Casting Aspersions — EXTRA
In the era of Trump-the-Toad we no longer stand on the firm ground of agreed definitions. “Truth isn’t truth,” as Trump stooge Rudy Giuliani famously remarked. Long time international allies suddenly become enemies, highly respected, world class media outlets become “trash, liars and fakes,” and hundreds of little children must be ripped away from their parents and incarcerated because somewhere buried in that appalling situation is a national security threat. That the threat is utterly invisible is no obstacle to the Trumpian assertion that it exists because he says it does. The answer to global warming is the liberation of corporate greed from all restrictions. The solution to a surfeit of guns is more guns.
It is therefore no surprise that this Alice in Wonderland administration abruptly re-defined a simple act that through all human history has been considered one of profound respect; kneeling. Since the dawn of time people have been kneeling to their gods in prayer. If you are going to receive a knighthood from the queen, you kneel. When one proposes marriage, it is a tradition to do so on bended knee. Sometimes in a moment of unpremeditated emotional reaction to a profound experience, a person may drop to their knees, as I did some years ago when briefly and unexpectedly meeting one of my personal heroes, Archbishop Tutu of South Africa – a man who to me is indeed a hero for the ages. Sometimes one kneels to mourn, to express the deepest sorrow and regret or even apology.
Black is white, day is night, friends are enemies
In view of this ancient and well established understanding of what the act of kneeling means — an understanding that transcends cultures and nations (one knelt to the Emperor of China no less than to the King of England). How did the action of some NFL players suddenly become disrespect to the flag and to “the troops?” Apparently the redefinition took place by presidential declaration. Fully in the Trump environment where black is white, day is night, friends are enemies, and bloody handed dictators are “great guys and good friends,” kneeling suddenly became a despicable act of unpatriotic hatred for everything the U.S. stands for.
That Trump plays fast and loose with reality is certainly no surprise. It is equally unsurprising that so many of his disciples immediately accepted the new definition, considering that a good 30% of our fellow citizens (at a conservative minimum) are idiots who would believe the Earth is flat if Trump said so. A surprising number of them believe that anyway. It is very disturbing however to find that many people who are not idiots have unthinkingly bought into the Trump view.
That 30% is a lost cause, but for the rest let me try to create a moment of clarity. To stand for the national anthem is respectful. To kneel for the anthem, in view of millennia of history and practice, can only be interpreted as profoundly respectful. History simply does not permit any other legitimate interpretation. Trump often tries to change history but ultimately it is beyond his reach. (One of the satisfactions of being an historian is that, while we don’t make much money, we do have the last word on everything, and trust me – the last word on Donald Trump will not be a compliment.)
The NFL players, inspired by the action of Colin Kaepernick, who have gone down on one knee during the national anthem have done so to protest the out-of-control statistics nation-wide of police shootings of unarmed and innocent black men and women. These statistics are real. They are verifiable facts. They are obviously the result of racism, police militarization, “shoot first” policies and police training methods. This situation is a national disgrace, and the reactions to “Black Lives Matter” such as “Blue Lives Matter,” and “All Lives Matter,” entirely miss the point. It isn’t “all lives” that are threatened; it’s black lives and the threat is wearing blue. Yes of course everyone’s life matters, but using that simplistic aphorism as a response only serves to water down the issue of threatened black lives to a point of meaningless generalization.
“patriotism sir is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” said Dr. Samuel Johnson
These NFL players are showing the greatest possible respect for the flag, and the ostensible traditions of the nation by drawing attention to the fact that those very traditions — ones of equal justice — are being let down, and that a genuine respect for what the flag and the anthem stand for calls for this issue to be addressed — publicly, seriously, and immediately. By letting Donald Trump skew the issue into one of super-patriotism and “respect for the troops” (and the whole thing has nothing whatever to do with the military) we betray the best ideals of the nation. Trump’s hyper-ventilations on this subject call to mind the great Dr. Samuel Johnson’s comment: “patriotism sir is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Dr. Johnson was not referring to a genuine love of one’s native land, but to the kind of bloviating use of patriotism as a cover for evil deeds and self-aggrandizement — the practice of which President Trump is expert – if in little else.
Let’s not let Trump and his legion of mental midgets have this one. People’s lives really are at stake.
Toby Grace is Out In Jersey magazine’s Editor Emeritus