In early September I took a trip down to Kure Beach to vacation with my immediate family, our first opportunity to spend time together since early March when COVID-19 clamped down on the country. It was during this trip that I began to notice a relatively new trend, one that points to a disturbing future for the so-called United States: all these damn Trump flags.
The flags were not only hanging from patios and porches but flying on the actual beach, where people decided that a flag was somehow an important part of their setup on the sand.
Now, I’m not one to be offended by such things. People can fly whatever the hell flag they choose. As with the inarguably racist Confederate flag, a Trump flag is a good signal for whom I should avoid all interactions with. I find it helpful in that regard.
My concern is with what else this new proliferation of Trump 2020 flags signals.
When I think of what other flags I see flying on a regular basis, I think of the United States flag, the rainbow flag at LGBTQ Pride events, Carolina Panthers flags, etc.
There are also those flags that the right has always been fond of: the aforementioned Confederate flag, which only came back into fashion among racists during the civil rights movement. There’s the yellow snake flag with “Don’t Tread On Me,” brought back into popularity by the Tea Party in 2009 in response to Barack Obama’s coming to power.
All of the flags listed above, good or bad, symbolize a person identifying as part of a group that they take pride in, which is relatively normal human behavior. What Trump flags signal to is something wholly separate: loyalty to one man in power as a defining part of your identity.
Of course, this is nothing new. In 2016, we saw the red hats serve the same purpose, and those certainly haven’t gone anywhere. Before that, there was no shortage of Barack Obama merch, his face plastered on t-shirts worn by people who saw his election as a sign that the country was moving past its horrific racial past (so much for that idea).
I for one have always cringed at the idea that any politician should be lionized in such a way. I voted for Barack Obama twice, yet I had more than a few issues with the way he did things — his immigration policy and drone-bombing campaign to name a couple.
When you claim a politician as your own, as you do when you fly their flag — and regardless of what Trump sycophants say, he’s the president, so he’s a politician — you are saying, “I’m on this team, and I’ll do whatever I need to do to defend that.”
This is exactly the type of cult following that Trump aimed to build from the beginning. He scapegoated the media so as to convince his followers ahead of time that every negative article — every survivor of his sexual predation, every administrative whistleblower, every sane person who can see a scam artist for what he is — is simply fake news and should be ignored.
Then he went to work on the checks and balances against his power, firing anyone who didn’t do his bidding, even if that was never their job in the first place.
His followers don’t care one iota about all his wrongdoing because he’s “owning the libs,” and that’s their priority. These people don’t want to see things get better, per se, they want to see things get worse for the people they don’t like.
I’m reminded of a Trump voter in Florida who was quoted in a New York Times report from early January of this year, when Trump’s government shutdown had so many people suffering around the country so he could fight for funding for his mythical wall.
“I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting,” the woman said, revealing the true nature of Trump’s following. This is not the reason to vote for a president, people.
Attitudes like that are how Trump was able to run and win on a racist, xenophobic platform. It’s how he built his following from a foundation of folks he has no real interest in. They believe he has just a little more interest in them than in those other people — those immigrants, those Black folks, those libs, those Antifa boogeymen — and that’s what matter.
And so now when you see hate speech, the Trump flag is never far behind. It’s just become expected. In June, when an old man yelled “White power” from his golf cart during a procession in a Florida retirement community (in a video retweeted by Trump himself), the flag was there. In August, when Trump supporters drove through a protest in Portland and shot innocent people with paintballs, the flag was there. And on Sept. 19, when multiple members of a pro-Trump convoy passing through Elon on a Saturday afternoon yelled “White power,” the flags were there.
Maybe I’m just a triggered lib, but I’d say if this is the group you stake your claim with, that’s a pretty big red flag.