That’s not a typo. I know the national motto is E Pluribus Unum — “Out of Many, One.” It just seems to me that the body politic is more splintered than ever, more entrenched in political viewpoints they will defend at all costs, more ready to demonize all who disagree with them. What I see coming is, “out of many, war.”
Take football, for example. Until recently, the only real bad blood was between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, or New England and … just about everybody. But since Colin Kaepernick began “taking a knee” during the National Anthem to make a political statement, and some other players followed suit, everybody has been fighting about it. Even the President of the United States has weighed in. My Facebook feed was awash in bellicose rhetoric from all sides for days. Rarely have I seen so many be so angry over the actions of so few. My own opinions on the matter will probably please no one, but I hope you’ll consider them anyway. In no particular order of significance, here are my first, last, and only comments on the controversy:
- It’s a distraction. Healthcare. Taxes. Trade policy. Natural Disasters. North Korea tells the U.N. that a missile strike against the U.S. mainland is “inevitable.” With everything the nation is confronting, I’m surprised the President had the time to weigh in on the pre-game behavior of a relative handful of pro football players. Was there nothing more important demanding his attention, and the attention of the American people?
- What dog whistles sound like. Some people insist that Mr. Trump is a racist, and cite his call for the firing of the (mostly black) protesters by the (none black) team owners as proof of same. I’m undecided on this. I can’t claim to know anyone’s heart, even my own. But at the very least, the President has a colossal case of tone deafness. To travel to Alabama and tell a nearly all-white crowd “When people like yourselves turn on television and see those people taking the knee…” People like yourselves. Those people. I’m not saying Mr. Trump meant it like it sounds. But how could he not know how it would sound? If you can’t see what’s tone deaf about his phraseology, especially in the context in which it was used; if you write off all such concerns as political correctness; we have little hope of understanding each other.
- Bet you didn’t know. Colin Kaepernik made a $50,000 charitable contribution to Meals on Wheels. He also gave $100K to the Lower East Side Girls Club, and a like amount to 100 Suits for 100 Men. He has pledged to give a million dollars of his own money to charity this year. He helped raise $2 million to send food and water to people in need in Somalia. He has actually done a lot of good in the world. It’s a shame he’s made himself the most despised player in the NFL with a protest that won’t really accomplish anything in the streets. No one seriously believes that a racist cop, a corrupt prosecutor, a bigoted judge, or any other deliberate perpetrator of racial injustice is going to stop what he is doing because somewhere a pro football player is kneeling in silent protest.
- Efficacy trumps intent. These protests will not prick the conscience of the nation. Hulking athletes do not present the same optics as Rosa Parks. Players kneeling on the safety of their own turf will not provoke national soul searching as did the March on Selma, where fire hoses and police dogs were turned on ordinary people who put their bodies and lives at risk for freedom and equality. MLK urged America to rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; he did nothing that could be interpreted as disrespect for that creed or its symbolic representations. Lunch counter sit-ins where ordinary people were attacked for daring to sit next to their fellow citizens didn’t vilify the nation; they convicted the conscience of the nation by letting it see its own ugliness on display. By contrast, the kneeling on the sidelines is mostly empty symbolism that will offend a lot of fans, who will then be called racist for being offended. “But it will start a conversation,” you say. It certainly has. I can hear the shouting from here. It’s not the kind of conversation that helps people understand each other, find common ground, or work cooperatively toward solutions. To most people, the flag symbolizes the heart of America. That’s why enemies abroad burn it. To attempt to engage people on social issues by appearing to disrespect their most beloved national symbols is to provoke a reaction so visceral they will never be able to hear your point.
- We’ve been here before. When I was young, there was controversy over some school students not wanting to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I always put my hand over my heart and said it. Not because I thought the country had actually achieved “liberty and justice for all.” I wasn’t endorsing everything about the status quo, nor was I being blind to injustice. I was pledging allegiance to an ideal. That ideal, embodied in the flag, is “the republic for which it stands.” Likewise, I rise for the National Anthem because I am glad that star-spangled banner yet waves, the noxious racial views of Francis Scott Key notwithstanding. I know of no political creed better than the Declaration of Independence; no blueprint for government better than our Constitution; no country where I’d be better off living. Acknowledging all of that is not a forfeiture of my right and duty as a citizen to speak up about injustice when I see it. I don’t have to think America is perfect to love America, and pointing out her flaws — or even protesting them — doesn’t diminish my love of country.
- I feel your pain. Do the protesters make your blood boil? I can understand why. If you have friends and family who bled for our country, or came home in a casket draped with our flag… it galls you to see people who won’t get to their feet for it. My brother served in the Air Force. My father was in the Navy. My uncle was Army, and retired as a colonel in the Pentagon. There was at least one Purple Heart in my extended family. I have friends who are serving now. Many people view the National Anthem as a salute to those who served.
- Perspectives vary. By the same token, some people — even some people with family who served — do not see the Anthem as being about honoring the armed forces or first responders. They see it as the theme song of the political entity called the U.S.A. That song proclaims this the “land of the free.” Protesters feel that descriptor is truer for some groups than for others. They see themselves as calling attention to the discrepancy, not as disrespecting servicemen and women. Not even military veterans all agree on whether taking a knee during the Anthem is offensive or not, as this compilation from ABC News shows: http://tinyurl.com/y8rongqj If there is room for diversity of opinion among those who served, maybe the rest of us should allow room for diversity of opinion on this issue as well.
- Silence would have been golden. James 3;5 says, ‘Behold how great a matter a little fire kindles!” In context, it is talking about the unwholesome power of the tongue. This protest was originally a small matter involving only a few players. According to the Associated Press, exactly nine NFL players (out of 1700 total) took a knee a week ago. After the Trump diatribe, more than 200 knelt. Talk about a manufactured crisis; the President poured gasoline on what had heretofore been a very small fire, blowing it up.
- The rich are people too. I’ve seen many comments denouncing the protests that begin by noting how much money football players make. Why? Being wealthy does not disqualify a person from expressing political opinions. Usually, it’s the political Left that wants to silence the rich. Now it’s the Right. The First Amendment applies to everyone.
- Bring back civics class. Speaking of the First Amendment: it does not exist to protect popular opinions, but unpopular ones. And it doesn’t just protect against the state suppressing someone’s speech; it also protects against the state compelling someone to voice a particular belief. I have conservative friends who cited the First Amendment to support Christian florist Baronelle Stutzman in her right not to be compelled to express support for a definition of marriage sanctioned by both the state and majority public opinion, but not by scripture. Now some of these same people applaud when the President of the United States calls for the firing of players who don’t make the affirmative statement of patriotism he wants to require. If you were alarmed when leftists forced Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich to leave the company because he signed a petition in favor of traditional marriage, but you want to see the protesting football players get fired for expressing their political views, I don’t think you’re being consistent. If you called college students “snowflakes’ for being unable to bear the presence of a viewpoint that might offend them, but you can’t bear what these players have to say because it offends you, I think you are not being consistent.
- Calling Miss Manners. The President calls American athletes SOB’s, an epithet stronger than the ones he used for the white supremacists in Charlottesville (some of whom, he assured us, were “very good people”). LeBron James addresses the President of the United States as “U bum” on Twitter. Can anyone doubt that decorum is dead? I’m not amazed at all the name calling I hear. I am amazed that some of the name calling is coming from pastors, evangelists, and other Christian leaders. We’ve been entrusted with the Gospel of reconciliation, not the gospel of vituperation. Preachers, if you’re going to tell me to love my enemies, to bless those that curse me, to be meek, slow to speak, slow to anger, to let my speech be always with grace, and all of that — while you are among the loudest people lobbing personal insults at the athletes, the owners, and Roger Goodell— then the best you can preach is “do as I say, not as I do.” The world needs someone to model Christianity more than it needs someone to talk about it. Don’t let political disagreements goad you into your worst behavior. I include myself in that admonition; I’ve fallen into the trap of getting outraged and taking up my keyboard before I’d had a chance to cool down. Don’t do it. it’s not worth it. The words we launch into cyberspace will float around for years, even after we’re dead. What do you want to be remembered for saying?
- Finally, a bit of perspective: Somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, scores of refugees are drowning. People are starving in North Korea, and everybody’s losing weight while standing in line for basic commodities in Venezuela. More than a third of the world’s population subsists on less than two dollars per day. Men, women, and children are being trafficked as modern day slaves all over the world. The cleanup from multiple hurricanes continues, and Puerto Rico won’t have power for months. How many people in Florida, Texas, and the Caribbean who had homes a month ago are homeless now? More than 600,000 Americans will die from cancer this year. If the most upsetting thing to happen to you this week involves a display of patriotism at a football game, you are truly a lucky and blessed human being, with a lot to be happy about. Let’s try to remember that.
Maybe, just maybe, we can have a little less online bellum and a little more unum. Hey, a man can dream.