Caudillo-elect Donald Trump got ahold of his phone again this morning:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled—rightly—that the First Amendment does not allow the government to ban desecration of the flag. It isn’t unusual for politicians, especially some of the more nakedly authoritarian politicians, to call for reversing that. But I think this might be the first time one has suggested that flag-burners should lose their citizenship. Flags may be a symbol of national identity, but that’s taking things kind of literally.
This doesn’t tell us anything new about Trump’s character or worldview. We already knew that he’s a nationalist, that he’s often hostile to civil liberties, that he loves the sort of purely symbolic politics that play well on talk radio, and that he’s prone to floating dumb ideas on Twitter. We also know he’d rather be debating the sanctity of the flag than debating whether he should liquidate his assets, so I understand the temptation to treat this as a wag-the-dog gambit and ignore it.
But he’s the president-elect now; it isn’t practical to just ignore what he says. This might not tell us anything we didn’t already know about where Trump is coming from, but it certainly drops a hint about where he’s heading. That tweet might be a passing brain-fart, but it could also be his next crusade. Be prepared.
Bonus link: The U.S. Flag Code. If you take Trump literally—usually a mistake, I know—he’d outlaw §176(k): “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”