Patriotism, Divisions plus McCain.

Football season has returned along with the President’s comments about patriotism.  The president, along with many others believes that if one does not stand for our National Anthem, they are not a patriot.  They believe that not standing shows disrespect for the flag, the nation and our military service members. Others believe that if a football player kneels during the National Anthem they are exercising their right under the first amendment to protest.  They also believe that kneeling shows respect and reverence for the flag, the county and our military. The intent of kneeling is not to denigrate the country, but to protest and draw attention to what they see as inequities in our criminal justice system. The fact is that both sides are entitled to their beliefs in this great country and we not have to agree.  However, just because we don’t agree does not mean we need to be disagreeable.

Disagreeing over what is or reflects patriotism and respect for our country is understandable because for most people these are strongly held beliefs.  The definition of patriotism seems very straightforward, “Love of and devotion to one’s own country,” (From Webster’s). Using this definition standing for the flag is seen as patriotic.  Also, exercising one’s first amendment rights to protest is patriotic. So, how do we, or should we, determine if one is more patriotic than the other? How does one measure patriotism, or love of country – are they measurable?   If two people have opposing views of an identical event and both consider themselves patriotic, can we accept both positions? Our love of our country has united us in the past, like how we felt after 911. With the current rancor in politics could patriotism be used to create or expose our differences, or perceived differences?  One might say that has already occurred.

Associated with this issue of love of country is the display of our flag along with patriotic themes that are involved in other venues beyond our holidays.  On traditional patriotic holidays like, Flag Day, Memorial Day, July 4th and Veterans Day we would see military marching units, color guards and the display of our flag.  Now these patriotic themes are common practices in many commercial sports. The expansion of patriotic themes and flag display in some ways appears to be the commercialization of patriotism.  If one attaches a theme of patriotism to a sporting event, does that enhance or diminish our perceptions of what it means to be patriot? Does it enhance or diminish our perception of the sport?

The reality is that professional sports like football, baseball and car racing really have nothing to do with patriotism.  However, by attaching patriotic themes to the event it makes us feel like it is part of the sport. Mixing commercial enterprises and patriotic themes could be part of this issue.  If one is patriotic by displaying a large flag, then car dealers would be the most patriotic people in America. Displaying a flag does not automatically make one a patriot, any more than sitting in a church pew on Sunday morning makes one a Christian.  

Our divisions on this topic arose over the idea that kneeling, while the national anthem is played, is disrespecting the flag, country and is disrespectful to our military.  Was the issue fostered to create a difference? There is a belief that some individuals want to divide our nation over this and other topics- and that it is done on purpose. While the belief is real to many – the idea that it is unpatriotic to kneel while the National Anthem is playing is also real to many.  

Why would individuals and groups want to divide us?  The president has been accused of dividing the country with words and remarks that many say reflect racism.  After the protest in Charlottesville, he said there were “good people on both sides.” He has also been accused of being biased when he complains about immigrants from “s—t hole countries.”  When the president complains about individuals kneeling during the National Anthem is he being biased? Those that agree with him don’t see it as a bias, but as a patriotic and love of county issue.    

While the president has been accused of having biases that divide the country, from his perspective the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have a bias against him.  He said that Former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok held a bias against him. Agent Strzok had sent text messages that were critical of then candidate Trump, while he was conducting the Russian investigation.   

During a congressional hearing Agent Strzok testified that he did write and send the emails that were critical of candidate Trump.  One message said “We’ll stop Trump.” Agent Strzok testified that he wrote the text message after candidate Trump denigrated a gold star family.  One could interpret Agent Stzok’s actions as patriotic- defending a gold star family. Others have concluded that his words displayed a bias toward candidate Trump.  So, was it a bias or was it a defense of patriotism?

From my perspective, related to these issues of patriotism were candidate Trump’s disparaging words of Senator McCain.  There are many that believe that the disrespect displayed by then candidate Trump was unpatriotic. How does one disparage a military veteran who was a prisoner of war for over five years?  How does one disparage and individual who served his government for over 60 years and was his party’s candidate for president? That seems like something that we should all agree on – that McCain loved this country, which is the definition of patriotism.

“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe,” “We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to the great force for change they have always been.”  John McCain

If someone denigrates a gold star family and disparages a war hero, it would seem incompatible and inconsistent for that same individual to call out others as unpatriotic for exercising their first amendment rights.  The first amendment gives us the freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble peaceably and the freedom to redress our grievances. Our founding fathers included these freedoms in the first amendment – to protest and question our government.    

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