Yesterday afternoon I waded into the discussion regarding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. For better or worse, I explained that my personal take was that watching Republicans get all fussy about kneeling for the anthem was on par with liberals spazzing out regarding a Ben Shapiro speech.
If you aren’t aware of the back story (and bless you if you aren’t), there was a great deal of hubbub over the weekend due to the President of the United States colorfully condemning NFL athletes who “disrespect our flag” by kneeling during the national anthem, suggesting that the owners should fire them on the spot.
There’s a lot that could be said, and has been said on this topic, but I’d like to focus on just a couple of points in the course of this post:
- Kneeling during the anthem has never been about “disrespecting the flag.” These NFL athletes are seeking to make political statements against the President and to gain the attention of the general public, for much the same reason that @realDonaldTrump sounds off on his twitter account. They have a large audience, and they’re making a statement. I’m confident that they love this country as much as I do, although perhaps for minor different reasons, and I’m thankful that they’re making their public statements peacefully.
That being said, I do think choosing to kneel during the national anthem is incredibly foolish on their part, because optics, of course… and these side discussions that inevitably get everyone off the topic that the athletes suggested they wished us to focus on in the first place. BUT they do have a constitutional right to be foolish and unstrategic. It’s their loss.
- That constitutional right, expressed in the 1st Amendment, allows for kneeling during the Anthem. It even allows disrespecting the flag, believe it or not. It doesn’t allow violence, it doesn’t allow rioting, but it does allow the American people to hold and even voice an opinion that is contrary to the governing majority. In fact, our system of government depends on the way in which we handle protests and what our founders would refer to as “faction.”
Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 10:
“Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction that it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”
Our communities, our places of business, our society as a whole, and our government depend upon how we as Americans handle those who disagree with us. Whether our neighbors disagree with some personal position we hold or they decry something that we consider an absolute truth and societal norm, how we respond is key. And what is certain is that suggesting that our government will not countenance any disrespect by its citizens is dangerous in the extreme. It was dangerous when President Obama politicized the IRS to target conservative groups, and it’s dangerous today when President Trump politicizes what he considers unpatriotic actions.
David French said it well when he closed his excellent article with the following:
“When the history of this unfortunate, polarized era of American life is written, whether a man stood or knelt will matter far less than the values we all lived by. Americans who actually defend the letter and spirit of the First Amendment will stand (or kneel) proudly in the history books. Those who seek to punish their political opponents’ speech, on the other hand, can stand or kneel as they wish — so long as they hang their heads in shame.”
We live in a free country… a country where we’re free to sit, stand, kneel, or sleep through the national anthem. But as soon as we lose that freedom to choose how we wish to appreciate our flag and our heritage, we become something else entirely.