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Terry Manning

Signs, signs everywhere signs

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By Terry Manning

A few months into the Covid pandemic, before resistance to informed guidance and oversight hardened into ignorant obstinance, I made a post on Facebook about wearing my mask that encouraged my friends to do the same.

One acquaintance responded, “Virtue signaling much?”

I remember thinking, “Huh?!?” I wasn’t familiar with “virtue signaling,“ like so many other buzzwords and catchphrases that resonate within conservative circles, sayings they like to wield against people they know don’t share their ideology.

But being the English major that I am, I asked myself, so what if I am virtue signaling? What’s wrong with that?

First, virtue is by definition, a positive, describing a person of character or at least of good intentions. By using the verb signaling I assumed the person was making a comment on my letting my friends know of my support for proper masking. Which I was. And yes, I was using the mildest form of peer pressure to coax them into doing what would be good for their health and the general welfare of those for whom they care.

Or maybe by signaling, my friend was saying that I was making a show of looking virtuous instead of actually being virtuous. You know, like those people who call themselves patriots while they undermine the Constitution or who call themselves Christian while they abuse the poor and hungry or who carried the American flag atop poles used to beat Capitol police on January 6.

The joke was on my friend, though, because I actually did – and do – regularly wear a KN95 mask when I’m in crowds. I taught at least two semesters of students who never saw the bottom half of my face. It seems like a small thing to be diligent about, all things considered.

But to my acquaintance’s point, there are a lot of people who stop just short of beating you over the head with their symbols. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more aware of how many people in this country have antisocial intentions and are happy to let others know.

Maybe we should call it “vice signaling”?

Remember how upset supporters of Donald Trump pretended to be when Hillary Clinton described them as deplorable? But then, they embraced the term and decided to double down on all the behaviors and attitudes that made her call them that in the first place. They bought T-shirts, even, branding themselves proud deplorables.

I shake my head at my neighbor who drives his pickup truck through the apartment complex very slowly, so everyone can take in the oversized flag that flies over his truck bed. It’s half a traditional American flag, half Confederate flag, with a coiled “Don’t tread on me” snake emblazoned across both. I know he cares about being seen because every time I see him, he’s looking around to make sure I and others see him and his stupid, traitorous flag.

Speaking of flags, I have been reading a lot about all-black American flags growing in popularity. Flag experts told WUSA-9 the flags mean, “‘No quarter … you won’t be taking prisoners.’ In a time of war or in a battle, you plan to kill the enemy on the spot.”

That’s a nice one to see flying around a subdivision where you just bought a house.

While some recent adoptees of the black flags think they originated during the Civil War, the flags actually trace back to high-seas piracy. Leave it to the people who don’t want real history taught in schools to screw up the origins of a flag they think they are borrowing from the Confederacy to signal anti-government sentiment they think equals patriotism.

Red MAGA hats. Oversized “Trump 2024” banners. White rabbit QAnon window stickers. Three Percenter emblems. “Let’s go, Brandon.” Oath Keepers. Calling anything they don’t like or understand “woke.” Cancel culture. 88. CRT. All Lives Matter. Proud Boys (who usually cover their faces when they march). Christian Nationalism. Shipping legal asylum-seekers across the country with doctored papers in an attempt to “own the libs.” Threatening violence if the man they support faces the same justice they will if they do what he urges them to do.

It’s exhausting.

So yes, with so many working so hard to signal their antagonism to the principles the country is founded upon, or to anything that shows compassion for their fellow countrymen — or human beings in general — I’m happy to be accused of signaling virtue.

Terry E. Manning is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.

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