Flags are full of symbolism, evoking a wide range of emotional responses usually predicated on who is doing the viewing. A flag can unify groups of people who share a common ideology. It can also drive wedges between groups when toxic interpretations running counter to its original meaning are attached to a flag.
The flag of Nazi Germany, also known as the flag of the German Reich, was first created in 1920 as the emblem of the National Socialist German Workers Party. The original mission of the party was to turn German communists into German nationalists, “Germany first,” so to speak.
Early on, before the Nazi Party elected Hitler as its standard-bearer, average Germans did not see the far-right party’s flag as a threat to their liberty or freedom. But as the flags of the National Socialist movement multiplied all over Germany, its truer meaning of genocide cloaked in nationalism became clear.
The German Reich’s flag was an ultra-patriotic symbol for many citizens who felt left behind in their own country. That same symbol struck fear into the hearts of Jews walking the streets of every European city littered with swastika-laden flags and banners.
Nations around the world recognize the powerful symbolism of the United States flag. It has even traveled beyond Earth, planted on the moon as a symbol of triumph over the unknown. It has also been burned and trampled on during protests against government policy. The U.S. flag has been alternately treated with reverence and revulsion throughout our history but its enduring message of hope soldiers on, even during these last four years when political chaos threatened to extinguish our democracy.
Donald Trump and his followers have been fond of exhibiting as many American flags and banners as possible since his election in 2016. During one of his many hate-filled public speeches about the “sick” Democrats and incompetent public servants in the FBI and the CIA, Trump walked over to an American flag and literally hugged it. He engaged in these absurd theatrics after spending a full hour denigrating the country’s institutions.
His supporters, some current and former members of the military, clothe themselves in red, white, and blue as Trump calls the men and women who fought for our country “suckers.” Trump’s loyalists use American flags with his name emblazoned across it as weapons against protestors. Others tether Trump flags to posts protruding from the sides of giant pick-up trucks as they speed along the highways, intimidating and harassing other drivers in ways reminiscent of incidents involving the KKK during the civil rights movement. This time, the Stars and Stripes are whipping in the wind instead of the Stars and Bars.
Trump inspires a replay of one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history.
It is stunning to see the President of the United States actively reviving that level of hate. For the last four years, our beloved flag has come to symbolize division, not unity — bigotry, not tolerance — violence, not peace — and lies, not truth.
I have flown the American flag on our home for decades, but during Trump’s tenure, it was no longer a symbol of high ideals and cherished principles. Even though the condition of the flag was bright and there were no tattered edges, its iconic image seemed tainted. Old Glory was fading, her broad stripes and bright stars had become desecrated with the name “Trump” stamped across the soul of our flag. Trump is the antithesis of all the flag stands for, qualities that made the United States a great country. Trump’s shameful behavior transformed the American flag into a symbol of hate and division.
I took the flag down.
With Joe Biden’s election, I had renewed hope. I searched for a special American flag to replace the one that I’d taken down four years ago. I looked to our country’s past, and since we just experienced a culture war that left us more divided than any time in 150 years, I was drawn to the flags that were flown during the Civil War, the last time such stark division infected the country.
Abraham Lincoln was a selfless leader who did everything in his power as president to keep our country together, unlike Donald Trump who selfishly tried to tear the country apart. Lincoln will always be remembered as a hero. Trump will be remembered as a scoundrel.
I decided to fly the 34-star American flag officially adopted for use during the Civil War between 1861 and 1863. The only president to serve under this flag was Abraham Lincoln. I am flying it to honor him as one of our most courageous presidents and for his unyielding love of country. I am also flying it to celebrate the end of Donald Trump’s tyranny and look to it now as a beacon of hope for a more perfect union.