MAYBE MORE OF US SHOULD BE TAKING A KNEE
Untitled, Watercolor, 21.5" x 29", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
This week one of my law partners, a dear friend for whom I have great respect, shared with me his views about NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem.
According to him, and I believe he is generally correct, private employers (in this case the top .1 %) set the conditions of employment which in this case means requiring that players stand during the National Anthem and display the owners’ form of “patriotism,” even if the players have reason to protest. I have not fully researched the extent to which team owners receive special public assistance such as tax incentives or infrastructure that could move them toward the public domain and implicate the First Amendment and content-based discrimination of symbolic speech. I am aware owners are granted certain benefits under federal and local law that help assure power and profitability, including anti-trust exemption, certain non-profit status and subsidies for infrastructure.
The time-honored tradition of playing the National Anthem at the beginning of American sporting events which team owners continue to propagate, however, itself makes them less than neutral on what they insist it means to be patriotic. If you wish to play in the NFL—the highest level of public spectacle—there is no “separation of game and state.” You must tolerate and participate in the owners’ brand of patriotic expression, even if it’s something with which you fundamentally disagree. I’m unsure how that translates to performance on the field. I'm guessing the owners can require non-US citizen players at least facile servitude to a foreign symbol. Yes, we expect it of others, regardless of whether they mean it. Form over substance.
I was born in the United States in the late 50s. Boomer. Cold War. Better Dead Than Red. Walter Cronkite. Cuban Missile Crisis. Bomb drills, sirens and all. Climbing under desks. Nuclear fallout shelters. Another accident of my birth was being born a male, heterosexual Caucasian in a local culture and religion that preached of a god who favored the likes of me above all others. For much of the first half of my life and with god’s approving nod I took for granted my inexplicable unmerited status along with the attendant rights of white male privilege. I mindlessly employed the superficial gestures of deference to patriotic symbols—flags and anthems and pledges. Why wouldn’t I? I had nothing to protest, no loss, no deprivation, no depth perception, no skin in the game. It worked for me.
I was young and paid little attention during the decade of assassinations (with the exception of noting high-ranking Mormon official, future president and prophet of the church and former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson labeling Martin Luther King, Jr. a communist) and Viet Nam. I was much more interested in the Mercury and Apollo programs. During Watergate I had little appreciation of the level of corruption in the White House or its significance in undermining the foundation and institutions of government. I have since read a fair amount about Dr. King, Viet Nam and Watergate.
How patriotism manifests depends largely on one’s personal history, point of view and depth of love for or devotion to country. Kneeling in protest of class-based animus, discrimination, violations and deprivations of basic and fundamental rights on which much of the country was built, which are now encouraged by the white nationalist in the White House, is exponentially more patriotic than the mindless nationalism demanded by corrupt politicians, the billionaire oligarchs who purchase them including in some cases NFL owners, and their collective base who lap up the verbal and conceptual sewage spoon-fed them by Fox and other enablers. The frequent retort is if they don’t like it, they should vote the bastards out of office. That argument is ruse given the varied and creative voter suppression specifically targeted at insular minorities, gerrymandering and vast amounts of “conservative” dark money to maintain the status quo.
Who benefits from white nationalist authoritarianism? I guess it depends on your definition of “benefit.” As an accidental and eventually complicit racist, I would be fine. White, male, heterosexual, middle-class. Over time I changed my political and religious orientations and became more introspective and, I hope, empathetic. I have advocated for fairness, equal rights and protection of people who need and deserve but are—as a strategic, calculated and practical matter—without the panoply of rights bestowed on my kind. I personally don’t fear the eventual minority status of Caucasians in the United States, don’t feel the need to hang onto the vestiges of white elitism, and frankly hope for a time when an equilibrium allows decisions to be made solely on the merits. Is that what these white supremacists fear?
The value I place on the sacrifices and personal losses patriots suffered in order to establish and protect our form of self-government, the concomitant rights and the hope for their expansion to all corners of the country, increased dramatically in the face of their potential loss or retreat. Trump was elected. I, along with millions of others, became more engaged in civic dialogue and protest. I was invited back onto the board of the local ACLU affiliate. I began blogging shortly after January 20, 2017. I march, protest, contribute money, vote. I wish I had been as engaged before Trump.
I tried but abandoned the effort to keep the man’s putative policies (with which I mostly disagree) separate from what has emerged as a full-on crime syndicate with him surrounded by the "best people." The two are merged. Every aspect of his ascendancy to and occupancy of the White House is subject to question. Was the election of Mr. Trump a legitimate exercise of American sovereignty? Increasingly doubtful. The motivation behind virtually every Trump decision is suspect. компрометирующий материал, money, emoluments, awards, prizes, retaliation, revenge, flattery, praise, pussy, self-preservation and -congratulation over the interests of anyone and everything else.
Adam Serwer’s May 21, 2018 piece in The Atlantic, There is Only One Trump Scandal, gave his point of view which largely resonates:
“The sheer volume of Trump scandals can seem difficult to keep track of.
“There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.”
As Americans we accept, even celebrate, the fact of administrations with which we disagree on the merits. The constitutional and legal mechanisms are in place for the self-governed to effect change so long as those mechanisms are not disassembled by tyrants and their propagandized adherents. As Americans and patriots, we must not withstand an administration set out to corrupt the American government and thereby undermine or destroy its forms and institutions. In a Sunday New York Times piece, Peter Baker and Katie Benner discussed Trump’s wrecking-crew attacks on “institutions that form the bulwark of a democratic society”:
"The confrontation [with law enforcement] has no precedent in the modern era and holds great stakes not just for the president but for the relative autonomy of law enforcement investigations established after Watergate. Mr. Trump’s allies argue that he has every right to manage the executive branch and every reason to be outraged at possible misconduct aimed at his campaign. But many law enforcement veterans say he is wreaking untold damage on institutions that form the bulwark of a democratic society."
Trump is a grave enemy of and domestic threat to the United States. He largely symbolizes why some NFL players take a knee. Given his compromised status he refuses, and is otherwise impotent, to protect us, U.S. sovereignty and the institutions of government from foreign enemies and threats. In the face of these real dangers to American sovereignty and its form and the institutions of self-governance, patriotism to me is working in every legal way to assure Trump and his ilk fail on every level and by every measure. In the inimical words of Mr. McConnell, our “number one priority [must be] making sure president [Trump’s] a one[-half-]term president.” An outcome that could begin the long road of restoring this country’s credibility from within and to our allies and enemies abroad would be Mr. Trump’s removal through the implementation of constitutional and legal remedies, the very norms and institutions he so vociferously attacks.
By protecting and enabling rather than serving as a check on a wholly corrupt executive, members of the Congress and Senate, by some accounts, are among the least patriotic of all Americans. Until members of Congress actually keep their oaths of office and protect us from enemies, foreign and domestic, maybe we all should be taking a knee.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in lastamendment.com are hers.