Last Wednesday a local politician, admittedly acting as a private citizen, set off a firestorm by protesting the U.S. Senate’s vote to clear President Donald Trump of impeachment charges.

Jim Stanford pulled on his father’s Vietnam-era military jacket and strode to the corner of Town Square to protest the impeachment vote. He held the U.S. flag upside down, a recognized symbol of distress, a few dozen yards from the town’s under-construction monument to veterans.

A photograph of the protest landed on Thursday’s edition of the Jackson Hole Daily, and many people were upset (see page 3A) with the protest. Some questioned the newspaper staff’s judgment in publishing the photo, thinking it promoted the protest rather than recording it, a usual and customary journalistic practice.

These actions are all protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

In the same week the community rallied around American Legion Post 43’s effort to raise money to revamp the veterans monument in the middle of Town Square. Groups and individuals gave generously, and the $100,000 goal was met in short order.

It’s an intriguing scenario that incorporates strong emotions, patriotism, politics and the nation’s basic ideals.

Our military fights battles at home and abroad, for stability and peace, for the many ideals of freedom we as a nation hold dear. Military veterans are rightly honored for their service, and some of them pay the ultimate price with their lives in the name of protecting the freedoms of Americans.

Protesting a government body’s action is as American as apple pie.

Recognizing the veterans who protect our freedoms is the least we can do in thanks for their valuable service.

In a time when the nation feels increasingly divided in black-and-white thinking about politics, this incident and what followed is a window into the common ground that needs to be rediscovered. We’re neighbors and citizens of America first and foremost. We can respectfully disagree only after we seek to understand.

It’s a sign of the health of our democracy that we can agree on the freedoms we share, like speech and a free press, and agree to disagree on things like wearing a beloved relative’s uniform or holding the flag askew.

Patriots come in many forms, including: Men and women brave enough to fight for freedom; protestors brave enough to stand on Town Square standing up for their beliefs; and career diplomats who testify before Congress despite professional consequences.

This editorial represents the opinion of the News&Guide’s editorial board: Johanna Love, Rebecca Huntington, Kevin Olson and Adam Meyer.

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