Most of the wording of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is downright silly. The suggestion that ‘No refuge could save the hireling and slave’ still makes many people nervous, but everyone knows of ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’. Sadly, the President of the United States gets angry when brave Americans use their freedom to seek to make their land a better home.
At major sporting events in the U S, it is customary for players and spectators to stand during the national anthem. Some players have kneeled to protest against crimes allegedly committed by government agents against African Americans. President Trump says that these people are not respecting the flag, the anthem, or the nation. He goes further and he says – in typically coarse and disrespectful terms – that the protesters should be fired. Trump’s supporters – who love these live TV shows – lapped it all up. So, of course, did Trump.
Now, you don’t disrespect or insult a flag or an anthem –one’s a piece of cloth, and the other is a song. A nation is a group of people. You don’t disrespect or insult a whole group of people by failing to adhere to one of their customs of courtesy – unless those people are mightily sensitive. What Mr Trump must be saying is that by making this gesture, these players are disrespecting or insulting what America stands for. Turning your back, say, on the anthem may be like burning the flag.
What, then, does America stand for? It is stated in terms engraved on many hearts, and not just in America.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The question then is: are these players showing disrespect or insulting what America stands for by exercising a constitutional right to protest against those in government in an effort to make America better for ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’? The very idea is surely absurd.
That’s the first point. The next point is that these players and their employers will be legally bound by contracts that are probably much longer than the U S Constitution. Those contracts may or may not give rights of termination for some kinds of ‘conduct unbecoming.’
I don’t know, and I don’t know what prospect there would be of an American judge or jury holding that dropping a knee in protest during the national anthem constitutes a breach of contract. And I don’t know if such a court might hold that such a breach might entitle the employer to terminate the contract and deprive the player of his livelihood. I would be surprised, but I don’t know. Nor does the President.
As matters stand, then, the President may well be guilty of attempting to induce a breach of contract. Presidents shouldn’t do that. And quite apart from the law, there may be a real question about how much football got to be played in the weeks after an employer fired one of these players for bending his knee.
Then, some nations make it an offence against the law to insult the nation. Examples are Turkey, Thailand, Indonesia, or – God help us – North Korea. They are not regimes that we admire. Could the U S ever do this? Never – America, you will recall, is ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’.
Some of these difficulties were apparent in the weird White House scattergun defence of the President. There is a First Amendment right of free speech, but the White House has said variously that the players can’t exercise it at a place of public entertainment, such as a football game, and that they can be fired for exercising that right.
Finally, we again see this President of the United States hell-bent on causing disunity among Americans. For whatever reason, he is addicted to conflict, and, so sadly, to conflict with Americans that he manifestly regards as inferior to himself. He is assisted in this course by his accomplices in the media who live of the earnings of conflict. They couldn’t give a hoot about matters of principle. They are just there for the dollar. Trump couldn’t care less either, because he is just there for Trump.
The worrying thing is that as we go from outrage to outrage, and Trump keeps finding it impossible to do something positive, he looks more and more desperate – and more and more at home with his own desperation. Have things ever been worse in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’?
This isn’t just bullshit. It is venom.
Poet of the month: Emily Dickinson
How firm Eternity must look
To crumbling men like me
The only Adamant Estate In all Identity –
How mighty to the insecure
To whom not any Face cohere –
Unless concealed in thee.