Monthly Archives: November 2017

Freedom Isn’t Easy

Yesterday someone said to me: “I gave your campaign money because I thought you were going to bring people together. But, you’re just another far-out liberal.”

I asked him what turned his perception of me from favorable to unfavorable, and he offered: “Your posts lately (Facebook).”

There are only two subjects for which that might be the case and one was gun control.

“No, I agree with you on assault weapons, but the other stuff.”

The “other stuff” had to be with regard to NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem. I had written that I stand for the anthem, but also understand the protest. I wrote that I, personally, did not view the protest as disrespectful to the military, but as a call to address compelling evidence of systemic racism.

Regardless of disagreements I didn’t consider my position to be divisive. Defending the First Amendment and taking a stand against social injustice isn’t….far-out….is it?

I trust this fellow and I know without question that his repulsion of my view is rooted in his own beliefs about patriotism and national pride. I wasn’t going to dismiss him. I’m also passionate about America and I cannot pretend that I don’t see the issue of injustice as critical, and the denial of it as – dangerous.

Except….

Arguments are often less about what started them, than what they become. The sides drawn from the debate/controversy surrounding the National Anthem; what it means and the issues of justice, now stand in different contexts from the statement that was made in protest. That exchange with a friend (I hope that he still is) was not idle chat to me and looking for a platform to understand all sides of this issue is something I’ve been doing since the controversy began. And I had somewhat of an epiphany.

The tradition of the anthem at professional games isn’t that longstanding, and the inclusion of our military is really only since 9/11, but it was cut from the same ideological cloth as Old Glory herself and to separate pride from our symbol of freedom…well…maybe that’s dangerous, too.

The rituals that bind us, especially if they include the honor of military sacrifice, serve a purpose to strengthen our resolve to retain our patriotic values.The ceremony has now become, for many Americans, inextricable from reverence for our military who pay the price for our exercise of freedom. Perhaps, the ceremonial pledge offered in our National Anthem includes freedom yet to be realized.

I haven’t changed my mind about the First Amendment, or the reality of systemic racism and how that betrays our values, but the issue of participation in our national ceremony is not about those things to those who are angry at kneeling. They aren’t going to change their minds either. I can argue ‘til I’m red, white, and blue in the face, and not one person is going to move from their position.

What credibility do I have to reframe the context of this debate? Very little, probably. I am not a black man in America. It has never been assumed that I stole a nice car just because I’m driving it. I have never seen eyes scan nervously when walking past them down a side street. I cannot and will not pretend that I speak for people who endure suspicion and suffer the sometimes deadly consequences of judgment and fear, just because of the color of their skin. And I will not ever say that the protest to call attention to profiling and social injustice is unwarranted or misplaced.

I can, however, call attention to the conversations we should be having by giving the conflict that has arisen a platform to acknowledge the differences drawn from the battle lines. “We can agree to disagree” isn’t going to work here. We’ve tried that. But, one side succumbing to the other isn’t going to happen, either. People don’t easily surrender the deep rooted beliefs from which they identify themselves.

So….what do I say to my friend?

This, perhaps: “Freedom isn’t free and it isn’t easy. It comes with a price that can exact struggle even among friends and family. And that price also demands that we never become complacent toward our promise of liberty, and justice for all. Our traditions to recognize our pride in this great endeavor, and to honor the sacrifice of those who have been willing to die to protect the cause of freedom, can make us stronger in that pursuit.”

And like I’ve written many times: “I stand for the National Anthem to acknowledge the Brave and to renew my commitment to them to make the “Land of the Free” a reality and not just a lyric in a song.”

I’ll take “Patriotism” for the win, please

Let’s be very clear. What President Trump is calling for, particularly with respect to our flag and standing during the National Anthem, is not “patriotism” but “nationalism.” Both are concerned with individual relationships towards nations, but nationalism is defined as our interest in the unification of a nation based on cultural and linguistic equanimity. Patriotism is experienced as our love for our nation’s values and beliefs.

For several months there has been controversy around some NFL players taking a knee, as a form of protest, during the playing of our National Anthem. A paradoxical situation immediately developed. Standing for the national anthem should be an expression of upholding our national values since it is, essentially, a pledge to recognize America as the “land of the free.” As is our Pledge of Allegiance (to the flag) which commits us to “liberty and justice for all.” Those are America’s values and to support them is patriotic.

However, to protest the National Anthem or America’s symbol (the flag), does not necessarily debase those values. As an expression of our First Amendment, protest can be a patriotic premise to scrutinize (or criticize) our commitment to those values. While nationalism can hold us together, it cannot supplant our value of freedom and justice. Forced nationalism is, in fact, contrary to true patriotism.

At the same time the ceremony in which we express national pride is cultural….and therein lies a paradox that demands we drill down into the issues at the center of the protest.

If a minority race in America is being profiled, and if there is evidence that such profiling is leading to being killed for an offense (or alleged offense) for which a white person would likely be incarcerated (and not killed), then the pledge to American values becomes false to those subjected to such systemic racism. And it cannot be unfathomable that at some point a black person (as in the case of Colin Kaepernick) will not be willing to participate in a cultural tradition that celebrates a different reality.

The other part of this controversial equation is respect for military sacrifice. Our military is essential to securing our founding premise of liberty and justice and to secure our way of life by protecting our national interests. They will always deserve our honor and respect. The ceremonial pageantry of honoring the military at sporting events was heightened after 9/11 when we, as a nation, needed to be in touch with our strength and the spirit of nationalism was an essential bond (in my opinion). But that fusion of the equanimity of nationalism and patriotic values came at a cost; that being a necessary understanding between the character of America today and our commitment to the freedom and justice that conspired to create America in the first place.

The latter cannot be ignored, swept under the carpet, or absorbed by a ceremony; it must remain a relevant and vigilant pursuit. The freedom to protest, along with Constitutional respect and transparent democracy, is what holds our preeminent values to the light and in the highest regard. That is what men and women have died to protect. What they didn’t put themselves in harm’s way for was to defend pageantry; they sacrificed their lives, or were willing to, for the principles that forward our most sacred values.

Personally, I stand for our National Anthem because I am stating my commitment to those values and to honor the brave men and women who have fought for them. But….if you don’t stand, that doesn’t mean you are dishonoring those soldiers. You may be challenging the systemic injustice that betrays their honor and sacrifice. You may be calling into the light our citizenry who do not hold freedom, liberty and justice in the highest regard, and the cultural malfunction of a status quo blinding itself with nationalism that can compromise our patriotic values.

We may have different ways of expressing these points of view – but that is a true American value.

Support Our Troops

support_our_troops1What does it mean, specifically, to “support our troops”?

Everybody says it, and I believe that everyone sincerely means it, but since every color on the political spectrum uses the phrase, even when foreign policy ideologies are diametrically opposed, I wonder what it really means.

It was originally branded political-bumper-stickers during the Gulf War to emphasize conservative values that supported the military actions of the United States. It found more traction at the start of the Iraq War. Originally, it was more about the duty our troops were called to serve than about individualizing the troops themselves. But, that position was blurred pretty dramatically when Barack Obama was President.  Did it only mean any military action a Republican President takes?

I ask that somewhat facetiously, but there were clearly conflicting standards. There is, however, a meaning to the phrase that everyone can agree with.  It can mean that we support the lives of men and women in uniform who represent the United States of America and we unconditionally admire their service and sacrifice.  There is nothing party-specific about that.  Sadly, however, even though the sentiment is sincere, it can become a mere platitude when held up to serious cross examination.

There was once a site on Facebook called “We Support Our Troops” and circulating from the page was a picture of an African-American soldier.  The headline read:  If Obama had a son, he wouldn’t look like this.stock-photo-3597987-isolated-portraits-african-american-soldier

Clearly, the implication was that (then) President Obama would not have allowed his own child to be a soldier and in a twisted logic construed that conjecture as “supporting our troops.” I was frustrated because there is no depth of thinking in a post like that. Yet, that warped-view is a strong voice in the public discourse.

I wrote in the message box:  This is quite possibly the stupidest post I’ve ever seen.

Floodgates opened with Obama-hating, liberal-despising, name calling (insert the noun-adjective of your choice), to let me have it.  The nicest one said, “You’re a pacifist liberal!”…although I’m sure the intent was to insult, and not to praise me.

Actually, I call myself a “Realist-Pacifist.”  While I promote peaceful solutions and wish for a world without war, I also believe that we must have a powerful military if we are to achieve that end.  And let me be perfectly clear:  I support our troops.

I support them by hammering in posts, emails and conversations with representatives or anyone who will listen, that American foreign policy needs to define its purpose and have an exit strategy before engagement so that more men and women can come home alive.

I support our troops by demanding from our leaders that America follows moral directives that are clear before sending troops in harm’s way.support_our_troops_yellow_ribbon_bumper_sticker-p128639558653299365en8ys_400

I support them by petitioning Congress to give our military the equipment and armor necessary to better protect their lives. (http://sftt.org/)

I support them by voting for legislators who believe that American military men and women should have better benefits upon returning home and receive superior health care. (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/29/veterans-need-jobs-better-health-care-leading-military-official-says/)

That means prioritizing the lives of the men and women on the battlefield above the margins of defense contractors who get rich off of military conflicts.(http://thinkprogress.org/security/2012/08/13/680481/defense-contractors-profits-cuts/)

Here’s the sticker I would like to have:  I Support Our Troops and That’s Why I Want to Bring Them Home Alive, as Soon as Possible, and to Receive the Care and Benefits They Deserve When They Get Here!

Supporting our troops is a vital responsibility in our democracy. Thinking about what that really means is essential, because our best support will come from what we agree upon.