President-elect Donald Trump again ignited a firestorm when he recently commented about flag burning on Twitter. His call for the jailing or loss of citizenship of those who burn the American flag has some cheering for what they see just consequences for an unpatriotic act and others jeering over what they see as an attack on the First Amendment's protection of expression.
Magician and noted libertarian, Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller, is chiming in on the debate via the story behind the duo's “flag burning” trick in an opinion piece for CNN. He begins by explaining how their world travel gave them a newfound appreciation for the freedoms found in the United States of America:
Before this trip, we'd never considered ourselves overly patriotic; we never really thought about it. [...] Nothing can make you love the USA more than overseas travel.
When we got back to doing our own magic show at our own theater in Las Vegas, we wanted to do a new magic trick that would express our newly-understood patriotism. We wanted to publicly salute the American flag and the republic for which it stands.
Overseas, we saw poverty, disease and injustice, but what really struck us, what made us kiss the ground at McCarran airport in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States of America, was freedom. Freedom was what those other countries were so sorely lacking — freedom that we must never take for granted.
As they mulled over the new trick, several factors came into play in illustrating just how much they appreciated the freedom America affords. Jillette explains:
But what if instead of a handkerchief that meant nothing, we used a piece of cloth that was nothing but meaning? What if we used the flag of the United States of America? And what if instead of a meaningless piece of paper to wrap it in, we wrapped it in first 10 amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bill of Rights?
What if, instead of “abracadabra,” we used a verse of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and what if the magic power the audience would cheer for was the freedom to burn the very flag that we loved so dearly? What if the magic of freedom restored the burnt flag?
The trick the duo performs is respectful in the handling and folding of the flag and then appears to set it on fire. As they demonstrate in the video below, it was simply sleight of hand. But the message has a powerful effect on the audience:
“Many veterans and other patriots told us after the show it was their favorite magic trick. We didn't kid ourselves; carny trash like Penn & Teller don't deserve that kind of reaction. These people were cheering freedom.”
While not everyone will agree with their approach to celebrating American freedoms, the story behind it is a powerful testament to what freedom means to so many.
Watch Penn & Teller perform their “flag burning” trick as Jillette recounts the story behind it: