Over the weekend, dud San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a stand: He sat during the national anthem. He announced that he was doing so in order to join the Great Crusade for Social Justice: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
The media quickly hailed Kaepernick as a hero. “Colin Kaepernick stood tall while sitting down,” wrote Ian O’Connor of ESPN. “In fact, what he did in benching himself for the national anthem on Friday night was the hardest thing he could possibly do. . . . He made his statement loudly and clearly.” DJ Gallo of The Guardian wrote, “No matter your opinion of Kaepernick’s stance on not standing, he’s sticking his neck out . . . impressively devoted to his cause, consequences be damned.” Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles, said Kaepernick was “truly being brave.”
Naturally, critics on the right have called Kaepernick a coward or a gloryhound. They’ve said — rightly — that if Kaepernick truly wanted to fight against supposed racial injustice, he could give up his $19 million per year to help develop inner cities. They’ve pointed to the fact that legless military veterans stand for the anthem, so Kaepernick can damn well do the same. They say that Kaepernick is on the verge of being cut, and that he’s playing the race card so that he can claim political victimization when he ends up on the chopping block.
But Kaepernick is braver than his compatriots on the left. At least he’s willing to go all the way.
The same weekend that Kaepernick pulled his stunt, Beyoncé performed at the Video Music Awards. There, she posed with the so-called Mothers of the Movement, including the mother of attempted cop killer Michael Brown; she then performed an act in which her dancers depicted “angels” apparently being shot at the hands of the police.
Would she stand for the national anthem?
Hillary Clinton released a statement in honor of the 53rd anniversary of the March on Washington. In it, she explained, “Something is profoundly wrong when decades after Dr. King addressed the nation, so many Americans still feel that their country values them less, simply because of the color of their skin.” President Obama says that racism is baked into America’s DNA.
Would either of them stand for the national anthem, if they didn’t worry about political considerations?
To answer that question, we must first consider two others. First, do we stand for the anthem because it describes America as it currently stands? Second, if we’re standing for the principles undergirding the national anthem, are those principles worth standing for?
Very few Americans stand for the national anthem because they believe America is perfect. We all know that no country is utopia, and that America faces its share of serious problems. If Colin Kaepernick thinks that the national anthem can be celebrated only when America becomes utopia, he’ll be sitting for quite a while.
But the more important question is the second: Is America worth celebrating because of what we stand for?
Traditional conservatives would certainly say yes: America stands for foundational notions of individual liberty and equal rights under God. Failure to live up to those ideas represents a breach of trust with our most basic ideals. Racism isn’t an ingrained character flaw in the American psyche, in this view — it’s a betrayal of what America represents. This aspirational belief is what created modern America: it drove hundreds of thousands of Americans to spill their blood to free their black brethren; it drove millions to vote to stop Jim Crow; it drives millions to condemn racism, making “racist” the most effective and powerful slur in American life.
The modern Left pretends to mirror this belief system — Hillary Clinton tried it out for a spin during the Democratic National Convention, when she attempted to usurp Republicans’ traditional “love of country” theme in a flag-waving display of charlatanry. But in reality, American leftism is based on rejection of America’s founding principles. America, in the Howard Zinn view, was conceived in class warfare and founded in racism; every step away from the founding, therefore, is a step forward.
If the flag is a symbol of oppression and racism, as Louis Farrakhan says, why cheer it?
In this view, the national anthem would be celebrating a foundational lie: the lie of the Declaration of Independence, the lie of the Constitution. Standing for that lie would be downright immoral. If, as columnist Shaun King puts it, America was never great, why stand for the song celebrating it? If the flag is a symbol of oppression and racism, as Louis Farrakhan says, why cheer it? The American flag flew over a country that tolerated slavery for longer than the Confederate flag — so why stand for it?
Democrats’ vision of America is indeed a dark one. Americans innately understand that — which, presumably, is why a 2011 study from Harvard found that “Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation’s political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation, primarily in favor of the Republican Party.”
So when Colin Kaepernick says that he won’t stand for the national anthem, perhaps he’s not being a philosophical coward. Perhaps he’s just speaking a leftist truth that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama won’t speak: To them, the American story isn’t one of restoration of founding principles and allegiance to eternal truths, but an ever-changing moral rubric in which the only constant is the evil of the past.