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Boardman writes: "No one has a coherent argument for saluting the flag, because there isn't one. The flag ritual is an expression of our secular religion, American Exceptionalism."

Colin Kaepernick. (photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Colin Kaepernick. (photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Flag Idolatry Is a Pathology That Crushes Real American Values

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

27 September 17

What, if anything, does it mean to respect the American flag?

he flag is a symbol, and there is no agreement as to what it actually symbolizes. By design, the flag’s thirteen stripes stand for the original 13 states, none of which would ban slavery. The 14th state, Vermont, was the first state to ban slavery, doing it weakly in its 1777 state constitution (not that the principle was enforced: in 1802 the Town of Windsor sued a State Supreme Court justice to get him to take care of an elderly, infirm slave he had dumped on town welfare; the town lost the case). The original flag had 13 stars for those same original 13 states, and it took over 70 years before all 36 stars in the 1865 flag represented states without slavery (but not states without racist Jim Crow laws and the freedom to lynch without consequence). The colors of the stars and stripes had no meaning in 1777, when it was adopted, as distinct from the colors of the Great Seal that did have meaning.

Then there’s the Star Spangled Banner, written by a slave owner in celebration of the defense of a slave state in a battle against the British. The British force included a contingent of former slaves who were promised freedom if they fought for the British. How many people at the beginning of a sports event understand “the land of the free and the home of the brave” in its deepest historical irony?

All in all, the typical American flag ritual is an exercise in mindless obedience in which any talk of real meaning interferes with the underlying objective of fealty to the state. The ritual is totemic and totalitarian, but not so extreme as the Two Minutes Hate required by the Party in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” The difference is one of degree, not kind, and the enemy in both instances is rational, individual thought.

Mindless obedience has long been a goal of self-appointed patriots, wrapping themselves in the flag to defend indefensible domestic injustice or criminal wars (both of which we have more than our share these days). There is no meaning in the demand to “respect” any abstract symbol, much less one as drenched in horrifying contradiction as the American flag. In a mature world, respect is what you earn, not what you demand. In a mature world, a person is respected for who and what he or she is and does, not for any office or position of authority. We do not live in a mature world.

Some quarterbacks are more obtuse than others

More than a year ago, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat quietly, then kneeled during the national anthem at the beginning of his team’s games. The gesture was quiet, respectful, and principled. And Kaepernick was articulate in his explanation that he was objecting to bigotry and injustice in America, and especially to police suffering no consequences for shooting and killing unarmed black men. For this objection, he has been blacklisted by the National Football League owners, the same owners who turkey-danced in all directions last weekend in a panic to find the right response to an intensity of protest they mostly neither shared nor understood, beyond the need for public relations management.

No one has a coherent argument for saluting the flag, because there isn’t one. The flag ritual is an expression of our secular religion, American Exceptionalism. Coherence and reason are at best irrelevant and require suppression before they spread and become a threat. The result is widespread confusion among a large portion of the population, expressed as sincerely and sadly as anyone by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Brees started by making it about President Trump, which it’s not, and then went on to say with inarticulate imprecision: “I disagree with what the President said and how he said it. I think it’s very unbecoming of the office of the President of the United States to talk like that to the great people like that.”

The rest of the Drew Brees statement got even more disconnected in its thought pattern:

Well, let me say this first: Do I think that there is inequality in this country? Yes, I do. Do I think that there is racism? Yes, I do. I think there’s inequality for women, for women in the workplace. I think that there’s inequality for people of color, for minorities, for immigrants.

But as it pertains to the National Anthem, I will always feel that if you are an American, that the National Anthem is the opportunity for us all to stand up together, to be unified and to show respect for our country, to show respect for what it stands for, the birth of our nation.

We will—there will always be issues with our country. There will always be things that we’re battling, and we should all be striving to make those things better.

But if the protest becomes that we’re going to sit down or kneel or not show respect to the flag of the United States of America and everything that it symbolizes and everything that it stands for and everything that our country has been through to get to this point, I do not agree with that.

I feel like that is a unifying thing.

The national anthem and standing for the national anthem and looking at the flag with your hand over your heart is a unifying thing that should bring us all together and say, “You know what? We know that things are not where they should be, but we will continue to work and strive to make things better, to bring equality to all people: men, women, no matter what your race, creed, religion – it doesn’t matter – equality for all.” But if you’re an American, then I will always believe that we should be standing, showing respect to our flag with our hand over our heart.

Well, that’s just nuts. And it hasn’t worked. Historically, all the flag worship in the world has done little to assure justice. Like an ungodly number of his fellow citizens, Brees is deep in American denial. His is a common knee-jerk response, absent logical thought despite some accurate perceptions. Yes, it sort of sounds good – until you try to figure out what it means. Knee-jerk reactions are not about knees but jerks. And when people like Brees are standing for the national anthem, what are they really standing for?

Is this a tipping point? Are we watching a fad or a movement?

When Colin Kaepernick was protesting alone in 2016, it’s doubtful even he expected to see so many NFL players and owners expressing such solidarity and support in 2017. Granted, the message was muddled, as some players kneeled, some linked arms, some stayed in the locker room, and so on, with no clear message emerging beyond, perhaps, some disgruntlement at being dissed by Trump. The game is on, but it’s not clear yet what the game is, and no clear leadership has emerged. But the legitimacy of professional American athletes protesting, even in the mildest way, is a new thing. If the protest expands and endures and coheres, it could be a very good thing for the country. These protestors include an inordinate number of new millionaires who have decided not to forget what they know about being black and brown in this America. And for anyone wondering what that means, there’s America’s response to storms in Texas and Florida, and America’s virtual abandonment of Puerto Rico, as Trump blames the looted colony for being at the mercy of the United States. Puerto Ricans are American citizens who serve in the US military at disproportionately high rates. Tell them about saluting the flag.

And now sports protest has spread from professional football to major league baseball, although just barely. On September 23, Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became first major league baseball player to kneel for the national anthem, hat over his heart and a teammate’s hand on his shoulder. Maxwell was born on a US military base in Germany. He is the son of a career soldier. Maxwell’s statement after the event had a coherence Drew Brees should envy:

The point of my kneeling is not to disrespect our military. It’s not to disrespect our constitution. My hand was over my heart because I love this country. I’ve had plenty of family members, including my father, that have bled for this country, that continue to serve for this country. At the end of the day, this is the best country on the planet. I am and forever will be an American citizen, and I’m more than forever grateful for being here. But my kneeling is what is getting the attention, because I’m kneeling for the people that don’t have a voice. This goes beyond the black community. This goes beyond the Hispanic community. Because right now we’re having a racial divide in all types of people. It’s being practiced from the highest power that we have in this country, and he’s basically saying that it’s OK to treat people differently. My kneeling, the way I did it, was to symbolize the fact that I’m kneeling for a cause, but I’m in no way or form disrespecting my country or my flag.

Maxwell is, intentionally or not, echoing Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address in 1861, when he said, with seven states already seceded from the union for the sake of slavery:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

We have no president today capable of such words, and even less capable of such sentiments. That understanding is part of what drives NFL players to demonstrate, however inchoately. From Kaepernick to Maxwell, professional athletes are in touch with our better angels, and this is something new in American life. It is enough to give one hope, at least for the moment. Maybe they will be bullied back into silence and mindless obedience by the screechers demanding respect – respect for the flag, respect for the military, respect for the police even though they keep killing unarmed black people (and others). The screechers know no boundaries and are unburdened by integrity; they want only consent by any means necessary. But they are screeching for a despicable president who earns disrespect daily, so maybe hundreds, even thousands of over-privileged professional athletes will become America’s saving grace. We’re a long way from there. But wouldn’t that be an amazing example of giving something back?

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+13 # WBoardman 2017-09-27 14:30
from Business Insider, 9.27.17
How to make money from the NFL's ratings debacle as anthem protests grow

NFL ratings are struggling right now, as President Donald Trump continues to stoke the flames of a red-hot debate over national anthem protests, while the actual on-field product has also left something to be desired.

But fear not, football fans — JPMorgan knows how you can make a pretty penny off the league's woes.

It involves making a short-term bet that shares of CBS will drop. The most-watched US television network and home to multiple games a week, CBS serves as a bellwether of sorts for NFL viewership.

JPMorgan specifically recommends purchasing weekly put contracts that will start making money if CBS shares decline roughly 1% to $57.50 by expiration on October 6.

While it's still too early to know if Trump's inflammatory comments and the defiant league-wide response will have a material impact on ratings, this week's upcoming slate of games could provide a much better idea. As such, JPMorgan figures it can't hurt to be prepared in the event of a major downswing.

+14 # WBoardman 2017-09-27 14:33
"Any potential NFL boycott is more likely to be determined in this weekend’s results," Shawn Quigg, an equity derivatives strategist at JPMorgan, wrote in a client note. "Investors likely could cite the anthem debate for any weak viewership results, adding to existing viewership concerns. Thus, the greater reward-risk appears skewed to the downside in the near-term as weaker results may mobilize investors to take the potential impact more seriously."

For an example of how quickly NFL dynamics have shifted since protests have gotten more widespread, JPMorgan cites the spike in jersey sales for Pittsburgh Steeler offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva. He was the only Steeler on the field for the national anthem this past Sunday, and the firm says that may suggest fans favor it when players stand for the anthem.

While that's certainly a lot to extrapolate from one instance, making JPMorgan's suggested options wager could pay off even if ratings decline for other reasons. After all, even before the number of protests grew this past week, there were already worries that declining viewership could hamper future profitability for NFL TV partners.

CBS shares rose 0.6% to $58.35 at 2:29 pm EST.
+20 # tedrey 2017-09-27 14:52
For a claimed democracy, we've still messed up the idea of respect for symbols.

The number of people standing for the flag and national anthem should represent the number of people those symbols are working for--not the number who are afraid to do otherwise.

It's like the applause at the end of a performance--If you like what we've done for you, let us know; clap! If you're silent, we'd better do better.

In short, the flag and the anthem should earn, not demand, respect.
+22 # Jim at Dr.Democracy on Facebook 2017-09-27 14:56
Sing It, Brother Boardman!

Extremely well said, and perfectly summarized thus: "Mindless obedience has long been a goal of self-appointed patriots, wrapping themselves in the flag to defend indefensible domestic injustice or criminal wars."

A True American Patriot embraces and defends the US Constitution and ALL the people of the land. The flag is a mere object for display, a mere symbol of what it stands for: OUR PEOPLE.
+25 # ER444 2017-09-27 15:06
The people complaining about the "kneeling during the anthem" are the same people who on Sundays kneel before "The Cross". For me "kneeling" is one of the oldest signs of homage and honor. They are showing deep respect for the principles of this country that are unfortunately not being upheld by the political and social systems of this Republic. Is it really so difficult to simply take a step back and think a little about the gentle message these young men are trying to send?
+3 # jazzman633 2017-09-27 15:16
I suggest we pull this problem out by the roots. In recent years the government has worked hard to militarize sporting events and drench them with patriotism -- when it should have been moving in the opposite direction.

It was a bad idea to introduce the anthem at sporting events in the first place. One really has nothing to do with the other, but the masses are reassured that their sports attendance and fandom are thoroughly American, as we will prove by flying planes overhead, showing off vets -- and singing the national anthem.

Next, calm down and face the truth. That white policemen are mowing down black men is a false narrative. According to FBI crime statistics (2009-12), more black men are killed by private citizens in self-defense (3.4%) than by police officers (2.5%).

The most prolific murderers of black men are in fact black men. 89% of murdered blacks died at the hands of the fellow blacks. Anybody want to protest that?

As for police murders, more blacks died by suicide, car accident, or even lightning strike than were killed by police.

We could start by separating sports from patriotism and removing all reminders of the latter. I'm a realist: it's not going to happen, so things will only get worse.

Every sporting event, even down to high schoolers and below, will become a political demonstration. Won't that be fun?
+14 # WBoardman 2017-09-27 20:55
jazzman633 writes, erroneously and sensationally:

"That white policemen are mowing down black men
is a false narrative."

No one is arguing that police are "mowing down" anyone,
although police behavior at large demonstrations is
getting worrisome.

Not just policemen, also police women.

Jazzman talks about undifferentiate d black men,
which is dishonest, when the issue is police killing
UNARMED black men (and others).

The issue is also no consequences for killers.

jazzman633's resort to the right wing trope of black on black
crime is a heartless three-card monte move of zero relevance.

Likewise all the other stats, no matter how accurate –
just distractions from the crux of the problem,
that police have a job to do and that job is NOT
killing unarmed people, innocent people, and not
disproportionat ely people of color.

As a society, we give police the right to use lethal force
and the quid pro quo should be that police are held
to a higher standard than a lightning strike.

jazzman633 says he's a realist, but a realist is not
bound to accept reality as it is. Recognizing reality is
just the first step toward changing it.

jazzman633 seems to get that with false patriotism,
so why not with killers that WE PAY to protect & serve?
-7 # jazzman633 2017-09-28 13:34
I am honored by a reply from the author himself. I really liked your piece and recommended it to all high school and college English classes.

Sorry if you don't agree with my "mowing down" metaphor/hyperb ole, but what is "black lives matter" but an accusation of callousness and disregard for black lives?

Knock off the name-calling. "Right-wing trope" and "three card monte" are insults that have to be explained to a literalist like me. I like numbers and facts. Contrary to the hard evidence, BLM propagates a false narrative to antagonize and incite.

As to causes of death, I was not making moral equivalencies, only pointing out frequencies. People should be concerned about ALL unnecessary causes of black men (and people in general) dying. But why do so many black men die at the hands of other black men?

As for the cops, they are in an impossible position, one that you or I would not want to be in. Every day, it seems, there's another video of an officer beating on someone. You'd think with all the video surveillance and cell-phones, they'd think twice. But they don't.

On the other hand, people of color commit a disproportionat ely large number of crime and have more contact with the police. And no matter how many parents have The Talk, some blacks are going to escalate minor confrontations.

It's worth pointing out that in simulations, participating reporters, activists and others shoot the "suspect" far more often than police actually do.
+10 # WBoardman 2017-09-28 22:40
jazzman633 still does not confront the fundamental
problem – amply documented in recent years – that
cops can kill unarmed, innocent black people (& others)
without suffering serious consequences.

To me, this bespeaks a corrupt culture.

Cops are NOT in an impossible situation.
Philando Castile was in an impossible situation.

The inconsistencies and contradictions in jaxxman633's
comments bespeak a cultural prejudice most people
don't even recognize in themselves, or in the culture
at large.

Our culture is deliberately opaque and mystification
is a useful tool for control. For example, flag idolatry.

A good heart and a clear head require constant effort.
+7 # Salus Populi 2017-09-28 10:56
Well, let's see. Some writers and public figures have compared the current spate of killings of unarmed black men to the past era of lynchings. Something like 3,900 blacks were lynched, according to studies. That certainly was not a large percentage of the entire black population. So I guess lynchings, which undoubtedly killed fewer blacks than diseases of poverty, "self-defense" by angered whites, alcoholic brawls and the like, were more or less "O.K." by jazzman's standards. Likewise, when we bombed the DPRK, we only killed between a fifth and a third of the entire population, leaving at least two-thirds alive. So our past genocides weren't really very criminal, and the fact that no U.S. commander was ever punished for any crimes against humanity, no matter how egregious, should not disturb us in the least. I'm sure the roughly 25 to 30 million dead victims of U.S. foreign policy since the end of WWII would agree that the real problem is the growing disrespect for the blood-drenched flag, the bowdlerized Pledge of Allegiance, the slavery-celebra ting National Anthem, and the rich men's coup-fostered Constitution, all of which should obviously be venerated by anyone with a patriotic drop of blood -- the same standard as was used at one time to determine whether you were "non-white" -- under penalty of ostracism or worse.

Those who single out Trump for his egregious militarism and threats might study the last several previous regimes.
+18 # Wise woman 2017-09-27 17:09
Actions always speak louder than words. OK, you newly appointed millionaires, perhaps you could gather up your teammates, Hollywood friends, singers, chip in a mil or even half a mil to bail out Puerto Rico and the other islands destroyed by the hurricanes. That would be a real statement about who the real Americans are. Don't forget to sign your name so we know who you are when you decide to run for public office after you retire.
+3 # laborequalswealth 2017-09-28 12:19
No - you are NOT a "Wise woman." Just another toady for the Republican party of death and destruction.

After American corporations have raped PR, you want a handful of BLACK MEN to solve the problem caused by hundreds of rich white men.

What a disgusting hypocrite you are.
+12 # dquandle 2017-09-27 19:19
The US military has been responsible for tens of millions of deaths, none of which were necessary, but all demanded by empire and capital. The military has done nothing worthy of respect for nearly 80 years, and in the 75 years prior to WWII, had done nothing worthy of respect. They have not defended the country, but instead their actions, directed by a series of corrupt and sadistic governments, have clearly brought the people of this nation into harm's way. Being a willing tool of mass murder for profit, is not worthy of respect. Jeopardizing the lives, health and safety, of the American public, by just following heinous orders, is damned close to treason.
+5 # laborequalswealth 2017-09-28 12:30
Totally agree.
+5 # Dale 2017-09-28 08:51
Verse 6: The Myth of American Exceptionalism
God gave America a Destiny, a Miraculous Instrumentality , An Ordained Providence, a manifest for destined EXCEPTIONALISM! Early Puritans set the scriptured tone, God´s grace did not apply to the heathen inhabitants. The doctrine of Calvinist self-denial evolved to preaching the Gospel of Wealth. Throughout American history Christian eschatology equated to cultural chauvinism. Plantation owners enslaved Africans, later-day Robber Barons usurped land, established dynasties of unearned wealth extracted from the labor of poor immigrants Land grabs pushed the frontier ever westward, genociding the native population. God gave them all purposeful design to exploit opportunity Under the guise of EXCEPTIONALISM. Nationalism morphed to universality, glorified history as paradise to be. Righteousness glimmered out all Dark Motive, Guiding their Manifest Destiny, their White Man´s Burden. Their Rugged Individualism made them into the Surviving Fit.
+3 # Wise woman 2017-09-28 20:56
Sorry, laborequalsweal th, you misread me. If you were aware of any of my many previous posts, you'd know exactly what I stand for which is the complete opposite of what you stated. Have a good day.
+5 # humanmancalvin 2017-09-29 15:08
I have remained sitting during the playing of the National Anthem since the 60's because of the shameful murdering of millions of innocents & the so called Viet Cong & members of the NVA who were all doing the same exact thing that probably the majority of American citizens would have done if Vietnam or any other country occupied this country by force of arms. That by no means I did not shed many a tear for the American soldiers that were shipped home in flag draped coffins being victims of the political structure that brought us to the country of Vietnam to begin with. Growing up in public housing projects in Boston where the poorest of the poor lived not out of choice but because that was the only place to live that adjusted the cost of rent by how much money you received a month generally from the state of Mass. in the form of welfare named Aid to dependent children.
Many of these poor kids quit school at the age of 16 or before in a lot of cases knowing that no authority would bother to come looking for them for delinquent truancy as they were poor & basically the powers that be do not care much for the life quality of that particular group of people. One would quit school as soon as possible to begin working non reported minimum wage jobs to supplement he household income or to be able to leave home to be on their own & move far away for the projects as they possibly could, as in my case.
+5 # humanmancalvin 2017-09-29 15:33
I have been sitting during the playing of the National Anthem since the 60's as a means of protest for the unjust murdering of both Vietnamese people & the mostly born in poverty children of the US military. Joining the military for the kids at 17 was the only way out of the grinding poverty & violence that plagued the city of Bostons Roxbury located housing projects. It's pretty damned sad that life was so miserable that knowing you would be shipped off to war was an attractive alternative. I have continued to sit through today as a symbol of my protest against a very long list of America's wrongs. From the unrelenting prejudice of folks of color now emanating from even the White House & from being of part American Indian blood whose New England Abenaki were among the 1st indigenous people to suffer the greed for land, food & all resources available by the oh so religious good folk called the Pilgrims. I have been booed, threatened & physically assaulted thru the years but I remain seated as my inner conscious would not allow me to stand in admiration of a culture that rewards wealth thru excessive tax breaks & excessively punishes those people of color and those who suffer poverty.
To the conman in the White House: where did freedom of speech which would include legal actions such as kneeling disappear to under your Russian aided rule?
+4 # kellygerling 2017-09-30 02:41
Thanks for the article William!

The problem of "mindless obedience" goes several more levels into that which is sacrosanct.

The article points out that flag idolatry is one such example. The national anthem is another. Worship for the military another. Still deeper is veneration for the founders of the nation and sanctimonious reverence for our second Constitution of 1787. Blind obedience, reverence, veneration, at all of these levels stands in the way of effective reasoning. Each ritual or sentiment precludes answering question to solve our problems, to fix our flaws:

What does the flag show about our history? (which the article dealt with well)

What does the anthem actually mean? (Take a look at verse four sometime.)

What does the military itself say about the ethics of their own soldiers?

What did the oligarchs who won the debates among the founders actually say when they wrote the Constitution? (Hint: Madison, Hamilton and G. Morris)

Which founders were inclined towards oligarchy, against actual self-governance and which weren't?

What are the democratic and undemocratic features of our Constitution?

What democratic features such as the direct democracy features of our state, and multi-party features of other nations, should be added?

In a self-governing nation and society, how do citizens as a whole change—alter or abolish, repeal and annul, amend or replace —their form of government?

There are hundreds more such questions...

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