Respecting the flag

Can a show of patriotism ever be in bad taste?

Let’s say, for example, that your neighbor has decided to demonstrate his love of the American flag and painted the exterior of his house with huge red, white and blue stars and stripes. Most people would agree with you that his paint job is an eyesore.

We should be able to acknowledge, without fear of being accused of a lack of patriotism, that the American flag is not an especially good design scheme. That’s why home interior stores don’t sell wallpaper with flag designs on it. It’s disrespectful, and nobody would buy it.

For the same reason, the Chico City Council’s recent decision to support and help pay for the placement of 86 American flags along The Esplanade, from downtown to Lindo Channel, is in poor taste. The Esplanade, with its magnificent trees and stately houses, is Chico’s one grand boulevard, its most beautiful street. Adding 86 very large flags to it is a mistake. It will change the look of the street dramatically, and not for the better.

Besides, it’s disrespectful to the flag. Most of us remember being told as children that the flag must be treated with great regard. It should be ceremonially run up the flagpole in the morning and down in the evening. It should be carefully folded into a triangular shape, and it should never be allowed to touch the ground.

We also grew up associating the flag with official buildings and commemorative occasions—the Fourth of July, Flag Day and Veterans Day, for example. When an important person died, the flag would be flown at half-mast.

The Esplanade flags would be up year-round, day and night. They would commemorate nothing. They would not denote an official site. They would be attached to light poles, not flag poles, with two flags for every pole. When other American flags were dropped to half-mast, they would remain stationary. In short, they would be purely decorative.

We don’t question the motives of those who’d like to see the flags put up. They’re veterans and service group members who are dismayed by what they see as a decline in public expressions of patriotism. We encourage them to seek other ways to encourage such expressions, perhaps by initiating public forums on how we can make America an even greater country than it is. Such substantive actions are always better than symbolic displays.

That’s especially true when these symbolic displays are forced upon a community that isn’t unanimous in its support of them. It was clear, from the discussion that took place when the council decided to support the flags concept, that many Chicoans thought it was a bad idea—that it would diminish the beauty of The Esplanade and was disrespectful to the flag.

The council should reconsider its decision. Shows of patriotism bought at the expense of community solidarity are harmful, not helpful.