Politics & Policy

On Painting Air Force One

President Donald Trump is reflected on the fuselage as he boards Air Force One upon his departure from Bellevue, Neb., June 11, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Congressional Democrats have been roused to action by changes to the paint of presidential aircraft.

And so it has come to this.

Two oil tankers were just attacked in the Gulf of Oman, presumably by Iran. The United States and China are facing off in a confrontation that is about far more than trade. The southern border remains anarchic and uncontrolled.

And Congress is asking: “Can I get the icon in cornflower blue?”

Here is the situation: The president of these United States gets from place to place in one of two Boeing jets designated “Air Force One” when the president is aboard. Jets wear out, and the U.S. government is commissioning a couple of new ones, which will not come into use until President Ocasio-Cortez takes over in 2025. The paint scheme is going to change from its 1960s two-tone blue to a more conservative and modern look that is — see if these colors sound familiar — red, white, and blue. The Washington Post is on the case, and reports that the new look will end up “featuring colors remarkably similar to his” — Trump’s — “private jet.” This is true. Trump’s jet, seen often during the 2016 campaign, is, going from top to bottom, blue, red, and white. The new Air Force One will be white, red, and blue. In each case, the red makes up a narrow stripe separating the two larger color fields.

Congressional Democrats are, of course, outraged: How dare this aspiring caudillo order a vehicle belonging to the government to be painted red, white, and blue! That’s . . . un-American!

Aesthetically, we dodged a national bullet, here. The new designs (there are a few slight variations under consideration) are perfectly ordinary. They are entirely respectable and unremarkable. Given President Trump’s own Nero-by-way-of-Liberace personal tastes — the gilding, the fake Louis XIV furnishings, the golden toilet — things could have been a lot worse.

Nonetheless, Congress has been roused to action. Yes, the same Congress that hasn’t been able to muster a declaration of war for any of the many American military conflicts since World War II, that has allowed debt and unfunded liabilities to rise to ruinous levels, that has sat on its hands as its constitutional prerogatives have been usurped year after year by the executive branch — that Congress has sprung into action, with the House Armed Services Committee voting 31–26 to insist that any changes to the paint or interior decoration (seriously!) of new presidential aircraft require congressional approval.

“Additional paint can add weight to the plane,” says Representative Joe Courtney, a Democrat from Connecticut. The government spends $2 million a minute on Social Security, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and the gentleman from Connecticut is worried about the marginal fuel consumption necessitated — possibly! — by a little more paint on a jumbo jet. Representative Joe Courtney should resign in shame.

So should Representative John Garamendi of California, who says the airplane is “a representation of the power of the United States, the power of the president. If someone wants to change its appearance, its scheme, then we ought to have a say in that.” Representative Garamendi represents, among other places, Sacramento, where the violent-crime rate is about twice the national average. There are criminal-justice-reform proposals gathering dust in Congress, but Representative Garamendi has the energy to get his pants over his head about paint.

This is the wrong paint discussion to be having. If we are to be governed by clowns, let them at least look the part.


I have a proposal of my own regarding Air Force One: Get rid of it. Lots of world leaders fly commercial. Tony Blair did, from time to time. Queen Elizabeth flies British Airways. Presidents of Switzerland have been known to take public transit to work. I’m not saying they have to fly coach — I’m not saying the president needs to be back there in last class, seat 34B — but it is unseemly for the chief magistrate of a republic to stage a Roman triumph as reimagined by P. T. Barnum every time he goes to eat a chicken dinner in Iowa.

Red, white, and blue? Or white, red, and blue? Or blue, red, and white? If that is the national crisis of the moment, then we have indeed immanentized the eschaton, at long last.

But maybe, just maybe, these jackasses have other business.


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