Utah Sen. Dan McCay may have said it best in a Senate hearing. When people hear the Legislature is changing the state flag, he said, they often say it’s a waste of time, and that no one cares. 

But that’s not true.

“What I’ve quickly learned is that everyone cares about flags,” he said.

McCay, a Republican from Riverton, was the Senate sponsor of SB31, which created a new Utah flag that he hopes will soon adorn ball caps, T-shirts, mugs and anything else suitable for a symbol that invokes pride. He seemed genuinely surprised by what he had wrought.

“Flag bills are hard,” he said. “Really hard!”

In a similar statement on the floor of the House, right before the new state flag was adopted by a close and spirited 40-35 vote, Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, an opponent, likened it to the tax reform package lawmakers passed in 2019. Utahns rose up quickly after that one and, early in 2020, forced the Legislature to repeal what it had done. 

The flag, he said, had brought his constituents alive.  

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If it’s true that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, the new flag has succeeded in kicking the hornet’s nest of public participation — or perhaps “kicking the beehive” would be a better description. That was evident in abundance during public hearings on the matter during this session.

Average Utahns may be indifferent about their flag, but the many who packed hearings on Capitol Hill either loved or hated it. There was no maybe.

The new flag is easy to describe. It has three horizontal colors: dark blue on top, white in the form of five mountain peaks in the middle, and red along the bottom. In the center, it has a blue and gold hexagon, in which sits a gold beehive with a white star beneath.

The old one would take several paragraphs to describe. 

That alone ought to be enough to convince you. But then, simplicity seems highly suspicious to some.

While no one keeps statistics on such things, I would guess people threw the words “woke,” “marxist” and “child sex trafficking” as weapons more in hearings on the state flag than for any other proposed issue during the 2023 session.

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Lawmakers established a private school scholarship program, passed controversial bills on transgender surgeries and, as I write this, are debating tax cuts, but nothing brought people out quite like the flag. Certainly, no issue elevated hyperbole to greater heights.

“I cannot understand why someone didn’t research the eight-point star,” one woman said during a hearing on the new flag in the Senate Business and Labor Committee meeting. She apparently was referring to an earlier version. The new flag’s star has five points. 

“It’s on the … floor in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and it represents the underground tunnels for child sex trafficking,” she said, spouting a false QAnon claim. 

One man who identified himself as a 26-year military veteran echoed many when he invoked the “cancel culture.”

“I didn’t go to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo only to come home to see my great state, that I love dearly, try to cancel that flag,” he said. 

A House committee hearing featured more of the same.

One man who called himself the “persona Lady Maga USA,” said of the new flag, “Woke, politically correct mobs are erasing history across American states.” He equated it to tearing down statues.

“In 1933, the Nazis replaced the German flag. Communists past and present assert their dominance with their flags,” he said.

An internet adage known as Godwin’s law asserts that whenever someone invokes Hitler or Nazis in an argument, that person has immediately lost the debate. And yet, Nazis and communists were fired incessantly against SB31. 

Flags are powerful symbols that evoke identity, as well as history. That’s apparently true even when the old flag involves a jumble of symbols few people can explain without help.

So, what happens now? 

The truth is, we really don’t know yet how average Utahns feel. We do know how they felt about the old one, however, based on how few of them wore or displayed it.

Only one thing seems certain: A century from now, anyone who tries to mess with the new design will have a fight on his hands from people arguing about history and tradition dating to 2023.