Air Max Betsy Ross

Nike's nixed Fourth of July-edition Air Maxes. Provided

Nike’s decision to suspend production of a sneaker adorned with the Betsy Ross flag was a wrongheaded capitulation that only helps racists who are trying to turn our national symbols into emblems of hate. We must not allow extremists to appropriate our patriotic symbols.

As columnist Jonah Goldberg noted: “When evil people acquire symbols for their own ends, the only guarantee of success is when everyone else validates the acquisition.”

The company’s decision was sparked by comments from former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who noted the obscure fact that a few extremist groups brandish the flag. It is part of a troubling trend that includes the city council in Charlottesville, Virginia, voting to discontinue a celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, and the San Francisco school board voting to paint over an 80-year-old mural depicting the life of George Washington.

These misguided efforts have the unfortunate cumulative effect of branding the country’s early patriots and Founding Fathers as racists and unworthy of respect.

Many of them note the undeniable fact that the Founding Fathers condoned slavery and many owned slaves. But it is equally undeniable that they risked their “Lives, ... Fortunes and ... sacred Honor” to bring about a nation founded on the then-radical principle, in the words of Mr. Jefferson, that “all men” have “certain inalienable rights.”

This principle was vindicated in the Revolutionary War, whose proud symbol was the Betsy Ross flag, and it was vindicated again during the Civil War, whose outcome proved, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

That did not happen overnight. It has taken a lot longer than “fourscore and seven years” for equal rights to be extended to all Americans, and that is nothing to take pride in. But the foundation was set in 1776 and reset in 1865.

The people who took the first courageous and decisive steps toward that objective continue to deserve our praise and respect. So does the Constitution they created to realize the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the meaningful changes we as Americans have made to that document over the years.

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Perhaps what we need as a nation is a way to celebrate not only the birth of the country on the Fourth of July, but also its rebirth in fire. A public discussion of the choices of a date to celebrate would be a good platform for an education in the ways the nation has struggled toward the realization of Mr. Jefferson’s vision.

Charlottesville took a step in that direction when it declared it will celebrate “Liberation and Freedom Day” to commemorate the emancipation of slaves. That is commendable. But Charlottesville City Council failed to see the bitter irony of choosing to simultaneously drop the holiday honoring the man who wrote the words declaring to the world that “all men are created equal,” the basic principle of democracy and the guiding light of emancipation.

As Americans we ought to celebrate both. And while we are doing that, we should not allow extremists to appropriate and define our national symbols.

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