Counterpoint: Racism, protesting the national anthem are both unpatriotic
There are two great sins against the American experiment in my book. The first is routinely committed by President Donald Trump.
It is not the “betrayal of American ideals” so many on the left routinely accuse the president of committing. Rather, it’s the distortion of American patriotism Trump displays whenever he’s talking to an organization premised on public service and American citizenship.
It happened when the president made an embarrassingly self-serving and pretentious speech to employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, in front of the CIA’s Wall of Heroes. It happened when the president used his speech to the Boy Scouts of America to boast about his margin of victory in the Electoral College and complain about the disloyalty of his colleagues in government. It’s probably happened when the president has spoken to other similarly civically oriented communities. He makes patriotism a thing of flags and eagles, dumbing it down into a high school fight song. The real virtues of patriotism — duty, sacrifice, honor, service, love, that so many service members live every day — go unmentioned.
The second great sin against the American experiment is more fashionable these days. It’s the identification of American patriotism with such habits as racism, xenophobia, lack of sophistication and general backwardness. In particular, it is the placing of “patriotism” and “social justice” at opposite sides of a spectrum, and unequivocally endorsing social justice and condemning patriotism (even while finagling the definitions of these terms through enough loopholes to suggest that disrespecting the American flag in public is somehow an act of patriotism in itself.)
This is what the NFL has found itself endorsing on national television over the last week, as players and managers and owners have repeatedly emulated Colin Kaepernick and taken a knee during the national anthem. Trump’s attacks put them in a hard place and gave them a hard choice, it’s true — but they still made the choice. And American public opinion has been polarized over that choice. It’s a sad day when patriotism gets turned into a quasi-partisan question, but for better or for worse, Trump and Kaepernick have turned it into that, and we’re witnessing the results now.
There are a lot of people who love this country, who appreciate its heritage and respect its flag, but who are appalled by the unprofessional and divisive bluster of Trump, who are put in an awkward position by the aforementioned dichotomy. On the one hand, there’s a mainstream left that has abandoned any pretense of practicing or respecting those who practice American civic nationhood. On the other hand, you have a mainstream right that actively cultivates an intolerant political and rhetorical strategy.
I think most average Americans hold their noses and side with the Republican flag-wrappers. They’d much rather cast their lots with a conservative media elite and a rabidly chauvinist president who at the very least pretend believe that “America” is worth loving, than with a society of journalists, academics and celebrities who disparage patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels and the first cover of racists.
That’s a really sad choice to make: Trump’s fake patriotism, or Kaepernick’s rejection of patriotism. But is it really that hard to see why so many people have made it?
Trump and his supporters are on one side of the coin, and Kaepernick and his supporters are on the other. Neither understands what patriotism is. Neither would care to practice it or respect it if they did; Trump’s ego gets in the way, as does Kaepernick’s conscience. Ego and conscience are things we postmodernists love; maybe that’s why the old-fashioned virtues of honor, duty and service to country go unsung these days.
If the USC Trojans start taking a knee while the Trojan Marching Band plays the national anthem, we’ll deserve the withholding of our federal funds. We’ll deserve it if the good men and women who carry Old Glory onto the field every Saturday, future officers in the United States Armed Forces and sworn defenders of the American project, choose to boycott players who don’t appreciate their service. If Kaepernickism comes to the Coliseum, I’ll forever be ashamed to be a Trojan. But I’ll never, ever be ashamed to be an American.
Luke Phillips is a senior majoring in policy, planning and development. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.