The big flag controversy is over. Reality TV star Marcus Lemonis will get to fly his gigantic Stars and Stripes over his Gander RV dealership in Statesville, thanks to an agreement he reached Monday with city leaders. It was not a pretty victory, but it certainly was American-made, with behavior that should make you wince and a resolution that should make you roll your eyes.
It began last fall, when Lemonis — the star of CNBC’s reality television show “The Profit” — began flying his 40-foot-by-80-foot flag at Camping World/Gander RV along Interstate 77 north of Charlotte. The company had previously applied for and been granted a permit to erect and fly a 25-foot-by-40-foot flag, but the bigger flag was a violation of Statesville ordinance and a potential hazard on the edge of I-77. When Lemonis declined to take it down, he faced a $50-per-day retroactive fine and a lawsuit.
The dispute wasn’t particularly unusual. Disagreements about flags (and other public displays) are a regular occurrence in the U.S., with businesses fighting towns or homeowners battling their neighborhood association over their right to express themselves however they choose. Often, Old Glory loses out in these standoffs, because the right of individual expression generally ends where the rules communities set for themselves begins.
If you’re Marcus Lemonis, however, things are apparently different. Lemonis, who does a lot of good things on his TV show for regular folks, wasn’t nearly so charitable on his potent social media platforms to the small-city leaders in Statesville. He pitted them as “bureaucrats” against the flag and what it represents. He said the flag wasn’t endangering anyone and vowed he would go to jail before lowering it. He linked to a Change.org campaign, started by Camping World, that declared: “This is about our Veterans, Military, and the men and women that have sacrificed for this great country.”
The subsequent backlash to Statesville was inevitable — and ugly. A city council member and his wife were threatened. Said Mayor Costi Kutteh in May: “Some terrible things have been said about our wonderful town and it hasn’t come from our citizens, but people from all over the country have jumped on this issue and called us names I can’t repeat.”
Ultimately, the parties reached a compromise. The agreement announced Monday has something for everyone. The city will create a special rezoning for Gander RV’s property that will allow the company to continue flying the flag. Lemonis will pay his accumulated fines to the city, which allows Statesville officials to pretend there are consequences for flouting city rules.
The real lesson? If you have a big enough wallet and big enough platform, you have a much bigger shot at getting your way. That’s not what we think the flag represents, but it sure feels a lot like America.