Trump’s use of Amer­i­can flag as sym­bol some­times mis­guided

Palm Beach Daily News - - OPINION -

Don­ald Trump knows the power of brand­ing. He has made a ca­reer of lever­ag­ing the Trump brand to at­tract mas­sive amounts of in­vest­ment cap­i­tal, push ex­trav­a­gant real es­tate projects for­ward, di­ver­sify into en­ter­tain­ment and even avoid bank­ruptcy.

So Trump rec­og­nizes a pow­er­ful brand sym­bol when he sees one, and there is no sym­bol more pow­er­ful in the United States than the Amer­i­can flag. Trump has a his­tory of us­ing the flag to put his de­trac­tors in their place and get what he wants, as we well know in Palm Beach. The 2006 ruckus com­monly re­ferred to as the flag flap is a per­fect ex­am­ple. He in­stalled a gi­gan­tic 375square-foot Amer­i­can flag on an 80-foot flag­pole at The Mar-a-Lago Club with­out fil­ing for a per­mit first. That’s a big Palm Beach no-no.

The town told Trump to re­move it and be­gan is­su­ing a $1,250-a-month fine for the code vi­o­la­tion. Trump, in turn, filed a $25 mil­lion law­suit against the town for in­fring­ing on his right to free speech.

The story got na­tional at­ten­tion and, whoops, the Town Coun­cil sud­denly re­al­ized it was com­ing across as petty, vin­dic­tive and un­pa­tri­otic. Mem­bers quickly de­cided a set­tle­ment was in or­der. Trump was al­lowed his large flag with mi­nor changes and the town waived $120,000 in fines that had ac­cu­mu­lated in re­turn for a prom­ise from Trump to do­nate $100,000 to vet­er­ans groups.

It’s fairly ob­vi­ous that the flag flap was a setup from the be­gin­ning. Trump wanted to get the town gov­ern­ment, which fre­quently de­lighted in stymieing Mar-a-Lago Club ini­tia­tives, off his back by re­mind­ing it that he can file very large law­suits. It worked. Ev­ery­one has played nice since.

The flag is a wholly ap­pro­pri­ate sym­bol for a pres­i­dent to use. And Pres­i­dent Trump is now the coun­try’s

No. 1 pa­triot by job de­scrip­tion. But iron­i­cally, the job also changes the dy­namic. When Trump re­cently scolded protest­ing NFL play­ers for dis­re­spect­ing the flag, it played well with his most ar­dent sup­port­ers, but not so much with oth­ers be­cause the flag in­deed rep­re­sents free­dom of speech — as Mr. Trump has as­serted for his own ben­e­fit in the past.

The rest of Amer­ica does not re­sem­ble se­cluded, af­flu­ent Palm Beach.

Many of the protest­ing play­ers came from those very com­mu­ni­ties cry­ing the loud­est for more even-handed jus­tice, and many spend their spare time do­ing char­i­ta­ble pub­lic ser­vice there.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Na­tional Football League teams are among the few re­main­ing large Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions whose core busi­ness is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to the di­verse com­mu­ni­ties where they are based. Af­ter Trump’s deroga­tory tweets, team own­ers, in­clud­ing some of Mr. Trump’s close friends, stood along­side their play­ers in sup­port. Some mil­i­tary vet­er­ans also pub­licly schooled the pres­i­dent that the right to protest was pre­cisely what they had fought for.

The flag is a pow­er­ful sym­bol of free­dom that be­longs to all Amer­i­cans.

It should never be used to hu­mil­i­ate any of us for ex­er­cis­ing our rights. You can’t have it both ways.

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