JONAH GOLDBERG: Flag-Gate and Other ‘Moral Panics.’

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what to make of the explosion of SOV sweeping through the chattering classes. In case you didn’t already know the term I just made up, that stands for Sudden Onset Vexillology. Vexillology, in case you’re not a Big Bang Theory fan, is the study of flags.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the flag issue, per se, but a little context and scorekeeping seems necessary. Justice Samuel Alito—and his wife—are caught in a crossfire between vexillologists from all directions. This all started when the New York Times reported that shortly after January 6, the American flag outside the Alitos’ home was hung upside down. The upside-down Stars-and-Stripes is a long-recognized symbol of distress. If you have pirates on your ship or a hole in your hull, you should fly your flag upside down to signal you’re in very serious trouble. Apparently, some of the January 6 rioters and other MAGA radical types have adopted this as a kind of insignia of their movement: “The country is sinking!”

(According to reports, Mrs. Alito hung the American flag upside down as a middle finger to a really awful neighbor. More on that in a moment.)

The Times and many of Alito’s harshest critics are convinced that Justice Alito knew this and was telegraphing his solidarity with such people. But given that Justice Alito says it was his wife who displayed the flag upside down without his knowledge, some will concede the possibility that it is Mrs. Alito who has gone full MAGA. The controversy seemed poised to start dying down when the Times followed up with another report: The Alitos flew a “Pine Tree Flag” outside their vacation home. Despite being a venerable banner going back to George Washington (his secretary designed it) that was, until 1971, the official maritime flag of Massachusetts, we are told it too is a symbol of the MAGA-aligned Christian nationalist right. As a result, the controversy has gone back to 11.

I think most of Alito’s defenders concede, with varying degrees of reluctance or enthusiasm, that hanging the flag upside-down was a mistake, regardless of the motivations behind the decision. As for the Pine Tree Flag, the defenders concede nothing to the detractors. This, they argue, is little more than artificially ginned up and wholly unjustified outrage. “The Flag Furor Is an Appeal to Stupidity” read the headline of a piece written by my friend and former National Review colleague Charlie Cooke.

At the American Conservative, Jude Russo writes: The Alito Flag Furor Shows the Left’s Generational Change.

Perhaps the defining generational change in leftist rhetoric is its relation to the American project. Older leftist endeavors took their stand on firmly American principles and presented themselves as a continuation of the American project. The SDS itself grew out of the ad hoc free speech movement at the University of California, Berkeley. The entire Whole Earth Catalog–adjacent counterculture was suffused with a kind of Americanism, appealing particularly to the individualism of the frontier. Organs like the PBC had no qualms about decking themselves out with the symbols of the American experience, even the bad old Gadsden Flag. The modern left—you might call it the New New Left—prefers a disruptive hermeneutic hostile to the traditional symbols of American piety.

As a partisan, I should cheer this development. The American people, whatever their other preferences, still seem to like America. If the right seems to be the only shop in town that is offering a broadly pro-American stance, well, that seems good for the right’s political prospects. The Old New Left was successful in large part because it was able to integrate itself into the American mainstream, particularly at the universities and other commanding heights of American culture. But it seems bad for the nation that one of the major political tendencies is increasingly invested in attacking the nation itself, and its historical symbols.

Just to reiterate where things stand based on the headlines of the past few weeks:

Related: WaPo Passed on the Highly Controversial Alito Flag Incident at the Time.

I’d insert the usual “just think of the media as being Democratic Party operatives with bylines” reminder here, but as Jeff Jacoby recently noted, the WaPo has made it official: A cynical Washington Post tells Biden: Nothing matters more than beating Trump.