Slonaker: What the American flag means to me
Larry Slonaker is pictured with his Joe Biden flag. Photo courtesy of Larry Slonaker.

    The presidential inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20 imbued in me a feeling almost like a purge—a weight off the shoulders, the shrugging off of a cross to bear, the removal of a screwdriver in the eyeball. Aside from the obvious significance of the ceremony, and the blessed absence of shrillness that accompanied it, I was struck by what I guess was a minor detail: the orderly, dignified displays of the Stars and Stripes.

    Contrast that with the scene orchestrated by the “Stop the Steal” mob two weeks earlier, as they paraded and preened in the U.S. Capitol. They waved their flags like weapons, and a wild assortment of weapons it was, many of them apparently having special double-secret meaning to their bearers. There was the Confederate battle flag, of course (well, we all know what that means); the coiled snake logo with the motto “Don’t Tread on Me;” lots of blue “Trump 2020” flags; a few “Blue Lives Matter” flags; here and there a South Vietnam (!) flag; and various others with designs melding “Trump” and the Stars and Stripes. And, of course, the classic Old Glory.

    I have never been much of a flag-waver. I’ll stick an American flag on the holder that’s mounted on the front of our house when the occasion warrants it—July 4th, Memorial Day, Veterans Day. Otherwise it pretty much stays in the bin on a shelf in the garage. I have a strong conviction in the rectitude of the U.S. Constitution, and in general the transcendency of the American way of life, but have never felt that flaunting a flag was required to substantiate that.

    But after the January 6 riot, and in anticipation of the inauguration, I dug out our flag and placed it on the small pole on the front of our house. I wanted to assert my claim, at least in some small way, that this flag is not the sole province of the wayward and the determinedly disgruntled. A college-educated white-collar liberal has the same right and privilege to fly it as anyone else.

    And yet—seeing the newly mounted flag hanging there above the dormant daffodils, I felt something was lacking. Namely, context. If you see enough photos of a guy standing defiantly on the Capitol floor in red-white-and-blue face paint, wearing a horned hat and wielding an American flag attached to a spear, you start to worry that folks driving by the house might somehow associate you with that.

    I thought back to the Trump-brand flags so beloved by his followers. “They have all kinds of flags,” I said to my wife last week. “Why doesn’t a person ever see a ‘Biden’ flag? We need to find one.”

    No surprise, it turns out one can find numerous political flags on Amazon. Also no surprise, considering the target audience: Most of the presidential stock is pro-Trump, anti-Biden. (Anti-, as in, “F- Biden / And F-You for Voting for Him.”) But there are a few Biden 2020 and Biden/Harris choices, as well as a version—and this is the one I picked—which depicts a brilliantly smiling Biden wearing shades, against the backdrop of a circular rainbow, against the larger backdrop of the Stars and Stripes. It says, simply, “JOE.”

    Truth be told, it’s kind of cartoonish. And the Biden image evokes Jim Carrey more than Mr. President. But it’s nothing if not a bold message, which for now is the point.

    Ultimately, though, I’d like to display it in such a way that it’s subsumed to something more dignified, more stately. And on consideration, I can think of nothing more stately than Old Glory itself.

    So. Gonna need a longer flagpole.

    Larry F. Slonaker is a writer and former newspaper reporter living in Northern California.


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