The controversy about how to protest, and whether it is appropriate to protest during the national anthem is a wedge issue created by the Trump administration to drive up their approval ratings among their base, and to distract from all the difficulties of the administration. It is not the first time this has been tried.

Nixon did the same thing during his first turn. In New Jersey, a group of construction workers, replete with hard-hats beat up anti-war protesters. The White House hosted them after the beatings. The nation was filled with vicious rhetoric particularly from the right wing concerning the rights of others to protest US actions. This controversy energized Nixon’s base, and helped spur him to his second election (with a little help from the burglars who broke into the Watergate hotel). He initiated “Nixon’s southern strategy”, which was to cozy up to segregationist and extreme conservative sources. What we see in Republican Party support today arose from those beginnings. Now here we are again, re-visiting all the same themes.

On the left, music featured the popular response. Barry McGuire, singer-songwriter in 1965 wrote a song called “Eve of Destruction”, and I repeat some of those lyrics here:

You can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation,

Handful of Senators can’t pass legislation,

And marches alone can’t bring integration,

When human respect is disintegratin,

This whole crazy world is just too frustratin”

Think of all the hate there is in Red China!

Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!

Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,

But when your return, it’s the same old place,

The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace,

You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace,

Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace

I lived in those days, and sadly, Barry’s words are still valid today in 2017. In 1965, failure to fold a flag properly was considered highly inappropriate. Since then, at NASCAR, in magazines, on shows like “Dukes of Hazard”, and at county fairs, the flag is worn as a bikini by pretty young women. It is a “do-rag” for old men. I marvel that the same people who are offended by athletes who kneel during the anthem are not loudly decrying the pretty women in flag bikinis. I am astounded that their respect for the flag does not prevent them from displaying the confederate flag, which was flown by enemies of the United States. I am more than astounded that they are not offended by those who fly the flag of the Nazi Party, against whom Americans fought and died. Indeed, the people who are the loudest about athletes disrespecting the flag are curiously absent from the national conversation about these other flags.

I don’t know what goes on in the hearts or homes of these respect-the-flag patriots, but I’ve seen a whole lot of people who don’t stand for our national anthem at baseball parks, or at football stadiums. Of those who stand, a sizeable portion don’t have their hands over their hearts, and a bigger portion don’t sing. Many pictures of Trump exist where he does not have his hand over his heart while those around him did. Either these Captain Americas were afraid to confront people with respect face-to-face, or there aren’t really that many of them. Why were these virulent patriots silent for all this lack of respect? Is it because their hater-in-chief didn’t blow the dog-whistle and tell them to get moving?

When respect-the-flag vigilantes insist that the protesters are being disrespectful, they are ignoring the words of the athletes themselves. The athletes themselves have been clear. They do not intend to disrespect the flag or the military. People do NOT have to behave alike. They don’t have to think the same actions convey respect or disrespect. The great thing about America is that the Constitution respects this principle, and specifically allows for freedom of speech. Even if the protesters were intending to be disrespectful, freedom of speech allows it. As it also allows shallow, vicious, narrow-minded bigots to carry confederate or Nazi flags.

I just think that all this is so tiresome. How can this still be an issue? Haters are going to hate.  We’ve been going through it since 1965…over 50 years. You’d think this would be old news. It’s not going to be resolved. It isn’t worth news coverage. Getting coverage falsely elevates this issue.

On the other hand, the reason athletes are kneeling is an issue of great importance. That African-Americans are the continuing target of police brutality, profiling, and harassment is a national scandal. That the Department of Justice and the President are promoting illegal police behavior should not be tolerated. That the Department of Justice is reversing positions on drug sentencing is a big issue. These issues are worth plenty of new coverage.

We can’t let ourselves be distracted from the real issues. Intolerantly screaming about the intolerant rhetoric of others is only providing them with ammunition with which to fire back. If Donald Trump said on national television that he was ashamed of my behavior, I’d feel I was doing something right. I don’t need or want his approval.  I want to live my life so that no Nazi, no white supremacist, no bigot would want to give me an endorsement. I understand that they will spew filth at me. It is what they do. Fine by me. Let’s get back to:

  • Stopping police misbehavior
  • Making a budget with disaster relief built in
  • Stopping voter suppression
  • Reforming immigration
  • Funding health care for all
  • Fixing income inequality
  • Getting big money out of politics
  • Creating ethics commissions with enforcement capability

The Democratic Party, and democrats at large have such big and important issues to fight for and scream about. Can’t we stop dominating the public discourse with shouting about who kneels and who stands? The more we do that, the more we play into Trump’s hands.

William Casperson

Editor – Political Nation

Twitter – @RepairmanBill