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Pence’s Pique


President Trump and VP Pence not think their stunt on Sunday wasn’t a bit obvious? Oh sure, Pence was in Las Vegas and happened to pass by Indianapolis on his way to Los Angeles; that must be a typical route for important officials. And it is surely a coincidence that Pence happened to pick a game in Indianapolis involving the San Francisco 49ers; of course, he could not have guessed that some players on that team were likely to take a knee during the anthem—thus forcing him to leave in a fit of pique and declare his allegiance to the song, the flag, and our soldiers. It all was just happenstance.

Furthermore, I’m sure it is unfair of me to point out that this is just another way to distract from serious issues of malfeasance, incompetence, and peril that are being foisted upon us. Provoking North Korea, alienating allies, endangering women by restricting access to birth control, offering Democrats a no-deal on immigration, allowing open season on the environment—all of these are unimportant in comparison to a few athletes kneeling before a game. Pence’s annoyance is the real problem here, not these other minor issues, right?

It goes without saying that distraction becomes a viable political strategy when you have little to brag about and much to be ashamed of. And we are all complicit, because we like the story. It is interesting to hear what the NFL players are doing, how the owners are responding, and what Lebron James and Steph Curry have to say about this.

So I don’t want to give this news any more juice than it deserves, except to do my part in debunking it, by pointing out three things that are true:

This is not about respect. My wife Valerie has worked hard to convince me that the ritual of singing the national anthem before games creates a shared space to bring people together around a common vision and belief in the country. I’m not sure I fully agree, but I will accept the argument for now. So when the shared space is a sports venue, take a look around the next time the anthem is played. Granted, most people are standing quietly, but a fair number are on line for food, going to the bathroom, eating and drinking, or running to their seats so as not to miss the kickoff, first pitch, face-off, or tipoff.

People could have complained about this for years, but only when a few athletes exercise dtheir right and knelt (quietly, I might add) during the song did this even become an issue. And it was mostly drummed up by the president, to distract and to divide. His supporters ate it up. So did those of us on the other side.

This is not about the flag. As I mentioned, the protesting players went to their knees quietly and, I would argue, respectfully. Additionally, they never made this about the flag; our so-called political leaders did. The players stated that their actions were done to call attention to serious issues in the country. You can disrespect the flag in many ways—burn it, rip it, give it the finger—that would legitimately provoke and disturb people. But kneeling during the anthem is not the same thing as disrespecting the flag.

This is not about our soldiers. Similarly, the players never alleged that their actions were done to protest American soldiers, living or dead. It has been argued that protesting during the anthem in and of itself is a sign of disrespect for soldiers, but just saying that does not make it so. Moreover, why should we only be offended for soldiers? I honor their service, but they are not the only ones who have died for this country. What about policemen? What about men who build bridges, tunnels, and canals? What about generations of African descendants, who were kidnapped and brought here, raped and murdered, underwent forced breeding, were split from their families, and toiled throughout their lifetimes to work the land? In this labor and through their death, they built huge portions of our economy.

Moreover, by framing the issue this way, the President and his allies are pitting black athletes against the rest of the country, deliberately forcing people to conclude that these men are somehow less patriotic than the rest of us.

So when you hear people at the highest levels of government discussing this issue, never forget that they have something to hide, that their anger is manufactured, and that there is a far more important issue at hand that they want us to ignore.

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