Every president leaves his mark on the Oval Office, some subtler than others. Today let’s take a look at the touches Donald Trump has implemented so far, after inhabiting the White House for the better part of a year.
First, let’s take a look at how the Oval Office compares now to its time under Trump’s last few predecessors (Trump’s is on the right in each image):
What about some earlier predecessors?
While of course the photos from generations ago are more drastically different, there are some constants, like Thomas Jefferson’s portrait, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, the Bronco Buster statue, and more. The carpeting, furniture, and drapes have changed a number of times. But one difference is more striking under President Trump.
Before reading on, see if you can tell what it is first.
Give up? Well, at the Atlantic, James Fallows identifies one decor change in particular following just-completed renovations to the White House:
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 rare exceptions, presidents keep the battle flags out of the Oval Office.
Of course, being the Atlantic, this can’t simply be an interesting bit of presidential trivia, or have a benign explanation. No, Mr. Fallows is pretty sure this is a sign that Trump is a “chickenhawk” who feels the need to display the flags to project strength and overcompensate for possessing “the least demonstrated policy-knowledge of any modern president” and having been “exempted from the draft because of a bone spur.”
Why? Because historically (according to him) commanders-in-chief who had the most military service, like Eisenhower and Kennedy, were less likely to display the battle flags than ones like Nixon and Johnson who had less, because the former were authentically strong enough to not need “stage-prop symbols of strength.”
Interesting theory. Here’s another one: after eight years of a commander-in-chief who stabbed, undermined, endangered, and disrespected the military at every turn, Trump wanted to signal to America’s armed forces that they once again have a commander-in-chief who’s got their backs.
So far, signs indicate that American servicemen and women — y’know, the ones best qualified to judge whether Trump’s a chickenhawk — appreciate him, from data such as their 2016 votes and approval ratings to anecdotes such as a group of over-enthusiastic Navy SEALS earlier this year who got reprimanded for flying a Trump flag on their tactical vehicle.
Who to trust on this question? Tough call…but I think I’m gonna have to go with the guys most affected by Trump’s decisions as president.