UPDATE

An update to the post below on local electioneering. In the final week of this year’s presidential race I have started to notice a few more Biden/Harris signs here and there, along with signs for Democrats Dana Barrett (running for the House), Raphael Warnock (Senate), and Jon Ossoff (Senate). But a lot of these are at crossroads and not on anyone’s private property, i.e. probably placed there by outside agitators. 

Although I got a good chuckle out of this display, on a lawn on Waleska’s Land Road (thanks to my colleague Mason Conklin for telling me about it). It does show that the Trump campaign is not the only one indulging in scatological imagery! Along these lines, in my subdivision I saw a sign reading “Dump Trump 2020,” and in Cartersville there is another one reading “Alexa, Change the President” – indicating that few people are really voting “for” Biden, but that the election is largely a referendum on Trump. Either you love him or you hate him!

Seems that the next door neighbors to the “flush the turd” people certainly love him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone defacing his lawn like this in favor of a political candidate. 

This is Trump Country

This post is not historical as such, but it does constitute a record of a particular time and place, that being Georgia’s Bartow and Cherokee counties on the eve of the 2020 presidential election. If campaign signs are anything to go by, it looks like the president will take these counties in landslide. All of the photographs below were snapped on my commute between my residence and Reinhardt, with a short loop once I got to Waleska. I am not lying when I say that, as of Tuesday, October 20, 2020, there are no signs for Biden/Harris, or any other Democratic candidate for office, anywhere on this route. By contrast, it seems that about every fifth house has a Trump sign, often more than one, and with many Trump flags as well. I have never before seen this level of support for a political candidate in any election. 

This is the basic sign: “Trump Pence Keep America Great! 2020” in a white sans serif font on a blue background. The small type reads “Paid for by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.,” so I assume this one is official. “Keep America Great” is the obvious (and somewhat lame) followup slogan to 2016’s “Make America Great Again!”, often shortened to “MAGA!”* 

Here is a version of the sign rendered as a flag. Back in 2016 Scott Adams was praising Trump’s genius for marketing, and I think Trump’s use of flags is part of this (the red “MAGA” hat was also part of this, although there don’t seem to be any “KAG” hats this time around). Some people in my subdivision have flown Trump flags ever since he was elected the first time – people might display signs during election campaigns, but flags can be flown all year round! (Again, I don’t remember Bush ever getting this treatment.) And now that a campaign is upon us again, many more flags have appeared. 

You can get a large sign if you wish (note that this one recycles the old slogan)…

…and there are a variety of other sign designs to choose from, although I’m not sure whether all of these are official. (But if they aren’t official, it suggests that enthusiasm for Trump runs quite deep – see below.) 

Here’s a reused MAGA sign, with a handwritten “20” replacing “16”! 

Here’s a sign, mounted to a tall tripod, with a light to illuminate it at nighttime. Who does this!?

A couple of affinity signs. The women’s sign seems official. The gun owners’ sign is from an outfit called Trump Store America – i.e. not official, and thus the product of either cynics or True Believers.

The great thing about flags is that they can function as signs too, if you attach them to a fence. Note that the last one also has a solar light for nighttime illumination.

Different types of flags are also available. The last one also appears to be from Trump Store America. Note that it’s accompanied by the former flag of Georgia, two-thirds of which consists of the now verboten battle flag of the CSA – I assume exposing the motives of your average Trump supporter. 

Although here is one with the current Georgia flag…

…and here is one accompanied by the flag of everyone’s favorite local college football team. Go Dawgs! (Note another tripod-sign-and-night-light combination in front.) 

These five flags illustrate something rather strange. All of them feature the expression “No More Bullshit” as the tagline. Are these official? I certainly hope not. To my mind they’re about as classy as Truck Nuts, and I wonder whether the campaign actually approves of it (although it would not surprise me at all if it does, surreptitiously, as a way of appealing to Trump’s proletarian base). Furthermore, what is this “bullshit” to which the flags refer? A lot of people would ascribe that word to everything that comes out of Trump’s mouth! 

I suppose it’s a reference to accusations of Russian collusion, impeachment, media bias, and all other alleged efforts of the “Deep State” to undo the results of the 2016 election. 

I see on Trump’s official website that he is claiming “Promises Made, Promises Kept!” This is a much better slogan for a reelection campaign. Why it doesn’t appear on any signs I have no idea. 

Another novelty: the Trump garden banner. More discreet than a flag, and classier than a sign!

Most telling of all, I think, are all the houses with multiple signs and flags on display (although my camera cannot do justice to some of them). You can’t buy that sort of enthusiasm.

Some of the photos above are from the same residences, but I am not trying to exaggerate Trump’s support. There are many more flags and signs to be seen on my route from home to work that were not included in this post. 

And if all that wasn’t enough, on Saturday I encountered a couple of Trump souvenir vendors selling their wares at a disused gas station in Cartersville. Available for purchase were flags, signs, hats, t-shirts, pins, patches, can holders, COVID masks, and much else besides, all bearing graphics in favor of Trump or of other things that Trump supporters tend to be in favor of, such as the USA, the military, the police, gun rights, and Christianity (there was nothing Confederate, however).

One of the vendors’ vehicles was a coach owned by Star Coaches, Inc. of Atlanta, with a bus wrap by Andormous Graphics. Note that the operation is not connected to the official Trump campaign. On the bottom right we read this disclaimer:

So who is sponsoring it? At the rear of the vehicle we read:

This appears to be an Internet radio station. From the website:

COWBOY LOGIC was created in 2008 as Don Neuen’s diatribes on social media. Throughout the next few years, Neuen’s rants and raves became popular, especially on Facebook, with debates continuing for days, sometimes weeks on particular subjects such as Obama and his failed policies, the GOP Establishment, RINOs, Socialists, Maxists [sic], and Corrupt Politicians.

Damn those Maxists!

To the right of the back wheel we see another affinity:

From its website:

The #WalkAway Campaign is a true grassroots movement, founded by former liberal, Brandon Straka on May 26th, 2018. The #WalkAway Campaign encourages and supports those on the Left to walk away from the divisive tenets endorsed and mandated by the Democratic Party of today. We are walking away from the lies, the false narratives, the fake news, the race-baiting, the victim narrative, the violence, the vandalism, the vitriol. We are walking away from a party driven by hate. We are walking toward patriotism and a new, unified America! We are the future of this great nation!

Note though that Wikipedia claims:

News sources have debated the extent to which WalkAway is an example of astroturfing rather than a genuine grassroots movement. David A. Love of CNN condemned the campaign as “pure propaganda [and] a psychological operation.” The website Hamilton 68, which tracks Russia’s interference on U.S. elections, reported that WalkAway was “connected to Kremlin-linked Russian bots to manipulate voters into thinking the movement was more popular and active that it actually was.”

Be that as it may, it is clear that there is a market for all the Trump stuff. Lots of people had stopped and were browsing the wares, and lots of passing drivers honked their horns in support. So even if the people behind it were just trying to make a quick buck, the fact that they can do so indicates that in some parts of this country, people loooove the president. 

So the question is: where does all this come from? What is Trump’s appeal? This is especially baffling given that so many other people hate his guts, with a viciousness I have never previously witnessed. (I thought that Bush was polarizing, but he’s got nothing on Trump.) Perhaps a better question is: why is the countryside so seemingly full of Trump supporters? You would think that there would be some Bidenites mixed in. (Or are they simply quiet about it, intimidated into keeping their opinions to themselves?) The answer that a lot of my colleagues would give is that rural America is full of ignorant, racist rednecks, bitterly clinging to their guns and religion in the face of inevitable social and cultural change. The countryside tends to be white and “backward,” whereas cities are ethnically diverse, economically dynamic, and more receptive to the latest ideas. That would be the “city mouse” interpretation of what I see on my way to work. 

Of course, there is a “country mouse” interpretation too. According to this way of knowing, the countryside represents the religious and patriotic American “heartland,” and Trump appeals to that. Cities, by contrast, are cesspits of corruption, decadence, and social unrest (as graphically illustrated this past summer) – thus might other candidates do better there. Furthermore, one could also say that flyover America has some genuine grievances, given that its jobs have been exported to China, its wages depressed by undocumented labor, and its communities ripped apart by meth and opioids. In 2016 Trump successfully cast himself as the champion of these people, who are so often condescended to (when not completely ignored) by the elites of both parties and urban dwellers on the coasts.** Whether or not Trump actually believes what he says, or is actually willing to do much about it, is an open question, but the relentless attacks on his presidency by Democrats and Never-Trumpers (and academia, the media, the judiciary, the federal bureaucracy, etc.) over the past four years have apparently allowed him to maintain the outsider cred that brought him to power in the first place (“No More Bullshit”). 

I guess it needs to be said that nothing in this post should be construed as an endorsement of Trump. It is simply an attempt at examining a situation I find myself in. In the interest of fairness I will include one Biden sign I happened to see. It’s on GA-20, but not on my way to work. The owner has taken the liberty of adding two small American flags, and given the fading it has clearly been out for a while, indicating a certain enthusiasm on his part. But it’s a very rare sight around here. Whoever put it up, I admire his courage.

* I was curious to discover that Trump actually swiped this slogan from Ronald Reagan (with the laconic elimination of “Let’s”). This poster was on display at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas when we visited in 2016:

Of course, the slogan probably meant more in 1980, when “great” referenced a time before the Iran hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, stagflation, and Jimmy Carter daring to use the word “malaise.” What was it supposed to mean in 2016? Was Barack Obama that bad? One suspects that, to the narcissist Trump, “great again” simply means “benefit me.” Thus we must keep America “great” by keeping Trump in power. 

** This is not the typical Republican script of riling up the base with cultural issues like abortion and gay marriage, which they have no intention of delivering on (see Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? [2004] for more on this strategy) – Trump tried to address their economic concerns as well. That he pissed off the right people with his abrasive boorishness was gravy. 

UPDATES

News of the times:

1. The Great River Flag is apparently a strong contender in the race to determine Mississippi’s new flag, which is sad. This one is not quite a Seal on a Bedsheet flag but pretty close. And it looks like “IN GOD WE TRUST” really is here to stay – all the other potential flags seem to include it. 

2. As of this week, the Confederate plot in Cassville Cemetery has a chainlink fence around it. I stopped and asked the two men putting it up whether there had been any vandalism? No, came the reply, it’s just the that Georgia Building Authority wanted it done – presumably as a protective measure. The GBA is in charge of maintaining and operating state government buildings like the Capitol or the Governor’s Mansion, but it turns out it’s responsible for six Confederate cemeteries as well, including those in Kingston, Resaca, and Marietta. I can understand the desire to ward off vandals, but I wonder how much deterrence such a fence actually offers? It’s rather unsightly in any event. Too bad there isn’t enough money for a nice wrought iron fence.

Hagia Sophia

Tom Madden in First Things (hat tip: Matt Phillips):

Hagia Sophia’s transformation into a museum in the 1930s was in large part due to an American socialite and fundraiser, Thomas Whittemore. With support from Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., Whittemore obtained permission from the Turkish government to uncover and restore the medieval mosaics of Hagia Sophia. Beautiful depictions of Christ, the Virgin, saints, and emperors arose gloriously from their centuries-old plaster prisons. Armed with cameras and a good head for publicity, Whittemore brought the sublime images of forgotten Constantinople to an astonished world. 

President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, took a keen interest in these discoveries. Atatürk was determined to modernize Turkey, bringing it out of its medieval past. That meant, among other things, distancing the new Republic of Turkey from the old Ottoman Empire. He had already moved the capital from imperial Constantinople, and even changed the name of the city to Istanbul. He had also opened Topkapi Palace to tourists. Transforming the sultans’ old mosque into a museum fit perfectly into that program. In 1934 the Turkish Council of Ministers declared Hagia Sophia to be no longer a mosque, but “a unique architectural monument of art.” And so it remained, until last week.

Some have suggested that the decision to make Hagia Sophia a mosque fits with the statue toppling and cancel culture in the U.S. and Europe. But it is really just a political move. As his popularity among moderates and progressives has faltered, President Erdoğan has become increasingly reliant on rural Islamic conservatives to keep him in power. They have always cherished hopes of reverting Hagia Sophia to a mosque, as they believe Atatürk’s reforms betrayed Islam in a bid for Western acceptance. In the most recent elections, Erdoğan lost the majority in Istanbul. So this decision, loved in the countryside but hated by progressives in the big city, both rewards the president’s supporters and punishes his enemies.

Like all buildings of such age, the history of Hagia Sophia is complicated. For nine centuries it was a church, for nearly five centuries a mosque, and for almost one century a museum. It has been the site of unparalleled beauty and unspeakable horrors. The history of the West is bound up in that remarkable building. It should not be reduced to a pawn in a political campaign. Hagia Sophia should no more be a mosque than the Parthenon should be restored to the worship of Athena. These are shared historical monuments, where people of diverse backgrounds can see our common human experience. The world has plenty of churches and mosques. Let Hagia Sophia be Hagia Sophia.

The Apotheosis of St. Louis

Tom Madden in First Things (hat tip: Matt Phillips):

As a medieval historian, I always cringe when medieval people are judged by modern standards. Their world was very different from our own. Yet the virtue and piety of St. Louis IX of France have always seemed to transcend his age. The crimes leveled against him in this petition are at best misleading. Although praiseworthy today, religious toleration was regarded as dangerous in the Middle Ages. Yet Louis IX (unlike other medieval rulers) still obeyed the Catholic Church’s admonition that Jews were not to be harmed. Like St. Paul, Louis hoped for the conversion of the Jews. Indeed, more than once he served as a godfather for the baptism of a converted Jew. From a modern perspective, Louis’s part in the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1240 is indefensible and certainly constitutes persecution. The theologians at the University of Paris—the best minds of their age—judged that the Talmud contained heresy and blasphemous references to Jesus. From Louis’s medieval (not modern) perspective, it was a threat to his kingdom and a hindrance to the conversion of the Jews. That does not excuse it. Louis followed the advice of churchmen, yet as St. John Paul II eloquently expressed it, those churchmen made grave errors. The pope sought pardon for “the sins committed by not a few (Catholics) against the people of the Covenant.” He continued, “We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood.”…

Left unmentioned by Louis’s modern detractors is his lifelong devotion to issues of social justice in a world that cared little for such ideas. At his own expense, he continually paid to feed and clothe hundreds of Paris’s poor. Every evening he shared the royal table with local homeless and usually insisted that he wash their feet before they left. He established several hospitals for the poor and homes for battered women and ex-prostitutes. He personally visited lepers and washed their sores. After his humiliation in Egypt, Louis refused to don the rich regalia of the French crown, dressing simply and living humbly for the rest of his life. He was the sort of person, like Mother Teresa or John Paul II, whose reputation for piety and virtue was so great that contemporaries had no doubt he would one day be a saint. He was canonized in a record 27 years.

Read the whole thing. My own photo of the statue

UPDATE

An update to a recent post: according to an article in the Daily Mail, the depiction of St. Michael as used by the Order of St. Michael and St. George was changed in 2011 to make the devil more light-skinned. Click the link to see before and after images of the new design. But people like Sir Michael Palin, KCMG, are still opposing it currently because it’s too reminiscent of the death of George Floyd and police brutality in general. 

Time to make Satan more dragon-like, I guess. Or would that also be bad? Would it be reminiscent of the gratuitous killing of wild animals that Tony Blair tried to curtail with his anti- hunting laws? Then they could go after St. George, too!

I suppose I shouldn’t give them any ideas…

Flag of Mississippi

News of the Times: Mississippi’s Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann says: 

I, like the majority of Mississippians, am open to changing our current flag.

In my mind, our flag should bear the Seal of the Great State of Mississippi and state “In God We Trust.”  I am open to bringing all citizens together to determine a banner for our future.

An illustration accompanying the article shows what such a flag might look like:

Mississippi Business Journal.

But we feel compelled to state that this is not a good design! A seal does not make for a good flag. This isn’t quite a SOAB (“seal on a bedsheet”), as so many state flags are – Mr. Hosemann has retained the tricolor background of the current Mississippi flag (although note that Missouri also has such a flag). But a seal is detailed and intricate and belongs on official documents or on the wall behind the governor as he takes questions from reporters, not on a flag, which should be “so simple that a child can draw it from memory.” On that front, the Stennis flag has this flag beaten hands down.

UPDATE (7/22): This is in fact Mississippi’s Bicentennial Flag, used in the celebrations in 2017 and in some instances as a de facto placeholder with the retirement of the most recent Mississippi flag on June 30. 

Wikipedia.

Apparently the Stennis Flag now has an official status as Mississippi’s “hospitality flag,” and you can get it on a license plate. I reckon that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes Mississippi’s official state flag.

Wikipedia.

I still prefer the Magnolia flag as a design, although it’s probably too Confederate for current taste. It is a version of Mississippi’s secession flag, and was used by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the nineteenth century. (Georgia might have been able to adopt a version of the first national flag of the CSA in 2003, but I doubt that such a thing could happen today.) 

Wikipedia.

It’s a shame that this flag lost a referendum in 2001. It retains the horizontal tricolor of the current flag, but eliminates the Confederate battle flag on the canton for an array of twenty stars (the large central one for Mississippi, the other nineteen for previously admitted states to the Union, as in the Stennis flag). 

“Kindly Call Me God”

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George was established in 1818 by the Prince Regent, who two years later became King George IV. It was an aspect of Britain’s meddling in the Mediterranean following the defeat of Napoleon, and used to recognize British allies in the region. People are now appointed to it for “extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country” or “important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.” For instance, those prime ministers of Canada who received knighthoods (e.g. Abbot, Thompson, Laurier, or Borden) were mostly Knights Grand Cross or Knights Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.* It has everything one expects in a British order of chivalry: a chapel (in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London) with stall plates, crests, and banners, elaborate costumes, regalia, and rituals, a motto-circlet for a member’s coat of arms, and various officers with quaint names (e.g. chancellor, King of Arms, or Gentleman Usher of the Blue Rod).

Badge and Star of a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Wikipedia.

I do not know why the order was dedicated to St. Michael and St. George in particular (nor why a winged lion – the symbol of St. Mark – appears on the order’s collar).† Obviously Michael and George are warrior saints, although the Order is more for diplomats than soldiers. In its regalia the order seems to alternate between depicting St. Michael and St. George, as shown above in the sketch of the badge and star of a Knight Commander: St. George is on the badge, St. Michael on the star. 

Star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Wikipedia.

Here is a better rendition of the Order’s star, in this case for a Knight Grand Cross. Note that in this one St. Michael actually has wings, given that he is an angel. Note also what St. Michael is standing on, which became controversial this past week. From the Guardian:

Campaigners are calling for the redesign of one of Britain’s highest honours personally bestowed by the Queen because they say its badge resembles a depiction of a white angel standing on the neck of a chained black man.

The Order of St Michael and St George is traditionally awarded to ambassadors and diplomats and senior Foreign Office officials who have served abroad. 

The imagery on the award’s badge portrays St Michael trampling on Satan, but campaigners say the image is reminiscent of the killing of George Floyd by white police officers in the US that led to worldwide protests.

Both St. Michael and St. George kill dragons, but because St. Michael specifically killed the “old serpent, that is called the devil, and Satan,” his dragon is often more humanoid than St. George’s dragon.** An old post on this blog intended to illustrate different versions of St. Michael’s coat of arms also illustrates the variety of creatures that he subdues, some of which look like proper dragons, others of which look more like men (although grotesque). It is unfortunate that the Order’s standard depiction of the dragon is both humanoid and dark, while St. Michael himself is light-skinned, which is not a model we want for contemporary race relations. And in general, it is most unfortunate that one of the side effects of mediating reality through sight, as humans do, is that in many cultures lightness is “good” and darkness is “bad.” If you’ve got light you can see, if you don’t you can’t – thus does light come to be identified with knowledge and awareness, and darkness with ignorance and insecurity. Note the Roman anxieties about nighttime, reflected in their laws. Furthermore, in a time before the widespread availability of bleach it was expensive and difficult to keep white garments looking white, thus is whiteness associated with status and cleanliness. Such things have, unfortunately, influenced the reception of human skin tone. Although the amount of melanin in one’s skin is purely an evolutionary artifact of one’s ancestors’ exposure to sunlight, those with lighter skin found it flattering to believe that they were morally good in a way that those with darker skin were not. (Traditionally, among white people darker skin also indicated that one worked outdoors, and thus had less status than someone who got to stay inside – only with the advent of jet travel to sunny climes in winter did suntans become fashionable for white people.) In this way did Early Modern Europeans come to justify their version of slavery – it might be bad, but it’s not quite as bad to enslave those people, who are clearly morally inferior. It is true that in the European Middle Ages, some saints were regularly depicted as black, showing that Europeans knew about the subsaharan phenotype and that they believed that its possessors were capable of sanctity and salvation. But it is also true that they regularly depicted the devil and his minions as black, in a general reflection of the cultural significance of that color. Courtesy Paul Halsall, here are two images illustrating this phenomenon:

I think that this artistic convention has seen its day, and I am absolutely not against redrawing the dragon as it regularly appears in the insignia of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Make it more dragon-like, or keep it humanoid and make it some other color – green or red, perhaps. Heck, make St. Michael himself black! There’s no reason why he can’t be. It’s not a bad thing to dissociate “white” from “good” and “black” from “bad.”

Ethiopian St. Michael. Pinterest.

***

The post title is from a joke about the supposed arrogance of membership of the Order, deriving from the post-nominals for the three grades: CMG (Companion), KCMG (Knight Commander), and GCMG (Knight Grand Cross), which are jocularly interpreted to mean “Call me God,” “Kindly call me God,” and “God calls me God.” 

* Though note that Sir John A. Macdonald was a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, and you can see his stall plate in Westminster Abbey. He was appointed to the Bath just before the Victorian expansion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George beyond its Mediterranean origins.

† UPDATE: The seven Ionian islands, under British protection from 1815, had been part of the Venetian Republic until the 1790s; St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. According to The Gazette, the Order’s badge:

showed St George for England on one side, with the Archangel St Michael trampling on Satan on the other, in an allusion to Napoleon being crushed by the allied powers. Both saints were surrounded by the motto auspicium melioris aevi, which is usually rendered as ‘token of a better age’, and perhaps reflected [Secretary of State for War Henry] Bathurst’s hope for the future of his Mediterranean enterprise when he signed the founding patent in 1818.

** Revelation 12:7-9: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”