Last November, then Vice President Elect Mike Pence took his family to a production of the Broadway musical Hamilton. The Broadway audience being what it is, his entrance was met with a spattering of boos. The Broadway cast being what it is, they took the opportunity to make a special entreaty to the victorious candidate that he should govern on behalf of all Americans – and implied that the campaign had not reassured them in this regard. Asked for his reaction, Pence explained, “I nudged my kids and reminded them that is what freedom sounds like.”
Pence’s running mate felt otherwise. “The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man,” tweeted the soon-to-be most powerful man in the world, “Apologize!”
Nearly a year later, the déjà vu seems chronic. The most recent kerfuffle regards professional athletes, who the president addresses in the manner of Don from Jamaica, Queens calling into Boomer and the Glue Sniffer on 103.3 FM, WAPL (The Big Apple). The current vogue for kneeling during the national anthem infuriates our dear leader, or perhaps he’s just learned which lines will work at rallies, the way B.F. Skinner’s pigeons learned to summon their sustenance. NFL players responded by kneeling en masse the following Sunday, and so our great national Kulturkampf continues.
All this began, of course, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the song Kurt Vonnegut once described as “gibberish, sprinkled with question marks.” Kaepernick did this to protest what he viewed as the irredeemable racism of America, in particular the disparities in its criminal justice system. The public met this with fawning and rage. I myself will confess to boredom. The former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers is entitled to do as he likes, but the dime-store Malcom X routine is all a bit lame. Decorating oneself with porcine police officers and the fuzzy mug of Fidel Castro is not usually a sign of deep contemplation. Query whether it disqualifies someone from leadership in the #Resistance to refer to Hillary Clinton as a “proven liar” who should “be in prison” rather than elected president. I’m not personally bothered that his girlfriend compared the owner of my home-town team to a slave owner, but it’s the sort of thing you try to avoid when interviewing for a job. I can’t be bothered to care if he defiles an NFL tradition that dates back to 2009, when the U.S. Military purchased it with marketing dollars.
To protest the injustice of America by protesting America itself does the cause an injustice. And yet to call those protesting America un-American is to not understand America. The fates concocted this spectacle such that all our stupidities array against each other. Enter Donald Trump, stage right.
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation,” wrote Justice Robert Jackson, “it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” The petty officials in question were the West Virginia State Board of Education. The words being forced were the pledge of allegiance; the act was a salute of the flag. The particular salute in question has…not aged well:
Readers of this blog do not need a reminder that the NFL does not wield the power of a state – whatever Roger Goodell’s pretensions otherwise – and that beratement by a public official is not the same as shackles and cell bars. But for a man with the power to bomb people while on his vacation to excoriate peaceful protest is not merely gauche, it is an insult to the flag draped behind him in his official portrait.
Over the past nine months, I have cursed the dimwitted Champions of Justice for forcing me from time-to-time to defend Donald Trump. Today I must curse Donald Trump for forcing me to defend the dimwitted champions of justice. Said petty high-official should take the council of his designated successor, and recognize that which Made America Great in the first instance. But then that wouldn’t make for a good applause line at rallies.
So it goes.