Donald Trump’s threats to destroy Harley-Davidson raise fears of tyranny, finds Susan Dalgety.
There are only a few days left until the Fourth of July, the most important holiday in America’s calendar, and already the country is festooned with red, white and blue.
Flags flutter everywhere in the summer sunshine. Public buildings are mandated to fly the Stars and Stripes, but it is business that embraces the national banner with real fervour.
We spotted the biggest flag we have seen so far in the car park of a branch of Camping World. Bigger even, it seemed, than the one flying over the White House.
Our latest campsite has not one, but five flags fluttering cheerfully at the entrance to its office.
And you can buy flags of all sizes in every supermarket or dollar-store, from teeny paper ones mounted on cocktail sticks to enhance your July 4th cupcakes to full-size ones to unfurl on your front lawn. Or hug, as President Trump did a few days ago after a speech to a business audience. But more of him later.
The American flag is 200 years old this year. Congress agreed the current design of 13 stripes, representing the union’s original states, in April 1818.
The number of stars is flexible, representing the number of current states. Today there are 50, with Alaska and Hawaii joining in 1959, just two years before Barack Obama was born in the Aloha state.
It is a unique symbol of this unique country. Citizens pledge allegiance first to their flag, and then to the “Republic for which it stands”.
The national anthem celebrates, not the head of state, but the star-spangled banner that “waves o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
It is a national icon, a national institution. As American as … well, Harley-Davidson.
The powerful motorbike is also a sacred symbol of American freedom, of long highways that will take you anywhere, and nowhere.
It is the bike of choice of veterans, who, every Memorial Day weekend, ride in their thousands through the streets of Washington to remember those American soldiers still missing in action.
Their Thunder Rally, which started as a protest in 1987, is now a much-loved annual event.
It is the favoured ride of rock gods, from Elvis Presley to Slash of Guns ‘n’ Roses.
Bruce Springsteen, America’s Zeus of rock, played a surprise concert in Milwaukee in 2008 to mark the bike’s 105th anniversary.
Most American men, even the most mild-mannered, have dreamt of the day that they will climb aboard a Harley and become the easy-riding boss of the road.
Except it seems, Donald J Trump, who this week has gone to war with Harley-Davidson, prompting Joe Scarborough, host of the breakfast news show Morning Joe and former Republican representative, to suggest the President is “out of control”.
He went on, “It is un-American, so un-American. He is not acting like our President, he’s acting like a king … he’s trying to destroy an American institution.”
Americans, it has to be said, are suspicious of unelected monarchs. “We don’t like them,” Gwen, the owner of a small antique store in Cowpens, South Carolina, told us last week.
We were standing a few hundred yards from the scene of a famous American victory over the British army in the War of Independence, a period of history which might just explain the country’s antipathy to kings.
“But,” added Gwen quickly, “We do like the Queen, we like her.” More of her later.
Trump has turned his ire on Harley-Davidson because the Wisconsin-based company has threatened to move production of its European-bound motorcycles out of the US, after becoming the innocent victim of Trump’s trade war with the EU.
The conflict was started by Trump when he slapped steep tariffs on steel and aluminium from Europe in a show of economic bravado, bordering on mindless vandalism. This prompted the EU to put tariffs on some US imports with Harley-Davidson saying that would add $2,200 (£1,660) to its bikes sold in Europe.
In an out-of-control Twitterstorm earlier this week, the President threatened to tax the company “like never before”.
He accused them of being the “first to wave the White Flag” and, in a tweet that can only sound menacing coming from the White House, screamed “watch, it will be the beginning of the end, they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone …”
The Presidential attention span soon spun on to other things, from Gary Player’s appearance at Trump Turnberry, to insulting one of his favourite targets, congresswoman Maxine Waters, who, as it happens, is African American.
He bellowed that her “crazy rants have made her, together with Nancy Pelosi, the unhinged FACE of the Democrat Party. Together, they will Make America Weak Again! But have no fear, America is now stronger than ever before, and I’m not going anywhere!”
Except he is. He is making a flying visit to Britain in two weeks’ time, for a cosy fireside chat with Theresa May at Chequers, and a meeting with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, before flying up to Scotland to visit his own castle at Turnberry.
“Will the Queen meet him?” asked Cheryl, the director of a small African American museum in Georgia.
“Yes, for a cup of tea,” I replied.
“Oh Lord, I pity her, I really do pity her,” she said. She went on, “We don’t use his name y’know, we just call him 45.”
The refusal to give their head of state his proper name can hardly be described as civil disobedience, but it does show the disdain in which many African Americans hold their current President.
“He is trying to destroy our country,” continued Cheryl. “And he is trying to destroy Obama’s legacy, including the economy, those tariffs are just plain stupid,” she said pointing to the triptych of Mandela, Obama and Martin Luther King above the mantelpiece, as if for solace.
“He’s got no filter, he just doesn’t think about what he is saying. He’s got no filter,” she said, shaking her head in despair.
Just as the chief executive of Harley-Davidson must have done, when he clicked on his Twitter feed on Tuesday morning to be confronted by the full, unfiltered, ire of his President.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Her Majesty sits down for tea with Donald J Trump, the man who makes Prince Philip seem as reticent as the First Lady.