Does the American flag have a different history from other nations' flags?
Nationalism came into full flower in a lot of countries right around the same time—in that 1890s period. In other countries, it tended to be the government promoting these ideas of nationhood. Here the people promoting things like Flag Day and the Pledge of Allegiance were not government functionaries. They were these independent patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, the Grand Army of the Republic. And so, they were citizens. Citizens have always felt the ability to take ownership of the flag and to really clearly distinguish be tween the country and the government.
Do you think Obama should read your book?
I do. One of the things Obama tried to do with the flag pin that I thought was interesting was he tried to divorce this idea of the flag and patriotism. You can try, but people have not been successful.
Is patriotism harmful?
There are so many dangers in patriotism. And we see governments, including our own, committing terrible things in the name of patriotism. However, there's something very redemptive within it that we can tap into. It provides a common conversation, a common culture, a way to talk about what our values are, that's critically, critically important.
How about the history of the flag pin?
They were used initially in the election of 1896 by Mark Hanna as a way to consolidate this sense that to be a Republican in that election was to be a patriot. He used it very, very effectively. They emerged again at various moments—World War I and then, obviously, quite recently.
Why do car dealerships always have the biggest flags?
I do not know. There must be a special factory for car dealerships.