The changing meaning of the American flag under Trump

Last month, a man in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley gleefully reported that during a recent commute he had noticed that all but two of the twenty-seven homes with Trump or G.O.P. yard signs “were flying at least one United States flag,” and that, at the sixteen residences displaying signs for Biden, or for the Democrat running for Congress, there were “zero” flags. One recent night, nearly two hundred-thousand Twitter users either liked or retweeted Donald Trump Jr. when he said, “Why do you never see an American flag on a house with a Biden sign in the front yard?”

The conflation of Trump and the flag has become so pervasive that progressives have reported feeling reluctant to buy property in areas rife with the flag. Just before the 2018 midterm elections, Bruce Watson, a writer living in western Massachusetts, lamented that liberals and progressives had “shied away from the flag.” He warned that “ceding the nation’s most enduring symbol to one party is just bad politics” and said the flag is “the symbol of ‘we, the people’ ”—including those who “staunchly oppose the president’s policies and behavior.” Watson noted, “Even if it festoons every Trump rally, the flag belongs to all of us.” What Teachout noted more than a decade ago holds true today: “The story of the flag is a story of a country in search of itself.”