Part 2—In lieu of professional leaders: "Now we're engaged in a great civil war." We believe Abraham Lincoln said that!
Alas! He could have been referring to our current state of play, which was described, in yesterday's New York Times, by two regular columnists.
David Brooks compared the nation to a set of disconnected "planets." Meanwhile, across the page, in her debut at the Times, Michelle Goldberg said we're "two nations." She explained some of the constitutional provisions which tilt our political outcomes in favor of the less populous of those nations, the one to which we liberals don't belong.
Are we engaged in a great civil war, perhaps of the "culture war" kind? In this morning's Washington Post, Chuck Culpepper describes the terrain of the latest such battle, the battle which has started to rage about the way some people have knelt during the national anthem.
Is it possible that this will turn our to be a losing war for the "blue" nation, planet and tribe? We'd say that's certainly possible, in large part because of the hapless way our hapless tribe tends to conduct our business.
Culpepper writes for the Washington Post's sports section. Concerning the culture war which now swirls around the anthem and flag, he had visited "a great battlefield of that war."
Culpepper had gone to a sports bar in Canton, Texas—population 3581, sixty miles east of Dallas. While there, he'd recorded the thoughts of various people concerning this new culture war.
Even in smallish Canton, different people have different reactions, instincts, impulses and views concerning this new culture war, the one which may end up helping Donald J. Trump and his "red" planet. For ourselves, our reactions, instincts, impressions and views tend to align with those of Lacey Stark, "a young, lifelong Cowboys fan who went to high school in nearby Van."
As Stark spoke with Culpepper, she was watching the Cowboys battle the Cardinals this past Monday night. Here's what he says she said:
CULPEPPER (9/27/17): At halftime, Lacey Stark, a young, lifelong Cowboys fan who went to high school in nearby Van, told of her experiences from a choice vantage point: In Canton, she owns a hair salon. She also aims to make her salon a beacon of the mingling of the races.Our basic reactions tend to align with Stark's (though not in every way). Most basically, we haven't found the players' kneeling to be disrespectful either.
Of the NFL players kneeling, she said, “A lot of people here take offense to it. They think that it’s very disrespectful. However, I’m very different from that. I feel like a lot of people complain that a lot of celebrities don’t use their fame to do something about the problems in the world, and I think it’s a good platform for them to try to bring a lot of different unity. Whatever they can. This is what they can do. It’s bringing a lot of tension, so it’s bringing a lot of conversation. I don’t think it’s disrespectful, because out on the field, they’re not laughing at it, they’re not disrespecting it. They’re just kneeling. They’re not ignoring it. They’re just kneeling. So I don’t find it disrespectful.”
Indeed, we're not sure when kneeling came to be seen as a sign of disrespect. The notion could almost seem comical to us, except for the feelings, instincts and reactions of millions of people who feel differently about this fight.
One such person is Nelson Whitaker, who manages the sports bar in question and who "served in the United States Air Force from 1976-80, in San Antonio." According to Culpepper's report, Whitaker also "belongs to a group of motorcyclists called the Patriot Guard Riders, who assist with transporting the remains of fallen soldiers."
Whitaker's basic reactions and instincts differ from ours. According to Culpepper, this is how the recent events look to him:
CULPEPPER: “As far as these overpaid pro athletes disrespecting our country, it just makes me sick,” Whitaker said. He’s a fairly regular NFL watcher who envisions watching less regularly. “Right now, you know, these athletes that are on the public stage, the world stage, and disrespecting the flag and the country, I couldn’t care less about watching it now.”That isn't the way these events strike us. That said, we'll now voice a basic point we liberals tend to have a hard time formulating and accepting:
He said, “When I saw what was going on, and the wide disrespect, from full teams, you know, not partaking in the national anthem as it plays before games, stuff like that, it really, it set bad on me. Because for as long as we’ve been a country, people have fought for the freedom of the country, and they’re disrespecting that. They’re able to do that and make the money that they make because of the people that have fought for the freedom of this country. Personally, I’d like to see them go to another country and pull it.
“I like it when the players were out there: both teams, on the sidelines, standing up, hand over heart, when the anthem is being played. I honestly think that 99 percent of the veterans out there would say the same thing, because they’re not just disrespecting the anthem. In my opinion, they’re disrespecting everyone that’s serving now, and everyone that has served before that.”
Whitaker holds the same ownership stake in the United States that we so infallibly do. By law, and by common sense, his reactions and instincts also count, the same way our reactions do, as do Stark's reactions.
To all intents and purposes, this new battle started when Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee last year. Who is Colin Kaepernick?
At the time, Kaepernick wasn't ambassador to the United Nations, nor was he a political strategist. He was a 28-year-old professional quarterback who had come within a eyelash of winning the 2013 Super Bowl. He was a superb athlete who may not have understood that political protests—however well-intentioned, however sensible on the merits—may face a serious uphill struggle when they're offered in the face of the flag and the national anthem.
Over here in our liberal nation, we've been losing to the flag for a great many years now. Way back in 1988, Candidate George H. W. Bush paraded around the country visiting flag factories and proclaiming his own vast patriotism. In the process, he massacred Candidate Dukakis, who belonged to the ACLU and who had agreed that teachers shouldn't be forced to lead their classes in reciting the pledge of allegiance.
In that instance, our own instincts, reactions and opinions aligned with those of Dukakis, who we still regard as the sanest person who ever ran for president. That said, did we mention the fact that Dukakis got massacred in the course of this earlier culture war?
"BUSH SEEKS TO SEW UP FLAG VOTE." So read the almost-comical headline which sat atop this Washington Post news report in September 1988.
Even then, members of David Brooks' "meritocrat" planet reacted the way we tend to react today, offering silly complaints which Bush cuffed aside as if they weren't even there:
HOFFMAN (9/21/88): Later, Bush told the crowd outside [the flag factory], "Since 1849, an Annin flag has flown high on January 20th every four years, presiding over the swearing-in of the president of the United States. And that's a ceremony I hope to be a part of this coming year."Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Candidate Bush had "missed the mark" on an historical date! Unfortunately, as he made this pointless error, he was also blasting Dukakis into submission.
Bush's American history missed the mark: The inaugural ceremony has been held in January only since 1937; before that, it was held in March.
We don't know Colin Kaepernick. We assume he's a good, decent person.
We didn't, and don't, think his kneeling was disrespectful. (He did say and do a few other things which rather plainly were "disrespectful" and also unwise, if he wanted to win his point with the general public and effect positive change.)
We assume that Colin Kaepernick is a good, decent person. That said, he isn't a political strategist! He may not have realized the way the dust may tend to settle when the flag, and the national anthem, get tangled up in debates of this type.
Some polling in the past thirteen months has tended to suggest that Donald J. Trump may come out on the winning end of the current battle. If so, that may show us what can happen when our meritocratic planet / blue nation falls in line behind amateur political leadership.
This Monday, we watched all 43 minutes of LeBron James' press conference, in which he discussed this topic at some length. Personally, we're inclined to admire James, who we regard as a model citizen (has he ever gotten a parking ticket?) and as someone who ought to be crazy (based on a lifetime of being pandered to) but rather plainly isn't.
We regard James as a person who tends to exhibit good sense. When he said he had spent the summer with his two sons and his daughter, we tended to believe him.
That said, James is a political amateur too, like Kaepernick before him. We thought he displayed a lot of good sense during his remarks that day. Eventually, though, he was hit with the question which tends to trip us up, over here on our struggling blue planet.
At one point, James had said that people who voted for Candidate Trump last fall had made "a mistake." Uh-oh! Eventually, this question was asked:
"You live and work in a state in which the majority of voters voted for the current president, some of whom, many of whom probably had valid reasons beyond his twitter account or his social graces. How do you reconcile having called that choice a mistake when many of those people are also Cavaliers fans?"Oof! Questions like that tend to trip us up! And sure enough! We regard James as visibly sane. But he badly fumbled his answer to Steve Aschburner's perfectly sensible question, in precisely the way we blue planet folk tend to do.
Tomorrow, we'll look at what LeBron said. We think his answer was wrong on the substance and on the politics. We think his answer also tends to explain the way our meritocratic planet / blue nation tends to lose these debates.
Our blue nation can get in trouble when it starts following amateur leaders. In fairness, our associate professors and our journalists aren't a whole lot better, leadership-wise, a point we'll note as our report proceeds.
We include Goldberg in that group. You see, we know what she did that spring, on her way to her post at the Times.
Tomorrow: What LeBron said. Also, the associate professors!