Affirmative Action Art was supposed to solve the headaches of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—still reeling from last year’s response to its display of a painting depicting the late Mayor Harold Washington in frilly underwear—when it hurriedly arranged an all-minority show at the school. But instead of peace and quiet, they got one “Dread” Scott Tyler, whose now-famous “What Is the Proper Way to Display the American Flag” invited patrons to write their comments on a ledger accessible only by walking on Old Glory, draped across the floor. What followed was predictable. A great many Chicagoans and other citizens took umbrage: veterans, in particular, didn’t cotton to shedding their blood for the likes of Tyler, a self-described “proletarian internationalist” who “welcome[s] . . . the targeting and torching of this symbol” worldwide. Civil liberties types compared protests against the exhibit to the Ayatollah’s contract on Salman Rushdie. Politicians passed resolutions condemning the display, and courts leapt to its defense, inevitably invoking the First Amendment and overrunning the law against desecration. (“Placing the flag on the floor is not mutilating, defacing, or trampling it,” said Cook County Judge Kenneth Gillis.)

It is hard to credit the sincerity of people who claim to believe that grimy bootprints on the stars and stripes are what the Founders had in mind when they protected free speech. One rather suspects, as someone said of The New York Times editorialists, that when they routinely side with America’s enemies, it’s not that they’re suppressing their patriotic instincts in the interests of higher justice; rather, that they have no patriotic instincts to suppress. Reaction against the display may have gone overboard at times (the alderman who said that “There has ‘never been a more dastardly act in the City of Chicago” was being, to say no more, extravagant), but the public’s outrage was the honest, healthy response of the sort of folk without whom a nation cannot get along. (MK)