OPINION: Don’t prioritize patriotic iconography over people

David Hormell


President Donald Trump used his social media influence in an unsurprising way in the wake of great coastal tragedy: he went on an impassioned rant regarding NFL players and their right to peaceful protest.

Since Sept. 23, our feckless leader has exhaustively tweeted about the NFL 18 times, not counting a handful of retweets of poorly made memes which attempt to sum up complex political issues in the form of a grainy JPEG file.

During a rally for Luther Strange, Trump took his speech in a strange, tangential direction.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!'”

Trump continues to echo this sentiment in his echo chambers and encourages sports fans to boycott the NFL when protests take place.

Boycotts aren’t new fodder for Trump. In Nov. 2015, he said, “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks” in response to the new minimalist aesthetic of the red holiday cups.

He’s angry and vindictive, but we shouldn’t write this rant off as just another day in the Oval Office. It incorrectly labels the act of kneeling during the national anthem as “protesting the flag.” It’s an absurd simplification and demonstrates a kiddie-pool shallow understanding of the issue at hand.

Rosa Parks wasn’t protesting the use of public transportation when she refused to give up her seat – she was fighting a system built upon the keystone principle of exclusivity. America’s inception lent itself to a lot of shiny idealism, but our country’s core values didn’t align with reality. Certain unalienable rights like “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” only belonged to white males who had attained a certain socioeconomic standing.

In the same light, NFL players aren’t protesting the flag. They’re protesting police brutality and systemic racism. Like the early ideals outlined at the outset of our country, the “Land of the free” expectation doesn’t align with reality when innocent people of color are dying at the hands of those who take an oath to serve and protect.

Outright indignation is nonproductive – it flies under the erroneous assumption that patriotism is compulsory. If Americans lose the ability to be objective, no real progress – social or otherwise – can take place. If compulsory patriotism did exist, there wouldn’t be much of a demarcation between the United States and North Korea’s dictatorship.

It also prioritizes patriotic iconography above human lives.

In a press conference, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, “This isn’t about the president being against anyone, but this is about the president and millions of Americans being for something. Being for honoring our flag, honoring our national anthem, and honoring the men and women who fought to defend it.”

The men and women who fought to defend our rights knew that freedom wasn’t free – and inaction is dangerous. If Americans didn’t use their first amendment right to free speech to correct the tragic trajectory of great injustices, we wouldn’t be honoring their sacrifice.