It would be missing the idiomatic forest for the trees not to view the current contretemps over those professional football players kneeling during the traditional pre-game playing of the Star-Spangled Banner in the context of the current campaigns to debunk historical American symbols and personalities.
There have always been alienated individuals who feel left out of the America portrayed in our history books – some with good reason, like those with forebears who were enslaved or otherwise legally discriminated against because of their race. To them the American credos of “All men are created equal” or “Everyone is equal before the law” had to have rung particularly hollow.
Yet widespread, open defiance of American cultural premises never really caught on, perhaps because remedial efforts were made to address various problems, if only in fits and starts.
The Star-Spangled Banner was taken from a poem written by Francis Scott Key after he witnessed the incessant bombardment of the key American Fort McHenry by the British navy in the Battle of Baltimore in War of 1812. It memorialized the successful American defense of the fort as symbolized by its large American flag still flying despite the fearsome firepower brought to bear by the British throughout the night.
Over the years it became accepted as a statement of American exceptionalism and the inevitability of the nation’s eventual triumph over adversity. In 1931 it became, by Congressional enactment, the official national anthem of our country, after years of use in various public ceremonies.
So we should make no mistake about what is in play here. The disrespecting of the Star-Spangled Banner (and, by extension, our flag) by athletes who refuse to stand when it is played at sporting events is a broadside against one of the fundamental symbols of America.
The debate is not whether the players have the legal “right” to kneel. This is America. There are no laws against kneeling. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us cannot say that such disrespect is unacceptable under any circumstances – and that we may make our views known with our pocketbooks.
We find it ironic that there seems to be no shortage of condemnation for President Trump’s calling out those players who insult our national symbols but yet the president’s critics fully support the free speech rights of the players to protest any way they wish. Do free speech values apply only to the latter?
But we may be witnessing somewhat of a replay of the Charlottesville episode when President Trump was widely criticized for initially blaming the violence there on both white supremacists and leftist militants rather than singling out the white supremacists.
As things turned out, however, his comments flushed out the activities of the antifa movement, which until then were known to relatively few Americans. Indeed, the president is now being credited in many quarters for alerting the public about a group that intelligence officials apparently advised former president Obama to label a terrorist organization. (Mr. Obama ignored the advice.)
We find it significant that while mainstream media types have been sharply critical of the president for his “kneelers” comments, few if any elected officials have publicly distanced themselves from Mr. Trump’s comments. In fact, most seem to be trying to divert attention from the issue by complaining about the president’s tweeting about the acts of some football players rather than about the plight of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Maybe they are hesitant to challenge someone who largely prevailed on the antifa issue and who seems to have his finger firmly on the pulse of Middle America. In fact, as former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer put it, “Trump went too far, but the overwhelming majority of Americans do not want to see football players disrespect the national anthem.”