What’s Left: Politics, Popular Culture and Patriotism

Eli Cousin

Standing for the Wrong Reasons

Looking back nostalgically on my grade-school days, I remember learning about patriotism and what makes our country so special. We are taught about the significance of our constitutional freedoms and our unwavering commitment to democracy. We learn about the vision of our forefathersto create a nation built on justice and equality. 

Apparently this seemingly “textbook” definition is no longer universally accepted. In a recent tweet storm, President Donald Trump bashed Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players for refusing to stand during the national anthem. Since taking a knee during the national anthem more than a year ago, Kaepernick has been slandered for disrespecting our flag and our military. His critics will say he is un-American, and has no place in the National Football League so long as he continues to kneel. 

And yet, the impetus behind Kaepernick’s anthem protest could not be more American. Following a string of incidents of police brutality that made national waves, Kaepernick elected not to stand in an attempt to shed light on the very real problem of systemic racial injustice within our nation. His protest is one that holds extremely righteous and honorable roots. Even if one does not agree with Kaepernick’s motivation, I struggle to understand how his desire to push for justice and equality could be marred as unpatriotic. The desire to create positive change and uplift fellow Americans should never receive scrutiny. 

Perhaps the problem is that we have lost sight of what it means to be American.Standing for the anthem does not make one an American. Rather, it is a commitment to protecting and upholding our fundamental values of justice and equality that makes someone a true patriot. 

Why do our President and members of the Republican party continue to display a lack of commitment to these basic values by failing to acknowledge the simple reason behind Kaepernick’s protest? Across our nation, black athletes are kneeling and subsequently sending a message that people of color are being treated unjustly. When we ignore their cries and instead focus on a flag, their point becomes even clearer. Our fundamental American values tell us that the equality and well being of all citizens is of infinitely greater importance than stars and stripes on fabric. It is awfully telling that those who place such an emphasis on standing for the anthem simultaneously fail to take a stand against racial inequality.

I don’t mean to reduce our flag to utter insignificance. However, it is clear that we must reassess why we stand before it. We stand before it not because we appreciate Betsy Ross’s design, but because we believe in what it stands for. Without our freedoms, the flag is reduced to a cloth. If we don’t uphold our American values, the anthem is merely a song. 

Americans should stand for our anthem and flag because they are proud of what it represents. If there are members of our union who elect not to stand, that should be a problem – not because they aren’t standing, but because of why they aren’t standing. 

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