24 September 2017

O'er the land of the free...

One hundred years ago this month, drafted men from Columbia County NY paraded through the town of Chatham on their way to World War I. When the band played the Star Spangled Banner, William Van Ness refused to take his hat off. A crowd demanded that he show respect, and when he persisted in refusing, they beat him. Van Ness was subsequently charged with disorderly conduct. Three days after the incident, the town justice dismissed the charge, saying that Van Ness had suffered enough at the hands of the mob. The magistrate spoke from first-hand experience; Cornelius Shubert, now a lieutenant, had led the attack on Van Ness, whom he now sent home with a reprimand and a warning, paraphrased a century later, that "any future incident of a similar nature would be dealt with much more harshly."
We may presume that disgruntled sports fans in 2017 won't storm the playing fields of America to chastise professional athletes involved in incidents of a similar nature, but many plainly agree with the President's loathsome remarks in Alabama a few days ago, when he said that any "son of a bitch" who refuses to stand for the National Anthem should be fired. The sad thing about such pathetic threats that the simple act of taking a knee during the anthem is the epitome of nonviolent protest. No doubt, however, the angry white folks in the stands or watching at home assume that the same person taking a knee will loot a store or burn a police car on the streets. The problem with such people, you'd likely hear, is that they respect nothing. Athletic protests like these date back almost fifty years to the 1968 Olympics, but patience with them seems to have run thin recently as whites increasingly resent the disrespect they feel the rest of the population shows them, even as many of those others still feel disrespected by whites.
The consistent thing over time about these threatening demands for respect is an equation of the flag with the troops. To refuse proper reverence to the flag and its theme song is to deny respect to the people who, in the usual vulgar formulation, fight and die for the flag. By this logic the flag embodies that covenant with the dead upon which authentic, sincere patriotism depends. A similar sentiment, not exactly patriotic, rallies defenders of Confederate memorials. The essence of this sort of patriotism is keeping faith with the dead; that sort of patriot resents perceived disrespect for the dead, as disrespect for themselves. That same fetishistic patriotism is in turn resented by those, including many whites, who see it as a form of idolatry and identify the associated demand for unconditional love of country with a "my country right or wrong" attitude that seems, to some, profoundly un-American. Liberalism requires love of country to be justified. While liberals may reject the idea that individuals need to earn respect, many feel entitled, if not obliged, to withhold respect from the nation as a whole, or at least its symbols or monuments, until it earns their love. Meanwhile, many on the other side probably believe unconditional love and reverence to be both natural and necessary to a healthy, great nation. What we have here is a profound disagreement over what it means to be a citizen that most likely won't be decided on the playing field, even if that's where the action seems to be right now.

1 comment:

hobbyfan said...

The President and his legion of brainwashed Trumpets are over-reacting. The "protests" over the Star Spangled Banner have more to do with the racial tensions across the country, and, rightfully, should be kept off the field, but the athletes, starting with Colin Kaepernick last year, see that since they're on television, they'll take advantage and use the medium to put their point across on a national stage.

That said, there are better ways to address the issue without protest or threat of violence. It's too bad President Manchild doesn't see it.