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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?

Pollitt’s desires were fulfilled. As Darel Paul documents in From Tolerance to Equality, gay rights became the focal point for the diversity agenda promoted by American elites, which is why its symbol is the rainbow flag. Although the rainbow was originally meant to evoke Jesse Jackson’s ideal of a “rainbow coalition” of excluded groups, the flag is more often than not called the “pride flag.” It signals liberation for gays, the first among equals in the rainbow coalition.

This priority is not accidental. Gay rights fit perfectly with the open-society goals of our elites. Men kissing men break down barriers—a wonderful image of our elites aspiring to remove obstacles to trade and commerce. Drag queens blur boundaries—a marvelous evocation of the globalist dream of a world without borders.

Homosexuals, especially gay men, are also associated with scrupulous self-care and glamorous consumption. They pioneered the now upper-middle-class norm of extended adolescence, the carefree single life that extends for decades. Gay life also realizes the dreams of many feminists—professional success and self-realization without the burdens of fertility.

So it’s not surprising that our elites have embraced the rainbow flag. It flutters over our universities and is featured in the windows of global corporations. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street—drivers of globalization and the breaking of boundaries—wave the pride flag.

The rainbow flag represents the regime that our globalized elites intend to sustain. As a regime, it treats dissent as illegitimate. 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.” 

In late June, Germany and Hungary were readying for a match in the European Football Championship in Munich. The city council proposed lighting the stadium with rainbow colors. Hungary nixed the idea. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó noted, “It is extremely harmful and dangerous to mix sports and politics.”

The Hungarian objection evoked outcry from European elites. Vera Jorová, the Czech politician who is vice president of the E.U., insisted: “The rainbow is not offensive.” German government spokesman Steffen Siebert pronounced that the rainbow flag “represents how we want to live—with respect for each other and without discrimination.” 

“Not offensive.” “How we want to live.” “Who we are.” These assertions determine what is and is not legitimate to dispute. That’s the main function of a regime. And the rainbow flag, unlike the German or Hungarian flags, represents the globalist, liberationist, open-society regime. 

America spawned the open-society consensus, which over time evolved into the open-border, open-trade, diversity and inclusion regime now pressed upon us as so self-evident and non-controversial that it is obligatory. Our country invented the rainbow flag and our embassies export it to the entire world. But populism bids fair to strengthen rather than weaken. It challenges the hegemony of our globalized elites and the regime they insist must determine public life. I predict that the time is coming, perhaps soon, when our elites will suppress the American flag and wave all the more insistently the rainbow substitute.

R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.

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