Whatever Happened To That Bald Eagle Metaphor?

Whatever Happened To That Bald Eagle Metaphor?

By Chris Churchill

Whatever happened to that bald eagle that snapped at Trump? I wonder what was so bad about the way Trump presented himself that the eagle saw him as a threat. I am both an American and a bird lover and I think I’m about to belabor an American Metaphor for you.

First of all, I didn’t choose the bald eagle as a symbol for America. Some other blowhard with a quill pen did that. Famously, Ben Franklin thought that the turkey would be a better metaphor. In a letter to his daughter Sarah, in 1784, he explained how he saw the bald eagle as a coward and a thief. He thought the turkey was braver and more honest. So now we have to unpack even more metaphors.

Let’s look at turkeys for a second. Turkeys are brave, that Mr. Franklin was right about. If they could speak they might gobble out the phrase that the great Bernie Mac made so famous: “I ain’t scared of you muthafuckas!” Turkeys ain’t scared of any of you muthafuckas. Seriously, right up to the time that their heads are being chopped off, they still defend their young and their territory.

So, based on conversations I’ve had with people who take a very exceptionalist view of America as the greatest and most powerful nation on Earth, I might agree with that. America the Turkey ain’t scared of shit. Or are we? And should we be? Yes and Yes. So the turkey metaphor starts to fail. However, there’s still this: Much of the world sees us as nothing but Thanksgiving dinner. Some really helpful people wield the hatchet that will chop off our heads. The one who wants to chop off our heads and either eat us or sell us off piece by piece is probably the one who feeds us the most. I don’t know who that is. I also wanted to talk about that bald eagle.

So why the bald eagle as a symbol for America? Well, apparently the bald eagle has it’s own website. So at least it’s keeping current. According to www.baldeagleinfo.com, it was chosen for its long life, great strength and majestic looks.

About that long life of a bald eagle; in comparison to other creatures we might choose for their longevity, an eagle isn’t that great a choice. They average about 20 years. Just like a Canada Goose. If we were going for longevity in birds, find a parrot.   

“Great strength” is true. The bald eagle has a grip that is 10 times stronger than that of the average adult human. That’s pretty strong but not the strongest, of course. Sure, its talons aren’t crocodile jaws but then again, bald eagles have a better view of the swamp. In fact, they have a great view of everything. They’re probably monitoring what you’re reading right now. Also, just try to catch a bald eagle, crocodile. You might be strong but you can’t fly.

“Majestic looks.” Optics, I guess. We look great. Looks like things are going really well for that bird up there. I wouldn’t mess with him. (Unless I was a bear or a dragon. But I’m not a bear or  a dragon. I’m expressive, outgoing, smart and I make too much noise. I’m a parrot. But not a wild parrot. Those are theater people. Or scenesters of any kind. I prefer to be a parrot that likes a couple people and makes some neat sounds to amuse myself.)

We’re also really loud like a bald eagle. Everyone hears us and they’re like “Hey! That’s America. Watch out!”

One last thing: Did you know that they were called “bald” back when that meant “white?” Coded but unrecognized celebration of whiteness as a defining characteristic of America. Some people will say, “That’s ridiculous.” Listen to what those people say for the minutes, hours and days after that. They’ll probably say some insensitive stuff, at the very least.

So that eagle that lunged at Trump, what was it’s deal? That bird’s name was Uncle Sam. At the time of the famous incident where he lunged at Trump, he was 27 years old, already an elderly eagle. Turns out he was also blind in one eye. But that’s not why he lunged at Trump. Uncle Sam, proxy for all that America stands for, is a bald eagle which is, as America also is, very territorial. I’ll bet that eagle would build a wall around it’s nest if it could (and if it actually needed to). Turns out Trump (who symbolizes Trump, in this case) began, that day, to reach into the eagle’s territory. That symbol for the beliefs and ideals of America at the time of the American revolution saw Trump’s small, greedy hand as an incursion into his space. Listen, he’s old, blind in one eye and just flew cross country in a box rather than under it’s own power. He didn’t have any patience left.

So maybe — if we can belabor this metaphor even more — maybe that bird represented the fact that we, the current holders of the American ideals, saw him as a threat to those ideals. The problem is, there are even more handlers handling Trump, more laws protecting Trump, more money and security hiding Trump from threats, than any bald eagle will ever get. Optics, baby. Bald eagles look good. Especially, when they’re protecting what’s theirs. Maybe Trump is a bald eagle himself. Maybe he’s just a high-flying coward and thief with a distinctive hairdo (that isn’t really bald and isn’t really white) at the top of the food chain who is desperately frightened of losing everything.

He used to be fun to watch too. Not any more.

Or maybe, that’s us up there. The United States is both the good and the bad stuff that that bird represents. Cool to look at, fast and strong. We’re also bound to violence to keep us alive and at the top of the hierarchy. We can see really far and make loud sounds that scare everyone. We’re also real jerks to a lot of the other animals.

You know what would be a better avian symbol to aspire to, America? No, not one of my parrots. One of them won’t shut up and has chosen the bathroom as her territory. One of them, as beautiful as he is, reminds me of congress a bit, in that he is scared of everything and when he gets scared he attacks his own perch to show the threat that he’s tough. The other bird, our cockatiel, is all about herself and only herself. They’re good birds but not good symbols for our country.

America, strutting its stuff.

America, strutting its stuff.

Nope. We should be like a city dwelling pigeon. In fact, we kind of already are. They are everywhere. You can’t get away from them. They eat anything and poop anywhere at all. They aren’t the toughest birds around but they survive somehow. You ever seen a pigeon with no toes? I have and he didn’t give a shit about those toes. He was just getting on with it. Yet, we don’t fully appreciate the pigeon because they aren’t “majestic looking” like the eagle. Optics lie. That’s why they’re optics. “Hey, look at the majestic eagle,” it shouts. You look at the majestic eagle in the sky and sigh whistfully at it’s beauty while the pigeons, all 400 million of them, don’t need to hurt anyone to survive and thrive.  

Oh wait. They’re filthy and generally only live 5-10 years.

Metaphors are dumb.

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