MAGA Hat vs. Biden Bumper Sticker vs. American Flag – What’s the Difference?

4th Fireworks!  How were yours?

This year our family enjoyed them from Raystown Lake, a hidden gem in Central PA where we keep a small boat.  Leading up to the spectacle I mentioned to my three teenage daughters and their friends that I’d like to mount an American flag to the boat’s rail.  Let’s fly those stars and stripes as we glide across the water, right?  The reaction to my flag comments, though, shocked me…

“Dad, Are you sure you want to send that kind of message?”
“Wow, Mr. Lawrence, didn’t realize you were that extreme in your politics.”

Excuse me?

Prodding further I learned from The Demographic That Continues to Baffle Me (i.e. teenagers) that in their minds, brandishing an American flag, unless one’s an Olympic athlete or active duty military, means:

  • You’re conservative,
  • You love guns,
  • You listen to Country Music,
  • You’re a Trumpster.

Now, I may or may not be any of those things and I’m not writing this blog to advocate one way or the other but hearing a reasonably educated group of our country’s future leaders describe the flag in such polarizing terms shocked me.  What do you think of our nation’s symbol serving as a political statement? 

I’m beginning to wonder if We the People have taken the flag too far.  Have we reached a point where in order to prove our patriotism we need to adorn ourselves with red, white, and blue pins, hats, stickers, t-shirts, and patches that were probably made in China?  Even worse, have today’s teenagers and tomorrow’s leaders pigeon-holed this universal symbol to be affiliated with only a fraction of the American fabric? 

Call me crazy but if the American flag becomes to one political party what an individual team jersey is to one NFL fan, we’re screwed.  It’s fine to root against the other team on the football field; it’s a disaster if we Americans root against one another on the geopolitical one.

Wanna wear your Biden pin?  Your MAGA hat?  Outstanding!  But please understand that your fan club paraphernalia says, “I support X person/opinion/party.”  Add an American flag to your ensemble, however, and – at least in my opinion – you’re adding something else to your story.  The flag declares, “Not only do I stand for my views but I also respect yours.  No matter your political affiliation I will defend your right to express it.”

I wonder to what extent our fellow citizens see that distinction?  Increasingly, it seems the lines are blurring between party paraphernalia and national symbolism.  How did we get here?

Time Magazine published an interesting article about the rise of U.S. flag trinkets and outlines this trajectory:

  • Until the Civil War, one would find the U.S. flag almost exclusively at government buildings and military stations,
  • Stars and Stripes “wearables” weren’t a thing until the 1950’s,
  • The first president to sport a flag lapel pin was Richard Nixon.

In other words, George Washington, arguably the most badass American hero of them all, never placed a red, white, and blue lawn ornament at Mount Vernon, The Greatest Generation, while whipping the Nazis and saving the free world, did not vinyl wrap their cars in screaming eagle emblems, and the first politician to rock the lapel pin got kicked out of The White House.

My point is some of our nation’s greatest heroes never flaunted the flag and some of its most disgraced figures did.

As for me, I’m moving forward with my boat flag – who doesn’t feel especially free and grateful when enjoying a beautiful day on the water? – and crossing my fingers that my daughters, their friends, today’s and tomorrow’s leaders, and you, kind reader, remember that America’s #1 symbol represents us all.  Fly, wear, and decorate your flag as a token to the diversity and ingenuity one finds only in this messy, beautiful, fumbling, young, ingenious republic. 

18 Replies to “MAGA Hat vs. Biden Bumper Sticker vs. American Flag – What’s the Difference?”

  1. Ben, thanks for posting. We fly a flag on our boat and it has always seemed perfectly normal to me. My dad has a flag flying at his house always and he is none of the 4 things listed at the beginning of your post. He was in the military and proud of our country. I appreciate the perspective and will remind my girls tonite.

    1. Scott, A-12, right? You and I will form a parade all our own. Be sure to invite your dad along, too. Hope your daughter’s BDay was a success!

  2. This piece made me think while it made me laugh-that’s a gift! Thanks for sharing Ben!

    1. Amy, You laugh easily, which is one of the many reasons I enjoy and respect you. Thank you for feedback from one of the most creative, entrepreneurial Americans (and American families) out there!

  3. Your so on target 🎯 Ben let’s get a bumper sticker and a flag we can mount on our car or truck

  4. The flag is the uniting symbol for our COUNTRY. Full stop. No question. The discussion needs to be about the forces, foreign and domestic, trying to link it to ideals it does not represent.

    1. I like the way you phrase that, Mark. “Forces linking the flag to ideals it does not represent.” You’re right! Good to hear from a fellow Foxpointe alumni 🙂

  5. To me it all started with 9-11. The jingoes had their flags posted on everything but really meant nothing more than a “U-S-A” chant at an Olympic hockey game. All talk but nothing to back it up. And it seems that the MAGA crowd fits that description.
    As a Vietnam veteran outcast, I have very mixed feelings about the flag. It represents the country I grew up in which grants me enormous privileges while it spit in my eye. I sometimes have difficulty reciting the pledge knowing that it reneged on its pledge to me and so many others. And holidays like the 4th make me uncomfortable.

    1. Ken, The reception you and other veterans received post-Vietnam is a shameful, embarrassing chapter of our nation’s history. I know what a thoughtful, intelligent man you are and there is no doubt in my mind you made your decisions thoughtfully and for the right reasons. To what extent did America’s wild U-S-A chanting in the post 9-11 era serve as a desperate attempt to make up for the crummy reception Vietnam vets faced? Regardless, it wasn’t and never will make up for it. My pledge to you is to think of you and those in your situation every time I cast a vote.

  6. If that is how our children feel, then we need to elect some new school board members.

    1. Starting with you, Erik? You’re the ideal candidate! I still remember what a nice job you did standing up and speaking out at the township meeting related to Penn State’s nefarious land sale. Count me in as your campaign manager 🙂

  7. Good for you Ben. Let’s be Americans first. Then work for our political goals. Americans include citizens and non citizens our course. We have a process mostly elections, but also balance of power between executive, legislative, and judicial branches to add stability. Lets agree that there are huge political differences but work within the system to resolve them and stop the name calling.

    1. Perfectly stated from an uncle as wise as Uncle Sam. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Uncle David! Two audiences (one hopes) look up to the American flag: American citizens and those who aspire to be. And would you agree the latter group is likely several times larger than the former?

  8. Agree with you completely, Ben. As a 26-year, retired USAF veteran, I have but two thoughts regarding the flag: 1) I think (just my opinion) that a lot of people fly the flag NOT because they are patriotic but because they don’t want people to think they aren’t; and 2) under the U.S. Flag Code the flag should not be worn as clothing, used as decoration, or printed on any type of paraphernalia, something many people do, not knowing they are disrespecting the flag.

    1. Jim, I (and many others) are grateful not only for your USAF service but for your USAID service, too. You and your USAID colleagues taught me so much about this often-overlooked branch of the US government and the important work it does worldwide. The best wars are those never fought and I’m convinced USAID’s ounce of prevention has saved the world a whole lotta heartache. By the way: Terrific insights about flag etiquette!

  9. Excellent article. I can tell you the 6 bodies I carried off the USS Cole on Oct 12, 2000 were wearing flags on their utilities which were covered in blood. We didn’t ask what their views were. As I helped carry a young man on a stretcher out of the Pentagon on 9/11/2001 we didn’t ask who he voted for. When our backs are agains the wall Americans stand tall. We’ve had some dark days in our past, recognizing our Viet Nam vets jumps to the top of the list, but it seems like we learn and bounce back stronger. I’m hoping our current situation will do the same.

    1. Bernie, Your real-life experiences are among the starkest reminders that we are Americans first. Thank you for serving our nation and courageously leaning into the fray. Will we bounce back stronger? Hell yes! Keep training, Ironman. We’re still in the fight.

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