The Atlantic: "Raising the American Flag Made in China"
This Independence Day, The Atlantic published my essay on the politics of patriotism and globalization. I tell the story of how American flags made in China reveal American anxieties about economic globalization, while reactions among flag manufacturers in China show conflicting commitments to free trade and economic nationalism. Through interviews on both sides of the Pacific, including Chinese and U.S. flag manufacturers and a Member of Congress who sought to ban all foreign-made American flags, the essay shows the complexities of patriotism and nationalism as both countries now enter a trade war.
As the world confronts President Donald Trump’s “America First” protectionism, one product stands at the symbolic center of today’s trade war: American flags made in China. A harbinger of economic globalization and a source of nationalist anxiety, these foreign-made flags have so far escaped the president’s tariff targets. Yet for the past two decades, and most recently on Flag Day, Congress has introduced bipartisan legislation to restrict or ban these imports.
Sales of American flag imports pale in comparison to America’s $375 billion trade deficit with China, but these Chinese imports are more politically potent than a line item on the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. Importing flags is not just a matter of economics and global trade. To its critics, it represents an economy, and a country, on the decline.
A special thanks to my editor, Ian Bogost.