Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The NFL is the new War on Christmas

The NFL is not really interested in a fight with Donald Trump.  It's not their business model.  They don't exist to be the left-wing opponent of a right-wing white supremacist (pace, Jonathan Chait) President.  But now they are the major stores saying "Happy Holidays!" to their customers, and Donald Trump and his fans are having none of it.


The posted meme (seen below) was addressed, “Dear NFL” and slurred the players as “millionaire ingrates who hate America,” adding that they are “arrogant, ungrateful anti-American degenerates.”

More than once:

“I’m going to organize a protest at Ford Field at the Lions next home game to encourage a fan boycott in response to the millionaire players and billionaire owners who show disrespect towards patriotic fans and our National Anthem and flag,” said Pannebecker, who is representing Michigan Freedom to Work. “It will include veterans and conservative patriots and we hope to be stationed at the 4 main entrances.”

Massachusetts, as well:

The Brockton Enterprise reports that Brockton Parks and Recreation Commission member Stephen Pina this week left a comment on a Facebook story about kneeling Patriots players in which he referred to them as “turds” for taking a knee during the national anthem.

“Turds, your dumbass isn’t paid to think about politics,” Pina wrote. “Dance monkey dance.”

Buffalo, New York:

Erich Nikischer protested the demonstration by walking off the job he’s held for 30 years at New Era Field, reported WGRZ-TV.

“I waited until the National Anthem ended, I took off my shirt, threw my Bills hat on the ground (and) walked out,” Nikischer told the TV station.

Several players declined to participate in “The Star-Spangled Banner” last season to protest police brutality, but the demonstrations took on a new dimension this weekend after President Donald Trump threatened their free speech rights and livelihood.
And even on C-SPAN:

The caller on Washington Journal‘s “independents line” explained to host Pedro Echevarria that she was boycotting the NFL because she agreed with President Donald Trump’s assertion that players should have more respect for the American flag and national anthem.

“I’m a big huge football fan but I can’t watch it anymore because it brings tears to my eyes,” Sharon from Williamstown, New Jersey explained. “It’s too painful so I can’t do that.”

According to Sharon, the flag “is a symbol of imperfect people in an imperfect country always trying to do the right thing.”

“It’s just shameful and it hurts me to see people taking a knee when we are supposed to be joyful about living in this country,” she said. “After I saw what happened [with players kneeling during the anthem], I tried to watch it and I just couldn’t because I just kept crying.”

All people upset because Donald Trump told them they should be.  Kneeling during the anthem in football games has been around long enough to be anodyne, and yet Donald Trump declares it an outrage and people around the country are inflamed.  Because Donald Trump is a master manipulator of both the media and the popular will?  No.  It's because in outrage we feel truly alive.

Soren Kierkegaard identified the sickness of the individual as a longing for meaning and self-affirmation in a modern world bled dry of purpose and value.  He did that in 19th century Copenhagen.  Kierkegaard's analysis still applies, but the response of modernity is not ennui and angst, but outrage and anger.  We have all become powder kegs waiting for the match.  The tiniest spark sets us off.  Social media, from blogs to Twitter, runs on outrage.  People can't wait to take to their keyboards to spew their anger at what Trump just said, or at what Trump's critics just said.  Blog posts go viral because they are angry and expressions of anger and because we want to be angry.  It seems to be the only conclusive evidence that we are alive, that our thoughts and opinions and experiences and feelings matter..  Kierkegaard thought we went with the status quo for the sake of our identity, in order to establish a purpose we could hide in, never realizing the necessity of establishing our self, our true existence.  We don't know who we truly are, Kierkegaard thought, and we suffer the sickness unto death, dead in the midst of life to the real purpose of life.  Having suffered quietly since the industrial revolution and the discovery of our complaint in the Romantic revolution, we have decided to suffer noisily and bay our outrage to the world, as a declaration that we are alive, and that we matter.

But we still only matter as a member of a group, as one of those outraged and incensed, directing our impotency at whatever target is identified for us.  Immigrants, the poor, the other political party, corporations, Wall Street:  and now a handful of athletes, who play the fewest games in the shortest season of almost any professional team sport.  And yet those few persons are suddenly in control of our happiness, of our national unity, of our ability to be citizens united.  Or something.

Each time the group identified is the source of our ills, our problems, our struggles.  And each time we yell at them, because the shouting gives us a sense of meaning, of self-worth, of personal value.

How is kneeling, the most submissive posture a human can take, short of lying prostrate on the ground, an act of defiance, an act so insulting to the flag (and where is the flag in these events?) and to other Americans that it could make a person cry, or quit his job, or organize a protest?

It was the War on Christmas that stirred these emotions previously.  Never mind that Bing Crosby was singing Irving Berlin's "Happy Holidays" on the most popular Christmas album ever recorded (and in 1942!); the phrase became anathema because Fox News said so.  It was never really the phrase:  I'd grown up with it, learned to use it in pre-inclusive times in order to be polite (before we were inclusive, we were simply nice to other people) to Jews (who knew any Muslims?) in December, or to include the New Year's celebration among the holidays at the end of the year.  Kwanzaa came along and we simply absorbed that as another reason to use the broader phrase.  Oddly, no one arguing for "Merry Christmas" was trying to put the "Christ" back in "Christmas," they were just arguing for cultural hegemony.   They weren't expressing concern with the proper sentiment:  they were just expressing outrage.  In fact, it's all about the individual:

A Pennsylvania man angered his neighbors by painting a swastika on a Pittsburgh Steelers flag to show his displeasure over the team’s protest during the National Anthem.

Anton Uhl, who served in the U.S. Army, said he was insulted by the team’s decision to remain in the locker room as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed before Sunday’s game, reported WPXI-TV.

“I’m upset the Rooneys didn’t want to participate in the national anthem,” Uhl said, referring to the family that founded and still owns the team. “So to me, they’re anti-American.”

Uhl’s neighbors weren’t happy that he displayed a Nazi symbol to demonstrate his anger.

“It’s worse than anything the players did,” said neighbor Richard Bartkowski. “They just took a knee or not showed up.”

“The intentions of Steelers players were to stay out of the business of making a political statement by not taking the field,” said Steelers president Art Rooney II. “Unfortunately, that was interpreted as a boycott of the anthem — which was never our players’ intention.”

Uhl said he’ll keep flying his swastika-emblazoned flag until the Rooney family grovels.

“If the Rooney family comes out in person and apologizes to the nation for allowing his team to do this, then, yeah, I’ll take the flag down,” Uhl said.

Because, you know, his actions matter that much to the Steelers.  If they don't, it's an outrage!  Among those outraged, Uhl is not the exception but the rule.  Howver, it's not like these people represent the majority of the country:

A majority of Americans disagree with President Donald Trump’s assertion that football players should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem, even though most say they would personally stand during the song, according to an exclusive Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.

The Sept. 25-26 poll found that 57 percent of adults do not think the National Football League should fire players who kneel. This included 61 percent of NFL fans who watch at least a few games per season.
Or even a majority of Trump voters:

CNN had a panel of Trump voters on the show to discuss President Donald Trump’s attacks on NFL players who knelt this weekend during the national anthem — and many of them were not impressed by the president’s behavior.

Trump voter Mark O’Brien, for instance, wondered why Trump called NFL players “sons of b*tches,” even though he declined to use such forceful language to describe neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia.

When asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota why he believed Trump spoke more harshly against NFL players than neo-Nazis, O’Brien admitted he had no idea.

“That is a huge concern of mine,” he said. “What is going on in that man’s mind?”

But outrage sells:  it fuels viral tweets and posts, it fires up social media and gets noticed, it "sends a message" and the message is that the people are restless.  The message is also:  in outrage the people are small:

“A man who gave his blood, sweat and tears, and lying now in the eve of his life,” Cummings said. “And yet still we have a president who goes around beating him up. That, to me, is unconscionable.”

“People want to raise concerns about patriotism and honoring the flag, how about (a man) who basically laid over five years, confined, as a prisoner of war, beaten, tortured,” Cummings continued. “The president said that he has no, basically no respect for a soldier who gets caught. Come on, now — we’re better than that.”

Outrage doesn't enlarge, it belittles.  We see that best in this circumstance with the rational analysis of Michael Hayden.  I don't agree with Hayden on the propriety of Colin Kaepernick's original protest (I have no objection to it at all.  A football stadium is not a "sacred space"), but he sums up the situation nicely:

Until Sunday, when the ugly side of American politics intruded into my fall eden. I blame some of that on Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who last year began to protest social injustice and police brutality by sitting or taking a knee during the pregame national anthem. His comments on America were a bit more dystopian than I thought was warranted, and I wasn’t enthusiastic about turning a unifying and celebratory moment for most Americans into a venue for protest.

Still, this is a big country with a big heart and the issues he raised were both real and sincerely held. It didn't take much to just let this ride, even after some other NFL players joined in. Everything seemed to be within the tolerances of normal American political discourse and, certainly, American free speech.

Until last Friday. And then President Trump, before a red-hot Alabama crowd of his political base, decided to treat the “SOBs” who wouldn't stand for the anthem the way he has previously treated other groups like Mexicans (murderers and rapists), intelligence professionals (Nazis), immigrants (deeply unfair), refugees (dangerous) and Muslims (they hate us).
As Hayden says:

The president had created what logicians call a false dilemma, that support for free speech or for teammates equated to disrespect for flag, anthem or country. And he did it for political advantage.

Outrage trumps logic, every time.  Not that it should, but it does.  Outrage confirms one's identity as a member of the group being attacked, and identifying the attack confirms one's membership in the group, which confirms one's identity as an outraged individual who's mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.  Is the source of the outrage a false dilemma?  Who cares?  I'm outraged!

Hayden is right, even though it hardly seems to matter.  He is also right:  sometimes the only response to this kind of prompting is to refuse to participate:

Pittsburgh is a patriotic town. There was a lot of anger about the Steelers not showing up. But I believe that everyone on the Steelers did the right thing. They were dealt a bad hand and played it as best they could. Or, more accurately, they tried not to play.

You can't beat outrage with outrage.  You can't reason with it, either.  In Hayden's conclusion is our affirmation (well, of our reasoning):

And the dealer here was President Trump. A week ago, a handful of NFL players protested in one form or another. On Sunday, three full teams did not go out for the anthem, almost all players and coaches locked arms, and more than 200 in the NFL knelt, sat or otherwise demonstrated their displeasure.

And, to be specific, their displeasure was largely with President Trump and what he had said about them, their teammates and their rights. Forced again to defend the indefensible, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday said the president’s Huntsville stand was about “honoring the men and women who fought to defend” the flag.

As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight. It’s not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner. I never imagined myself saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.

This latest national outrage is best  met either with cool rationality, or with polite indifference.  It is not worthy of anger and outrage in response.  Then again, very little is.  Our President is outrageous; but we learned early on not to try to out-bully the bully, nor to be upset by his supporters.  Our self, our identity, our existence, does not lie in the brief incendiary of public outrage.  We are made for better things than that.

1 comment:

  1. I saw a link to this letter from Nate Boyer, a combat veteran and NFL player to Colin Kaepernick, where Mr. Boyer addresses kneeling during the national anthem. He recognizes that he is not a black man in America and so cannot have that experience, and says he needs to listen. He sees it is like his experience as a combat veteran, and experience that you can't fully understand if you haven't been there. Mr. Boyer seeks to listen and understand. I am not not a black man in America, but I can recognize the ever present racism of our country. The white players standing during the anthem, with the hand on the shoulder of their kneeling teammates I think have it right. It goes to accompaniment, to support but not lead. Accompanying. I think you hinted at the solution a while back. Ministry. To seek to minister and to be ministered. The rest is just shouting.