Particularly unsettling to the outside observer is the way the pledge is used in our schools. It doesn’t feel strange if you’re 7 and that’s all you know, but if you’re not 7 and you didn’t grow up this way … well, it doesn’t look good. As a classroom of elementary-age children intone in a classic sketch from comedy troupe The Whitest Kids You Know, it’s objectively “creepy that us little, little kids mindlessly recite this anthem every day and pledge their life to a government before they’re old enough to really think about what they’re saying.”

We’d easily recognize the creepiness in other contexts: What if the pledge were to the flag of Cuba? The USSR? North Korea? (Kim Jong Un’s government has an anthem which includes a loyalty pledge: “We devote our bodies and minds to serving this Korea forever.”) I attended a Chinese public school in third grade, and while I can’t be confident my memory is correct, I don’t remember the class doing any sort of loyalty pledge despite our location under literal communism.