Trump’s use of American flag as symbol sometimes misguided
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.