As other athletes mimic Colin Kaepernick’s flagrant display of disrespect for the nation, the protest is no longer about the second string quarterback on the San Francisco 49ers.
Since President Barack Obama has given his blessing to the Kaepenick protest, he himself now bears responsibility for this rash of unpatriotic actions.
Obama said this:
In terms of Mr. Kaepernick, I’ve got to confess that I haven’t been thinking about football while I’ve been over here and I haven’t been following this closely, but my understanding, at least, is that he’s exercising his Constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so. I think there are a lot of ways you can do it. As a general matter, when it comes to the flag, and the national anthem, and the meaning it holds for our men and women in uniform and those who fought for us, that is a tough thing for them to get past, to then hear what his deeper concerns are. But I don’t doubt his sincerity, based on what I’ve heard. I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about. And if nothing else, what he’s done is he’s generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.
Our great national divider has found yet another way, not only to set blacks against whites, but to legitimize a protest that declares America to be irremediably racist. And that suggests that blacks should either go on strike or leave. Obama himself is generating a conversation around the question of whether African-Americans really belong to the nation and whether they should be loyal to the nation.
Kaepernick was not making a statement. He was not voicing an opinion. He was declaring himself separate and apart from his team and from his nation. The civil rights movement has been a fight for racial integration. Colin Kaepernick, seconded by Barack Obama, is saying that blacks do not belong and should not want to belong to America. You cannot reform a nation you do not belong to. And you cannot expect a nation to embrace you when you when you reject it.
Participating in a ritual is not the same as voicing an opinion. By conspicuously disrespecting a ritual and by setting himself apart Kaepernick is refusing to be a loyal and patriotic American. He is not saying that the nation has flaws, but that the nation is a flaw. If that is the way he feels then perhaps he should not be surprised to be treated accordingly. And, if he is disloyal to his nation, why should anyone expect him to be loyal to his team?
Surely, it is a touchy issue. Anytime race enters the conversation things become touchy.
Writing in the New York Times David Brooks treads lightly but gets closest to the salient point. Even though he makes occasional mention of American ideals, he is more correct and more to the point when he says that the nation holds together, adheres because we all participate in the same rituals. He also says that when people do so they are practicing a civic religion. It is, dare I say, a Confucian notion, but one that often gets lost in the idealist din.
Americans performed the same rituals on Thanksgiving and July 4; they sang the national anthem and said the Pledge in unison; they listened to the same speeches on national occasions and argued out the great controversies of our history.
One notes that all of these rituals are open to all Americans equally. You are not making a political statement when you celebrate the 4th of July or sit down for Thanksgiving dinner. True enough, those who want to tear that nation apart will insist on politicizing everything, but we should understand that if nothing is outside an ideological divide, we are no longer a nation.
Brooks continues to say that patriotism, love of country and loyalty to it, has been under assault in our schools:
Recently, the civic religion has been under assault. Many schools no longer teach American history, so students never learn the facts and tenets of their creed. A globalist mentality teaches students they are citizens of the world rather than citizens of America.
The school system has been doing a great job teaching children to reject patriotism. They are teaching that America is so corrupt and so oppressive that it does not deserve anyone’s loyalty. They prefer to follow the manifestly unpatriotic president who declared himself to be a citizen of the world. If you want to be a citizen of the world you cannot at the same time be a loyal citizen of the United States.
As much as I would like to lay the blame on the educational establishment, the fault, as the Kaepernick debate illustrates, lies with the president himself. It lies with those who voted for him and for those who continue to rationalize his divisive actions and rhetoric.
There’s been a sharp decline in American patriotism. Today, only 52 percent of Americans are “extremely proud” of their country, a historical low. Among those 18 to 29, only 34 percent are extremely proud. Americans know less about their history and creed and are less likely to be fervent believers in it.
When we sing the national anthem, we’re not commenting on the state of America.
The point bears emphasis. Singing the national anthem or pledging allegiance to the flag is not a commentary on the state of the nation. It is not the moment to express political opinions. As I and several others have suggested, the impetus for Kaepernick's actions come from his fiancee, a woman who is decidedly opposed to America. At a time when some groups, in America and Europe, are refusing to assimilate to their new nations, this is a grave problem,indeed.
When people refuse to participate in common rituals, Brooks continues, they are undermining national unity and the sense that we are one nation:
If we don’t transmit that creed through shared displays of reverence we will have lost the idea system that has always motivated reform. We will lose the sense that we’re all in this together.
As for the usefulness of such protests, Brooks says that people who write themselves outside of the nation, who express disloyalty to the nation should not expect that the nation will address their issues. I believe this to be the most salient point. Kaepernick’s gesture is ultimately self-defeating:
If these common rituals are insulted, other people won’t be motivated to right your injustices because they’ll be less likely to feel that you are part of their story. People will become strangers to one another and will interact in cold instrumentalist terms.
A civil rights movement that began with demands for integration has now morphed into a movement that applauds blacks who self-segregate. And let’s keep in mind, the source is not some whipped football player. This is coming from the White House itself.