Donald Trump took fire from both leftists and intellectual conservatives for his attack on the NFL protests, but he got it one hundred percent right. Here’s why.
First, lay aside any notion that kneeling during the anthem is not disrespecting the flag or that respecting the flag is somehow idolatry. Bret Stephens — whom I admire both for his intelligence and independence — told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that conservatives should support the kneelers: “We don’t worship the flag as a totem like it’s the obelisk that descends on planet Earth in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We admire the flag because of what it represents.” But as John Milton, whom I also admire, might say, “that strain… is of a higher mood,” too high for reality. Man’s mind works through symbols and stories. The flag symbolizes the country. We stand to pay our respects to it. Colin Kaepernick, who started all this, put it succinctly: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” If we understand the symbolism of the protest, we have the right to react to that symbolism without being accused of idolatry.
Second, there is no free speech issue involved. Though employers can reasonably limit the speech of employees who are hurting their business, I think all American hearts instinctively acknowledge the players have the right to protest. (As a side note, I will not be lectured to on free speech by the coddlers of antifa, who answer speech with violence. Or by the NFL, which has fined and silenced players for honoring the victims of 9/11 and the Dallas police officers killed by a Black Lives Matter sniper.) The question is not whether the protesters have the right, the question is whether they are right.
They are not right. Three reasons.
One. They have the right to protest the flag specifically because they are Americans. Way, way better men than myself or Colin Kaepernick have fought and died to protect that right, which is symbolized by the flag. If you are going to exercise your right to protest, it is morally inchoate to disrespect the source and symbol of that right.
Two. The protesters are demanding equal justice under the law. Again, that justice is protected by that flag, and that flag has been protected by the lives and limbs of better men than the protesters.
Three. The reason we care about the protesters and their issues is because they are our fellow Americans. Sure, we should care about all people but being humans living in reality, our concern radiates outward: family, friends, country. If you turn your back on the flag that binds you to me, why shouldn’t I turn my back on you?
If the players keep disrespecting the flag, turn our back on them is exactly what we should do.
The difference between staging a protest and disrespecting the flag is this. A protest demands that America “live out the true meaning of its creed,” that an essentially good country move closer to its ideals. To disrespect the flag is to say that America is the enemy, that America is the problem, that America must be “fundamentally transformed” before it is worthy of its citizens’ respect. For sixty years, the news media, Hollywood, and the academy have been selling us that second idea. Because they only speak to themselves and listen to themselves, they must have thought that they had succeeded in changing our minds and draining our love of country until we were as unpatriotic as they are. They must have thought they could get away with stripping our national games of their patriotic core.
Donald Trump caught them out and exposed them and exposed that they were wrong.
Don’t tell me he shouldn’t have done it. Every day, we hear our news media insult the people and push the leftist narrative. Every night, we hear one comedian after another insult the people and push the leftist narrative. In movie theaters, in pop songs, at award shows, in college classes, the same thing, every day. Donald Trump has the only voice loud and bold enough to override that ceaseless sneering propaganda. Donald Trump, that is, and the people.
I love the NFL. I love football. But I love America infinitely more. If they keep disrespecting our flag, I will never watch them again. Trump is utterly right about this and they are utterly wrong.
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