Flags, False and True

A European visitor once remarked to me that he found the American practice of flying the flag outside of homes odd. In Europe, he said, flag flying, if done at all, tended to confine itself to proletarian sports enthusiasm and to local decorative flag flying. After all, everyone already knows in what country they are residing.

Americans take or, until recently took, an extraordinary pride in flying their national flag. Roughly 150 million American flags are sold each year in the United States. In a little over two years, one flag has been sold in the United States for each person resident here.

Although the United States flag code, adopted in 1942, forbids it, flags patterns festoon articles of clothing, such as shirts, hats, and shoes.

What gives? Why does, or did, America have such a strong flag flying tradition? 

The reason is quite simple. More than any other place in the world, the United States is, or was, committed to a politics not just grounded in consent but something more. It was dedicated to the renewal of that consent, by means of elections, through which policy is determined by the people—with various themes and variations)—based upon majority vote.

Deciding policy by majority vote requires an especially sturdy civic friendship. People cannot trust their lives, their families, and their fortunes to a majority vote unless a preponderance of the people voting have very strong habits of subordinating their own narrow interests to those of the whole of the people. To paraphrase Lincoln, it is not sufficient for happiness that government be of the people and by the people; it must be for the people.

That is, when seeking to implement policies through ballots, the majority must not seek to dominate the minority. Rather, constitutional democracy requires that majorities pursue ends that both the majority and the minority believe are pursued with the interests of both the majority and the minority in mind 

It is only when both sides in an electoral contest pursue policies, though differing in material and hotly contested ways, that each side believes are committed to the common good, that the losing side may accept the loss and campaign for their policy preferences in the next election.

American flag reverence is a key cultural feature which is part of this habit of thinking. Displaying, raising, lowering, treating the same flag reverentially is a symbol of the subordination of our narrow interests to the common good and thus of our capacity for the civic friendship necessary for tolerable majoritarian politics.

Today we see a proliferation of flags. Theres the Antifa flag, BLM flag, Pride flag, the Transgender flag, and the Progress Pride flag. We also see a proliferation of practices of disrespecting the national flag. Theres the kneeling—which is meant as a condemnation of the flag when it is not a tool of commoditizing outrage to enrich mediocre athletes—and then there is the burning, the tearing, the stealing, and stomping.

The ultimate disrespect of our national flag has been the decision by the Biden Administration to fly the BLM flag and the Pride Flag on various occasions in an official capacity. 

The flying of these factional flags represents the official denigration of the civic friendship necessary for legitimate majoritarian politics. They symbolize the feelings represented by words used by Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (cheered if not joined on occasion by bad Republicans like Wyoming’s Liz Cheney and Utah’s Senator Mitt Romney) to denigrate their opposition—namely the American middle class. The message they convey is clear: we dont have your best interest in mind.

Where those false flags fly, flap, and flutter they tell you the policies which have undercut the value of middle class labor and immiserated a nation are intentional.

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About Jay Whig

Jay Whig is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Whig practices law in New York and a resides in Connecticut, specializing in insolvency and restructuring. Opinions are his own.

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

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