We have had a great back-and-forth (in the comment section of “Similar Message, Different Reactions”) over an NFL quarterback refusing to stand during the playing of our national anthem, as a form of protest against what he sees as mistreatment of African-Americans by some police officers around the country. You should read the exchanges in full. And rather than further respond to each comment individually, here is my general response:
Regarding the spirited discussion we have had over the Colin Kaepernick issue, I just want to make my position clear to everyone and make a final point at the end.
Saluting the flag, or putting your hand over your heart during the national anthem, does not make anyone, soldier or civilian, a patriot. Both soldiers and civilians can follow convention and go through the motions of respecting the symbols important to most Americans and still dishonor the things the symbols are supposed to symbolize—for instance when soldiers give away national secrets or when civilian politicians with American flag lapel pins deny voting rights to African-Americans.
Likewise, not saluting the flag, or refusing to place hand over heart during the Star Spangled Banner, does not, in itself, make one a traitor either literally or figuratively. In fact, in the right context, such acts can express real respect for what those symbols are suppose to represent by calling attention to the fact that the country is failing to live up to its ideals. It may not be the way I would personally go about making that point, but it is within the realm of legitimate expression as an American in good standing.
Now, having said that, there is a point to be made about how effective such speech, as Colin Kaepernick’s actions represent, is in terms of accomplishing his goal. Just as there is a point to be made about how effective Donald Trump’s message about the godawful country he wants to govern is in terms of accomplishing his goal. Each of us will evaluate the effectiveness of Kaepernick’s and Trump’s tactics differently, depending on our preferences and prejudices and experiences. That’s how it should be.
I do want to go further, though. Let’s say that Kaepernick, rather than sitting down during the national anthem, decided to hold up his middle finger toward the flag during the anthem. Obviously, that is a different kind of message. Rather than sending the message that the country has ideals it is not living up to, he would seemingly be sending the message that the country has no ideals worth respecting at all. At least that’s what the message would mean to me. And I think such a message would do great damage to any legitimate cause Kaepernick might be championing.
Which leads me to this election. I want to put all this in the context of the political battle for the presidency of the United States. Donald Trump’s words about the country, including trashing it constantly, cozying up to Russia and asking it to commit espionage against another American, and then making a bold statement that he and only he can fix its “rigged” system, is closer to someone giving the finger to the flag than someone sitting in silence while the anthem is playing. So, if we want to seriously evaluate what is going on with Kaepernick and Trump, in terms of how each is expressing views about contemporary America, Trump is the real disrespectful asshole in this saga.