Our current president has confirmed that he is directing a rebranding of Air Force One. Donald Trump would prefer, in his words, a “more American” red, white and blue version. A new design. His own. Something louder.

I suppose he thinks more expressive colors would have looked much better, boldly ascending against the Texas sky carrying the body of President John F. Kennedy and the hearts of a grieving nation. Or reuniting President Ronald Reagan with an adoring first lady at the steps of the plane at night after he effectively won the Cold War.

It’s a seemingly insignificant fact and also precisely poignant: When the presidential aircraft lands anywhere in the world, the call signal in the earpieces of the White House advance team and U.S. Secret Service is always “Wheels down. The United States of America has landed.” It’s the ultimate shorthand display of authority.

That has been hard-earned – perhaps the greatest understatement ever – and should not be easily discarded. It’s our visual handshake to the world. It is powerful and unmatched.

Changing the look of the plane is akin to repainting the White House purple. What’s next? Making Big Bird blue and the Cookie Monster yellow? Would Tiffany’s ever depart from their iconic robin’s egg blue? Would Coca-Cola get tired of red? The list is endless. We’re not talking about just changing the drapes in the Oval Office.

I know I am powerless to stop such a thing, but shouldn’t there be limits? Aren’t some things sacrosanct? I have been musing about such matters, and here are a few things I wish it were off-limits for the president to rebrand.

This may be far too much to ask and I don’t expect a response to my request, but you know, not everything is a cereal or a candy bar or an automobile. Not everything needs to be reinvented. The wheel has done pretty well for a long time. Although I admit, I don’t know exactly how long ago it was invented or what improvements were made along the way, and that’s not actually a brand so it’s not the same thing, I suppose. But nearly.

The packaging of an idea – especially when it’s an ideal – is important. Branding matters, and no more so than in geopolitical affairs.

At a minimum, let’s agree as a country to not “rebrand” some of these understated but understood things. There are some things that, when evoked, we all have the same picture or movie in our heads and feelings as a result. Because that is what effective brands do.

Satchel Paige’s throwing arm. Billie Holiday’s voice. American lilacs. The smell of rotting pages in a shop that sells old books. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s dexterity. The bar at Gibson’s. Quotes by Lincoln and Winston Churchill. Anything said by Churchill, the first honorary citizen of the United States.

Dog paws. Fish fries on Fridays in Wisconsin. Maine in August. Mountains. Loons. The last paragraph of “The Great Gatsby.” Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech. Ripe figs. Paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe and everything a Wyeth man brushed on canvas.

The rite of passage that is scraping your knee after falling off your first bike as a kid. The green flash at sunset in Florida. “Final Jeopardy.” Hummingbirds. The first cup of coffee in the morning. John Glenn.

The posture of flamingos. The knowing smile of dolphins. The hug of a mother. The reassurance of a father. Fresh-cut grass. The personal space that a physical newspaper provides on a commuter train. A really good pen. Hammocks on porches in warm weather in January.

Of course there is specific Americana to protect: the Fourth of July, backyard barbecues, the sound of a fastball hitting a catcher’s mitt. The flag. Wait, we would never change those things, right?

For now, let us all agree to leave the Air Force One brand, the brand of the United States of America, alone. Forever. The greatest single brand in the history of the world.

 

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