Caleb M.S.— Columnist
For a multitude of reasons, the American political scene over the last five years was a shifting cesspool of pundits, alternative-truths, and intense polarization. A particularly notable trend in direct correlation with the other noted issues has been the increased usage of flags to rally behind a certain cause. Most notably, twice-impeached former President Donald Trump’s campaign sold a variety of flags ranging from the infamous “Make America Great Again” and “Trump 2020” flags to banners emblazoned with “NO MORE BULL****” and “Trump Train.”
More interesting to note, however, was the rise of historical flags in conjunction with right-wing movements. The Gadsden (Don’t Tread On Me) flag, with its hissing snake on a stark yellow background, could often be witnessed where any of Trump’s placards were seen. Unfortunately, the 1775 libertarian icon is not the only historical pennant to reemerge in the 21st century—the Confederate Battle flag has made a resounding and frightening clamber back to relevancy. Despite the terrible connotations of this flag, the usage of both standards begs some difficult and confusing questions.
The Gadsden flag, created in 1775 by Christopher Gadsden, was intended for use by militia groups organizing against the British government. Over decades it came to represent the need for small government, but more importantly the necessity of a total libertarian society. Different political groups adopted the flag before modern Alt-right movements—including the now irreverent Tea Party. Despite the by and large indifferent or positive history of the flag, the ideology behind the banner has been blurred and defiled in recent years. Ironically, the people carrying the Gadsden flag and storming the capitol are in direct defiance to the intention to Christopher Gadsden’s wishes. They act in favor of an administration who has time and time again supported business over individuals, raised incarceration rates, and flexed the arm of central government for conservative virtue signaling and personal gain. One member of the insurrection, Rosanne Boyland, who was last seen carrying the “Don’t Tread On Me Flag,” was trampled to death on January 6 on the steps of the capital by fellow pro-Trump rioters.
The second historical flag making a comeback is more puzzling than the former libertarian icon. The Confederate battle flag is completely antithetical to the United States for reasons that need no explanation. Before crying “state’s rights!” in defense of the flag, examine the history closely. The Confederate States of America went through three flags during its short, pitiful existence, and none of them were the current design sported by your local yee-yee, mullet-having, Busch-light-drinking, loud-truck-driving redneck. The Confederate Battle flag first made a comeback during the 1948 campaign of the Dixiecrat party, who’s candidate Strom Thurmond argued vehemently for segregation of Black people and white people. The battle flag did not even appear on Georgia’s state flag until 1956, after the Brown v. Board of Education court ruling. From the very start, the “Stars and Bars,” have been intentionally racist, hateful, and antithetical to the United States. The emblem is the remnant of a defeated, insurgent nation– the very act of flying the flag shouts “I WOULD LIKE TO RETURN TO A TIME WHEN PEOPLE WHO LOOK DIFFERENT FROM ME COULD NOT EAT NEXT TO ME! AND BY THE WAY I WISH THIS COUNTRY DIDN’T EXIST!”
The third ideological banner which has lost meaning in recent weeks alone is the “Thin Blue Line” flag. The pro-trump crowd at the capitol proudly waved these flags at Black Lives Matter marchers months back, but when opposed by capitol police, they turned their pennants into weapons. Officer Mike Fanone recalls being beaten by a thin blue line flag the day of the riot, right before he suffered a mild heart attack.
In the age of Trumpisim, ideology and iconography have been so bastardized by far-right extremists that the irony of attacking a police officer with an emblem of support or flying the flag of a failed insurrection in the nation’s Capitol has completely lost meaning. No immediate resolution is clear, except continued education and vigilance.