Can You Spot the Difference in Trump’s Oval Office?

Posted by on December 20, 2018 6:54 pm
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Reagan and Trump:

White House Historical Association / Carolyn Kester / AP

Bill Clinton and Trump:

White House Historical Association / Carolyn Kester / AP

George W. Bush and Trump:

White House Historical Association / Carolyn Kester / AP

And finally, Obama and Trump:

White House Historical Association / Carolyn Kester / AP

Can you spot the difference? Of course there are lots of them. But I’m thinking of the flags.

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Most previous presidents contented themselves with two large flags behind their desk. One, naturally, is the stars-and-stripes American flag. The other is the blue flag bearing the presidential seal. Trump has at least tripled that: In the photos of the new Oval Office, we see three U.S. flags and three presidential ones.

But that’s not all. As commander-in-chief of all United States armed forces, the president is frequently in places where the battle flags of the five branches of service are displayed. (For the record: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force.) Those flags are adorned with “battle streamers” for the campaigns in which the services have seen action. There are a lot of these streamers. The Army’s flag has nearly 200, which hang so densely that it’s hard to see the flag itself.

Presidents are used to the battle flags. The flags are in some meeting rooms where the president spends time, and sometimes behind him on stage. Dwight Eisenhower—West Point graduate, former five-star Army general—had the Army flag sentimentally at one end of the Oval Office.

But with some exceptions, presidents have largely kept the battle flags out of the Oval Office. Their decisions even follow a Chickenhawk-style pattern: The more closely a president has been involved with the military, the less likely he is to make a military-flag display.

FDR and Eisenhower, who in different ways commanded the forces that beat Hitler and Tojo, did not need the battle flags. Nor JFK, wounded Navy veteran of that war—nor the first George Bush, shot down as a naval aviator over the Pacific, nor Gerald Ford, who also served in the Pacific with the Navy, nor Jimmy Carter, who was an Annapolis midshipman in the early 1940s and then became a submarine officer. Nor Ronald Reagan, who for all the complexities of his “war record” (mainly in movies) radiated a confident toughness. Of the Boomer-era presidents (Clinton, George W. Bush, technically Obama), only Bush was in the military, via the National Guard, but until now all did without the battle flags.

The exceptions? Some photos of Richard Nixon in the Oval Office show him with battle flags, and a few of Lyndon Johnson as well. (And there are a few of JFK.) These exceptions underscore, rather than undermine, the larger chickenhawk principle: that the stronger a leader actually is, the less he needs the stage-prop symbols of strength. (Both Johnson and Nixon were in uniform during World War II but in circumstances less dramatic than Kennedy’s or Bush’s. In different ways each was preoccupied with, and ultimately badly damaged by, avoiding the appearance of weakness or compromise. They were also the two modern presidents to leave office early without being voted out–or dying: Johnson by declining to run in 1968, Nixon by resigning just ahead of impeachment in 1974.)

via The Atlantic