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Liberty Blog

Kneeling or Standing, it's your right.

Anthony McCloskey

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A lot of people have asked me how I feel about the recent protests involving NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not take kindly to people disrespecting the flag. However, if you know me, or have noticed the URL of my website, you also know that I am passionate about liberty. So you might think that I am torn on this. I am not.

Most people seem to think that you must support something if you support people's right to do it, or that you must support what is being said if you support people's right to say it. That simply isn't true. Just as I support the right of people to peacefully make hateful or even racist speech, I also support the right of people to burn and or disrespect our flag. However, I also think people who make racist/hateful speech are certified asshats, and I feel similarly about those who disrespect the flag.

I have seen people like Trevor Noah try to race bait the argument saying that minorities aren't supposed to protest in the streets, and they aren't supposed to protest on the field, so it's simply impossible to protest if you are black. This is the sort of race-baiting hate-filled nonsense that got us to where we are today. Protesting in the streets is fine. Rioting is not. Protesting on the field is fine, even during the anthem it is fine. But it does, in my mind, make you a jerk, and make you lose credibility to those you are trying to sway. Here's why...

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I am not going to make the argument that your disrespect of the flag demeans or belittles my military service, because the fact is, there is nothing you can do that will tarnish what I or my brothers & sisters in arms have done for this country. But I do presume that if you are protesting, that you are trying to make a change. And if you are trying to make a change, then that means you have to sway people and show them you are right. It's easy to get those on the same side of the argument to agree with you. It's harder to change people's minds. In some cases, you cannot change their minds, and the best you can hope for is to create indifference. Disrespecting a flag ceremony, especially one ostensibly intended to salute veterans, is a decidedly divisive act of virtue signaling. Yes, like all protests, it is an action intended to be provocative, but it is not followed with any action to bring the other side into the fold. Ideally, if you are going to bring attention to yourself or your cause, it should either be positive attention or be followed with a strong positive action or message.

Many black people in this country get a raw deal. There is no denying that. It is also completely unacceptable that black men are incarcerated at nearly 5 times the rate of white people. That is a real problem and it must be addressed. We have a problem in our policing, and a problem in our justice system. A great deal of the problems stems from unjust laws like drug prohibitions that disproportionately impact the black community. There is no way to make that seem any nicer than it is. Black men have been killed on the street because they were selling loose cigarettes, which is at best a tax evasion crime, certainly not a violent crime. It is unacceptable for any person to be killed on the street because they are accused of a crime. This is the worst side of our great country, and it will take time to fix. It will take time and effort from us all to get it right. We have come a long way but still, have far to go. 

However, the dark side of our country is not all that the flag stands for. Some will say that the protest is about the "secret racist third verse of the national anthem". This is an argument born out of ignorance because there is no third verse to the U.S. National Anthem. The anthem was based on a poem, which did have a controversial third stanza. Controversial enough that it was not included when they set the poem to music and made it the anthem. The actual anthem, as it exists, has little to no controversial content at all, and certainly none that could be called racist. 

Some will say that the current round of protests is to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. They will say that the only reason he was shut out of the NFL this year is because of his protests in the last season. This may be true. But that is at worst, a Human Resources issue within the NFL, not a national issue deserving of protest. It also seems to me, that if your goal is to show solidarity with a player who isn't allowed to play, the best way to do that is to not play either. Of course, that would likely mean you won't get paid. If you disagree with the policies of your employer, you should either take it up with them, or choose not to work for them anymore. 

If the goal of those kneeling is to improve race relations in the U.S. you will not achieve it by being divisive or by taking actions that make about half the country look down on you. You will never improve race relations by perpetuating an "us versus them" message. You cannot achieve unity by dividing. NFL players have bags of money and the ability to get the attention of the media easily. If they want to make real change in our country they can do so by getting out into the community, speaking publicly and meeting with their local police officials to discuss the need for better policing and more community-oriented policing. I am certain that there are tons of other ways that they could take actions that would be seen as building-up and improving our communities and bridging what remains of the racial divide, rather than an action which draws the vitriol of so many. If they want to protest during the game, they could interrupt the game, where an item on their jersey to signify the protest, or countless other actions that do not disrespect, cheapen or belittle a symbol that so many feel so strongly about.

The reason I feel strongly about the flag is because of what I believe the flag actually represents. To me, it represents us, we the people, e Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). Yes, the flag represents where we came from, and our history and all the dark parts of that history, but it also (and more importantly) represents who we are today, and where we are going. Just as our nation has changed over the centuries, so too has our flag. When you use the flag to represent only those things that are wrong with our country, you are playing the worst form of identity politics. You are basically saying that the entire country is wrong and undeserving of respect. I cannot accept that our entire country deserves public degradation because of the contemptible actions of a very small few. They may be a small few with a great deal of power, but they do not represent us as a whole. The call to action needs to be against those that enable the militarization of our police force and create unjust laws, not against the entirety of our nation. Our nation is a rich tapestry of people, cultures, languages, and beliefs. For all its flaws, I believe the United States remains the best example of what humanity has to offer and what we can achieve when we work together. We are far from perfect. Indeed, we have a very long way to go. But I believe that if we focus on what we have in common, we will make far more progress than we will by focusing on what divides us.

So yes, if you are a civilian who wants to kneel during the anthem, by all means, do so. I will defend your right to do it with my life, just as I would defend your right to speak hateful things. But I will not agree with your actions. I will tell you that I think you are misguided, and we can find a better way, if you are willing to stand-up and get to work.