President Trump upped the ante on the controversy surrounding national anthem protests initiated by quarterback Colin Kaepernick in vilifying those sitting out the song as “sons of bitches” on Friday night; but, the instigator-in-chief’s shaming not only backfired, his comments earned severe criticism from a source the billionaire apparently hadn’t considered: members of the military.
“Three generations of my family, serving the USA, in harms’ way,” wrote Green Beret Michael Sand — father of a U.S. Army officer who served in Afghanistan and son of a World War II veteran — in a post to Facebook Sunday. “Three vastly different enemies, but enemies who shared one common trait. ALL of them stifle free speech. All of them bully, degrade and terrorize those who hold opposing views and who peacefully express them. All of them are intolerant and demand ‘loyalty’ to the leader.
“I can tell you, speaking for three generations of my family, it is PRECISELY for men like Kaepernick, and his right to peacefully protest injustice, that we were willing to serve.”
As if Trump’s original contention hadn’t caused enough outrage, the mogul’s assault on the people’s right to protest only amplified early Monday morning, following Sunday’s massive demonstrations during the national song by NFL players and coaches — who sat, locked arms, or remained in the locker room — as well as by a major league baseball player over the weekend, as he tweeted and retweeted posts containing the hashtag #StandForOurAnthem.
“This has nothing to do with race,” Trump stated Monday in an attempt to deflect concerns pertaining to racist overtones in his condemnations — but seeming to ignore that Kaepernick’s protest indeed centers around police violence against Black Americans. “This has to do with respect for our country.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick stunned American sports fans in 2016 by sitting down for the singing of the national anthem before National Football League games — rather than standing with right hand on his chest, as tradition would dictate — in protest against unchecked violence by law enforcement against minorities.
Despite the fact protest against injustice and State power has long been considered the duty of patriots, millions, including Trump, have employed social media as a platform to excoriate Kaepernick and the other players, the protest, and what it putatively means to be a good citizen.
But, undeterred by resounding consternation from the president of the protest as un-American, a number of service members have spoken out in support of those sitting out the anthem — whether or not they agree with people’s motives.
As one 97-year-old World War II veteran and grandfather declared plainly, “those kids have every right to protest.”
— Brennan Gilmore (@brennanmgilmore) September 24, 2017
Posts from members of the U.S. military across several social media platforms concurred with that sentiment, variously touting rights protected by the First Amendment — free speech, free expression, and the right of the people to petition government for redress of grievances, for instance — as particular concerns for defense of the nation, in their choice to join the service.
“Colin sat down and exercised his right to protest, which is something that I feel like we all swore an oath to defend,” asserted Iraq War and Navy veteran, Tom Baker, to Business Insider, as the national anthem protests exploded into the spotlight last year. BI catalogued a number of posts and statements from service members after Kaepernick’s protest finally began making headlines in late August 2016:
“I also agree with the statements [Kaepernick] made,” said one. “We don’t respect the rights of black and brown people.”
“The whole narrative of, ‘You’re disrespecting veterans and those who sacrificed’ is bullsh*t,” another intoned.
Another implored people ‘defending’ the sacrifices of soldiers to consider advocating for veterans rights and care for military returning home from duty or service, rather than focusing on the anthem or flag, pointing out, “If these people truly gave a sh*t about us veterans they would’ve kicked down the doors on the Capitol and demanded a real inquiry into the deaths at the [Department of Veterans Affairs] and the insane number of veterans committing suicide.”
Stoking the divide being the boon of the State, however, Trump continues masterfully manipulating the public’s emotional response to perceived ‘injury’ to the United States through its symbols and traditions to swell patriotism utterly blind to the nation’s multitude of domestic issues — in particular, the increasingly rogue police state — and devastatingly imperialist foreign activities.
Kaepernick doesn’t hate America; he doesn’t hate the flag; he doesn’t hate police; he does not wish ill of military members, their families, the president, nor anyone else. In fact, it would behoove this fraught debate to be reminded the athlete sat down for the Star Spangled Banner out of love for all people — regardless of race, creed, or politics — and to call attention to stark disparities in treatment of minority communities which make the United States an uneven playing field.
Racism — as literally no one should need reminding — remains quite alive and well. Zito Madu of SBNation writes,
“Kaepernick was protesting racism. He kneeled during the anthem because he thought the United States was not living up to its own ideals of freedom. The form of racism that he was concerned with was police brutality. Kaepernick thought that unarmed and harmless minorities, black people especially, shouldn’t be killed by the same police officers tasked with protecting them. And the officers shouldn’t do so with impunity.
“Kaepernick kneeled as a plea for humanity. He thought that human beings of a different race should be given the same respect, compassion, and fair treatment as other human beings. He wanted police officers to not profile or kill minorities in a disproportionate fashion. He asked this because he loves the U.S. and knows that love isn’t pretending that what you love is perfect, but shows itself in wanting the object of your love to be the best version of itself.
“That plea for compassion, in a country that believes itself to be the greatest civilization, is what is at the heart of all of this anger. That people should be treated fairly seems like a mundane sentiment, or it would be if the U.S. was more like the ideal of itself and not the work in progress that it is right now.”
Decades after the Civil Rights Movement turned disobedience into a most efficacious if peaceful weapon, Americans still cannot reckon its infinitely-complex distribution of races, nationalities, and beliefs with a Constitution vowing protection of the rights of all. With tolerance at a premium, police brutality running rampant, and a commander-in-chief hell bent on dividing the populace beyond repair, a protest as uncomplicated as Kaepernick’s must be accurately portrayed — and denouncements of false information, forthcoming.
While sitting for the national anthem pains many to witness, the resonant pain ricocheting from this nation’s egregiously racist past and manifesting in an interminable list of Black people and other minorities slain by law enforcement without consequence remains a bloody and festering wound — one deafeningly ignored by Trump and the vast majority of patriotism virtue-signalers.
“Want to know what’s unpatriotic? Using your white privilege to avoid serving, citing ‘bone spurs in the heel’ while playing varsity tennis at college while others went. Want to know what is antithetical to American values? Using the most powerful pulpit in the land to incite violence — against ANYONE,” continued Sand, the Green Beret, alluding to the president’s widely-condemned avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War. “Want to define disgraceful behavior? Denigrating a man like Senator John McCain’s service and heroism while you sat home.
“Want to respect the American flag? Then respect the ideals for which it stands. Bullying language and calling peaceful protesters ‘sons of bitches’ who should be fired aren’t among them.”
(Featured image: Brennan Gilmore, Twitter, Colin Kaepernick, Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)