With Attack on U.S. Flag, Colin Kaepernick Shifts the Goalposts
Hey, remember when Hillary “declared those kneeling during the anthem were ‘not against our anthem or our flag.’ Whoops,” Karol Markowicz writes in the New York Post:
The term “America First” gets a bad rap, but at this point, Americans should be hoping against hope that the wellbeing of the nation makes it into the left’s top 10 priorities.
Last week was an especially bad week for the “Dissent is patriotic” crowd — remember that post-9/11 slogan of the left? — as they managed the dissent part without any of the patriotism.
The Pied Piper of wokeness, Colin Kaepernick, kicked off the week by successfully pressuring Nike to recall a shoe adorned with the original 13-star American flag attributed to America’s founding mother, Betsy Ross.
For years, polite liberal opinion has lectured us that Kaepernick, who famously kneeled during the national anthem when he was an NFL football player, didn’t hate America — he just wanted to protest police brutality against African Americans. We were to also overlook the time he wore socks featuring pigs dressed as police officers and the time he wore Fidel Castro on his T-shirt. Hillary Clinton declared those kneeling during the anthem were “not against our anthem or our flag.”
Now Kaepernick is tossing Betsy Ross into the basket of deplorables, while Democratic presidential contenders like Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand and Beto O’Rourke clap along like well-trained seals.
Kaepernick continued his hate-America show by tweeting a quote from the abolitionist icon Frederick Douglass. “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. . . . There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”
Yes, Douglass said these words — in a speech that went on to praise the American system and constitution. That Kaepernick — the millionaire ex-football player with a Nike contract, who can force a giant company and one of the two major parties to bend to his silly whims — doesn’t find a place for himself in America is his problem.
In one sense, Nike’s stunt last week reminds me very much of the trolling the 4Chan guys did in 2017 with the thumb and forefinger “OK” hand gesture. As Wired noted that year:
A number of media sites recently claimed that the alt-right adopted it as a symbol of white power, and that ultra-conservative commentators like Mike Cernovich use it as a dog whistle. None of that is true. Cernovich was indeed using it, but only to rile up people convinced that he and others on the far right use it to convey white supremacy. All of this, in the eyes of the trolls, makes the mainstream media look like buffoons.
Well, that doesn't take much. Particularly when, as Glenn Reynolds describes it in his new book The Social Media Upheaval, social media works very much like a virus:
I recently read James C. Scott’s Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. One of the interesting aspects of the earliest agricultural civilizations is how fragile they were. A bunch of people and their animals would crowd together in a newly formed city. Diseases that weren’t much of a threat when everybody was out hunting and gathering over large areas would suddenly spread like wildfire and depopulate the town almost overnight. As Scott writes, an early city was more like a (badly run) refugee camp than a modern urban area, with people thrown together higgledy-piggledy with no real efforts at sanitation or amenities. He observes that the pioneers who created this ‘historically novel ecology’ could not possibly have known the ‘disease vectors they were inadvertently unleashing’.
Then I ran across this observation on Twitter: ‘The internet is rewiring brains and social relations. Could it be producing a civilizational nervous breakdown?’ And I saw another article noting that depression in teens skyrocketed between 2010 and 2015, as smartphones took over. It made me wonder if we’re in the same boat as the Neolithic cities, only for what you might call viruses of the mind: toxic ideas and emotions that spread like wildfire.
What 4Chan did was release a small pathogen into the air that (pardon the mixing of metaphors) bubbled up from an underground trolling effort and surprisingly gained a bit of traction in the DNC-MSM. What Nike did last week was something more akin to dropping chemical weapons from an airplane: their PR effort involved a superstar ex-pro athlete turned America’s most prominent (and well-paid) SJW, and for added amplification, an “exclusive” breaking article by the Wall Street Journal, which went viral on Twitter the Monday evening before the Fourth of July. Its subject was not something silly like a hand gesture, but a prominent piece of American culture that prior to last week, had zero negative connotations. Even America’s best-known community organizer never gave the Betsy Ross flag a second thought during his administration (and for good reason: Ross was a Quaker; Quakers had denounced slavery a century before she quilted the 13-star flag):
The day after the Fourth, Jonah Goldberg wrote that “Nike Fans the Flames of the Culture War:”
“The Betsy Ross flag is a common historical flag,” Mark Pitcavage of the ADL told CNBC. While it’s been used by white supremacists “from time to time,” he has “never once thought about” adding the Betsy Ross flag to the list.
Nonetheless, it’s true that if you search through enough old photos of Klan rallies and neo-Nazi pageants, you can spot a Betsy Ross flag from time to time.
Do you know what else you can probably spot if you look long and hard enough? Nike sneakers. Does that make Nikes symbols of white supremacy?
Of course not. But what if these groups started wearing T-shirts with the Nike “swoosh” on them?
Frankly, I think it would be a brilliant move by these hate groups to do just that. Nike would freak out, giving these attention-seekers a bonanza in free publicity.
Innocuous or even noble symbols can be appropriated for evil purposes. The swastika is an ancient symbol in various Asian cultures. It was adopted in Europe as a symbol of good luck until the Nazis made it their own. The KKK’s pointy hoods may have been inspired by the Catholic capirote of medieval Spain and Portugal, which looks dismayingly similar.
But here’s the thing: When evil people acquire symbols for their own ends, the only guarantee of success is when everyone else validates the acquisition.
If Nike had gone ahead with the special-edition sneakers, it would have been, in marketing terms, the equivalent of Godzilla versus Bambi. A few neo-Nazis and a few more social-justice warriors would have complained, and everyone else would have gone about their day totally unconcerned.
Instead, Nike followed the advice of a man whose business model is to stir grievance and controversy for its own sake. Suddenly, millions of people who once thought the Betsy Ross flag was just an admirable bit of Americana now associate it with hate groups. Worse, other entirely decent and patriotic Americans will now likely start brandishing the flag to offend people who, until recently, had no idea some hate groups adopted the flag in the first place.
After listening to Stephen Miller and Jon Gabriel’s “Conservatarians” podcast on Friday night at Ricochet, and after the report that Nike’s stock was up two percent last week, I’m less convinced that “Nike followed the advice of a man whose business model is to stir grievance and controversy for its own sake.” I think Kaepernick was used as a tool (in every sense of the word) by Nike’s social media and PR gurus to help give the brand maximum attention over the week building up to the Fourth of July.
In the short term, it was a brilliant, albeit cynical piece of marketing. The British press like to call summer “the silly season” because Fleet Street needs plenty of otherwise meaningless stories to fill their papers during the slow news cycle. But there’s nothing silly about using a full-on social media blitz to, arguably permanently, cast aspersions on an important piece of American history. Rod Dreher described Nike’s actions last week as a form of culture war battlefield prep by the left:
Attacking figures like Jefferson, and symbols like the Colonial-era flag — again, not the Confederate flag, but a Colonial-era flag — make it clear that what’s under assault now by the Social Justice Warriors — not fringe campus hotheads, but institutionalists like senior corporate executives and city council members — is the symbolic core of America herself. Not Southern secessionists who fought to preserve slavery, but the Founders and the Founding. These symbols are as close as the secular realm gets to sacred. Elementary psychology says that you do not profane what is sacred to a tribe, unless you want war.
There are plenty of additional ripple effects as well: as Jim Treacher asked last week, Betsy Ross’s flag design “was good enough for Obama’s inauguration. Not anymore. If Betsy Ross is racist now, how about the 76ers? The Patriots? Should we start picketing showings of Hamilton?” Andrew Breitbart liked to say that "politics is downstream of culture." Sadly though, America's history is now downstream of social media.