Two views on Anthemgate

Proving itself not a monolith, National Review has two different perspectives on Anthemgate.

First, David French defends the First Amendment against the man who swore Jan. 20 to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States””

Americans do not and should not worship idols. We do not and should not worship the flag. As a nation we stand in respect for the national anthem and stand in respect for the flag not simply because we were born here or because it’s our flag. We stand in respect because the flag represents a specific set of values and principles: that all men are created equal and that we are endowed with our Creator with certain unalienable rights. These

These ideals were articulated in the Declaration of Independence, codified in the Constitution, and defended with the blood of patriots. Central to them is the First Amendment, the guarantee of free expression against government interference and government reprisal that has made the United States unique among the world’s great powers. Arguably, it is the single most important liberty of all, because it enables the defense of all the others: Without the right to speak freely we cannot even begin to point out offenses against the rest of the Constitution.

Now, with that as a backdrop, which is the greater danger to the ideals embodied by the American flag, a few football players’ taking a knee at the national anthem or the most powerful man in the world’s demanding that they be fired and their livelihoods destroyed for engaging in speech he doesn’t like?

As my colleague Jim Geraghty notes this morning, too many in our polarized nation have lately developed a disturbing habit of zealously defending the free speech of people they like while working overtime to find reasons to justify censoring their ideological enemies. How many leftists who were yelling “free speech” yesterday are only too happy to sic the government on the tiny few bakers or florists who don’t want to use their artistic talents to celebrate events they find offensive? How many progressives who celebrated the First Amendment on Sunday sympathize with college students who chant “speech is violence” and seek to block conservatives from college campuses?

The hypocrisy runs the other way, too. I was startled to see many conservatives who decried Google’s termination of a young, dissenting software engineer work overtime yesterday to argue that Trump was somehow in the right. Yet Google is a private corporation and Trump is the most powerful government official in the land. The First Amendment applies to Trump, not Google, and his demands for reprisals are ultimately far more ominous, given his job, than even the actions of the largest corporations. Google, after all, has competitors. Google commands no police force. Everything it does is replaceable.

In the space of less than 24 hours this weekend, the president of the United States did more to politicize sports than ESPN has done in a decade of biased, progressive programming. He singled out free speech he didn’t like, demanded that dissenters be fired, and then — when it became clear that private American citizens weren’t going to do what he demanded — he urged the economic boycott of their entire industry.

He told his political opponents on the football field — men who have defined their lives and careers by their mental and physical toughness — to essentially, “Do what I say or lose your job.” In so doing, he put them in straits far more difficult to navigate than anything Colin Kaepernick has wrought: Stand and they are seen to obey a man who just abused his office, and millions of Americans will view them as a sellout not just to the political cause they love but also to the Constitution itself; kneel and they defy a rogue president, but millions of Americans will view them as disrespecting the nation itself to score political points against a president those Americans happen to like.

At one stroke, thanks to an attempted vulgar display of strength, Trump changed the playing of the anthem and the display of the flag from a moment where all but the most radical Americans could unite to one where millions of well-meaning Americans could and did legitimately believe that the decision to kneel represented a defense of the ideals of the flag, not defiance of the nation they love.

So, yes, I understand why they knelt. I understand why men who would never otherwise bring politics onto the playing field — and never had politicized sports before — felt that they could not be seen to comply with a demagogue’s demands. I understand why even owners who gave millions to Trump expressed solidarity with their players. I understand why even Trump supporters like Rex Ryan were appalled at the president’s actions.

I fear that those who proclaimed [Monday’s] events a “win” for the president — after all, many of the players were booed for their stance, and in American politics you generally don’t want to be seen as taking sides against the flag — are missing the forest for the trees. If we lose respect for the First Amendment, then politics becomes purely about power. If we no longer fight to secure the same rights for others that we demand for ourselves, we become more tribal, and America becomes less exceptional.

I respect Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle (and former Army ranger) Alejandro Villanueva, who — alone among his teammates — came out of the locker room to stand for the pledge while the rest of his team remained off the field. I also respect players who reluctantly, but acting out of the conviction that they will not be bullied by the president, chose to kneel when they otherwise never would. I do not, however, respect the actions of Donald Trump. This weekend, he didn’t make America great. He made its politics worse.

When the history of this unfortunate, polarized era of American life is written, whether a man stood or knelt will matter far less than the values we all lived by. Americans who actually defend the letter and spirit of the First Amendment will stand (or kneel) proudly in the history books. Those who seek to punish their political opponents’ speech, on the other hand, can stand or kneel as they wish — so long as they hang their heads in shame.

Next, Kyle Smith decries how Trump politicized the NFL when he should have shut the hell up:

A few weeks ago, there was nothing left of Colin Kaepernick’s ill-advised national-anthem protest except a few dying embers. Now the twin bellows that are President Trump’s lungs have blown a blast of pure oxygen into the fire. Suddenly, it’s going stronger than ever.

If you’re an NFL fan, you can only be aghast at what Trump has done. His side — our side, the side that said you shouldn’t insult the flag because of the mistakes made by some police officers — was winning. All Trump had to do to secure this small but important victory was keep his mouth shut. Kaepernick had suffered the twin humiliations of being forced to recant his position last spring by promising to end his pregame protests and being snubbed by every NFL team this summer, which left him free to spend the opening weeks of the season protesting injustice from his couch. Copycat demonstrations were dwindling out.

Now, thanks to Trump, Sunday brought the spectacle of more dismaying national-anthem protests than ever before. Players were taking a knee from coast to coast. We were presented with the mind-boggling spectacle of Patriots players being booed by Patriots fans for being unpatriotic.

Or maybe they were just backing the First Amendment. Or expressing solidarity with fellow athletes such as NBA superstar Stephen Curry, whom Trump blasted in a tweet. Or simply expressing the sentiment that the president of the United States should stay out of their business. Trump gave them a pile of reasons to politicize the presentation of the flag.

How can anyone who wanted the NFL to shed its political baggage possibly back Trump this time? Football, and sports in general, had for many years served as a welcome refuge from questions about race. The link between Black Lives Matter and taking a knee during the National Anthem brought racial resentment to the field of play. Trump made that much, much worse.

Trump’s latest move may, as Rich Lowry has suggested, benefit him personally. Broadly speaking, he and the flag are on the same side. But it would benefit him personally if every American were forced to serve Trump-branded wine and steak for dinner once a week. What damage is he doing to the rest of us in the cause of furthering his own party-of-one agenda? If you wince at the way it seems that every awards show, late-night comic, and even horror story is obsessed with Trump, why would you back Trump baiting the NFL and the national anthem to also become all about him? “I never signed up for that,” said Trump supporter Rex Ryan, the former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills coach who is now an ESPN analyst.

Those of us who didn’t vote for Trump because we’re more conservative than he is — not to mention more patriotic, being appalled by his suggestion that John McCain is a loser for allowing himself to get captured — are in the position of perhaps being associated with him simply by standing for the national anthem. Now non-radical liberals, people who would never (as Kaepernick idiotically did) wear a Castro T-shirt or socks depicting police as pigs and who would ordinarily never show disrespect during the national anthem, are tempted to scowl at the flag because Trump has stamped his brand all over it. The simplest, most unifying things become divisive in the age of Trump. America is a lot surlier and more disputatious than it was just a few days ago. This is not progress.

Barack Obama was frequently, and rightly, criticized for wading into cultural areas he would have been better advised to avoid, as when he made himself part of the Trayvon Martin case by saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” He suggested Christians had little moral standing to oppose Islamist terror because of the Crusades. He repeatedly issued off-hand insults when saying things like, “Typically, when people feel stressed, they turn on others who don’t look like them.” The White House formed a partnership with the Academy Awards when Michelle Obama called the 2013 Oscar for Best Picture.

Trump has gone much farther down this road than Obama did. Comparing Obama’s culture war to Trump’s is like comparing a sword to a tank. One did real damage. The other is far worse. Obama chose to do the things that made him an incredibly divisive president. The response to that on the part of those who opposed him shouldn’t be, “Let’s have our guy be even more divisive.”

America doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be the case that we have a president who seizes on disputes from pop culture and entertainment and makes them into sources of national irritation. Football shouldn’t be a political football. May the next president have the wisdom to mollify, de-escalate, and lower the volume. May the next president make America normal again.

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