President Barack Obama has set a record few imagined would be reached when he took office in January 2009.
Due in part to an unprecedented series of national tragedies, and with six months to go in his term of office, Obama has already ordered the lowering of flags to half-staff in mourning more than any other American president.
In looking at Obama’s record of flag-lowerings, USA TODAY observed, “it’s a spate of national tragedies — from the Fort Hood shooting that claimed 13 lives in 2009 to the most recent carnage in Orlando — that have distinguished the Obama presidency. Fourteen proclamations honoring the victims of those tragedies have accounted for 79 days with the flag over the White House at half-staff, more than half of the 158-day total under Obama.”
Obama has, so far, issued 66 proclamations to fly flags at half-staff, eclipsing predecessor President George W. Bush’s 58 and former President Bill Clinton’s 50. In addition to national tragedies, flags are lowered through presidential proclamations for holidays such as Memorial Day or to recognize the deaths of famous Americans.
“The lowering of the flag in an order from the president of the United States is a symbolic expression of national mourning, and it certainly is a way, symbolically, to demonstrate that the country is united in our support for a community that’s mourning,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday. “I think what we also see is that over the course of generations, that symbolism is expressed in different ways.”
Proclamations also put the president in a lead role as mourner-in-chief.
“Especially during partisan times, when there’s polarization among the American people, presidents are seeking a way to find a mechanism to unify people,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor at the University of Houston. “This allows him to connect on an emotional level rather than a political or a policy level.”
Presidential proclamations to lower the flag have “proliferated in the last few years,” said John Hartvigsen a flag historian at the Colonial Flag Foundation.
“The question is, how do we appropriately do it so we don’t overdo it, because when you overdo it it loses its meaning and significance,” Hartvigsen said.
h/t: USA Today