Don’t use the flag and national anthem to protest

Tis the season to protest in America. The president and sports celebrities take it too far.

How this all started and how it escalated is less important than the weekend blowup that engulfed America, when average folks count on taking a break from tensions of the week at work and in the news and enjoy the diversion of sports events. Now it’s all blurring together and social tensions have invaded the sporting arena.

Sports have become more political for a long while now, but this is that on steroids (which is another story altogether).

The case of Donald Trump vs. the players of the National Football League is emblematic of our political moment: At its heart is a very serious issue, but that issue is wrapped in so many layers of celebrity, stupidity, opportunism, social-media hysteria, and crassness that it is nearly forgotten.

What is that issue? It’s embedded in the Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge to ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’. And in the National Anthem, focusing on the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ yet waving ‘O’er the land of the free’…

One very serious issue is how indivisible we really are, and how we use the freedom we have. But overarching that two-part concern is the thick-as-blood honor we pay to those who have fought for generations, paid a great price or the ultimate sacrifice, to preserve the rights and freedoms of the United States. And the flag and National Anthem represent that. The flag drapes the coffins of Members of the Military Services killed in action, it flies at half staff in memory of those who gave their lives in service, it famously was captured in an iconic photo as it was being raised at Iwo Jima by six Marines in World War II. Which turned into the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington DC.

Most Americans probably don’t know how the National Anthem even came to be the opening of major sporting events. In fact, as a Chicagoan, I didn’t even know the Chicago Cubs were part of that history. It’s edifying to see a nation united in that respect for its shared history, rough as some of it had been. Rough as it is now.

So is it the flag athletes are disputing, or the anthem? No. But they’re using that ceremony at the start of major sporting events to protest other grievances and injustices, and that has all of a sudden become a national big deal. Because President Trump posted some jabbing tweets that baited both his opponents and his base into reactionary behavior that would play to visceral emotions already deeply felt. Alas,

This fad may have petered out naturally after a few more months; Trump’s all but guaranteed that we’ll get it through the 2020 election.

After the weekend of ‘national anthem protests’ across the nation and the National Football League, everyone was wondering how the nationally beloved Monday Night Football game would handle it. It was pretty amazing to see, when it played out. Just before the National Anthem, a gigantic American flag was unfurled from one side of the football field to the other, cover the whole playing field. Kind of hard to protest that. And the players and owners didn’t want to, after all.

“I made my mind up on this issue,” (Dallas Cowboys Owner and General Manager) Jerry Jones said…”that I wasn’t going to comment other than I am very proud of the fact that the Dallas Cowboys and our players have always stood for the flag and the recognition for the flag always. What is important is to figure out that to show the kind of respect and the perception of respect. How can (the team) in front of a national audience show unity and a statement of equality. (The team) wanted to do that. It evolved throughout the organization, particularly over the last two days, and it was executed.

 

“I can’t say enough about the understanding and the awareness of our team and these young men, if you will, that basically said, ‘You know, that makes sense.’ There’s no need for us to talk about unity and equality and have 60 percent of this country mad at you because you’re not being perceived as honoring the flag. And this was a way to do both.”

As NRO editors figured this…

Of course football players and other professional athletes should stand for the national anthem. Not, as the critics so often put it, because America has been good to them, but because America is good. That the American way of life generates so much prosperity that young men can grow vastly wealthy playing a children’s game is not the least of the nation’s virtues, but it is not the most important of them, either. The United States of America has been, and continues to be, a force for liberty, decency, justice, peace, and prosperity both within its own borders and around the world. “The Star-Spangled Banner” may be an infamously difficult song to sing, but the sight of the flag it celebrates has meant liberation — and life itself — to millions of people around the world, from those looking through the fence at Buchenwald to those looking over the railing of a ship at Ellis Island. That is why you stand for the national anthem…

 

We have no doubt that most of those kneeling in protest during the singing of the national anthem are sincere in their concerns, and that they mean to use their high-profile positions in the service of the public good as they perceive it. Goodness knows professional athletes have been in the news for worse reasons. But making a spectacle of themselves during the national anthem disrupts an all too rare moment of civic comity, a time to meditate on our blessings rather than our grievances. There are a dozen different ways athletes and other celebrities might be of good service and bring attention to the issue at the center of this controversy…

 

Of course athletes have the right to protest. Their employers also have the right to set standards of professional conduct, and football fans have the right to change the channel. The president has the right to tweet. This is not a question of rights but a question of judgment, which was, unhappily, in short supply over the weekend.

Let’s get back to the business at hand. The president needs to work on national issues and geopolitical affairs and North Korea especially. Celebrity athletes need to play sports to the best of their abilities. And the rest of us have our assorted family and work obligations to fulfill, and community and charitable needs to address, especially in the ongoing need for relief in disaster struck areas hit by back to back hurricanes and earthquakes.

It’s humbling – or should be – that for people who survived such devastation, who are subsisting on absolute basics, having lost most of what they had with little to sustain them until substantial relief arrives and relief workers help to rebuild their lives, homes and communities, the American flag on the arm patch of the Coast Guard or Army Corps of Engineers, on the helicopters and trucks delivering supplies and flagpoles left standing after the storms, represents hope. It’s up to the American people to deliver on that.

We are at our best in disaster relief

Nature keeps sending disasters. People keep sending relief.

We’re still learning the extent of the damage Hurricane Irma did to the homes, neighborhoods, communities and fundamentally the people of the state of Florida from the Keys to Jacksonville in the north, with access to some areas cut off for days, and therefore, delivery routes of relief. Irma devastated Barbuda.

Now, Hurricane Maria threatens destruction in Puerto Rico.

The Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph (281 kph) will smash into the Virgin Islands Tuesday night. It has already obliterated parts of Dominica and killed at least one person in Guadeloupe.

 

Puerto Rico will get hit hard Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, and the storm could be catastrophic…

 

Puerto Rico sheltered many of the evacuees who fled from other Caribbean Islands during Hurricane Irma earlier this month. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for devastation.

 

“This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic,” (Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo) Rosselló said. “Our only focus right now should be to make sure we save lives.”

That has been the focus for weeks now of people across the United States. When Hurricane Harvey was still beating down on Houston, whatever had been dividing Americans politically or culturally dissolved or got sidelined by the force of nature and the ‘force more powerful‘ than destruction, love and charity impulsively and instinctively passing from person to person.

Numbers of people beyond counting have been showing up in this ‘army of compassion’ descending on sites of destruction even while they’re still being battered. Especially then, which shows the real magnanimity of regular Americans. Houston’s ‘Mattress Mack‘ is emblematic of this spirit of unity and generosity, and the humility that, to a person, seems to define the motivating impulse driving people from their comfort zones to the place they’d rather be in an emergency: with the people under siege. They have offered what they have to those who need anything.

Magdalena Marez, 27, and her fiancé Zachary Gasser, moved into their apartment a few months ago. They went furniture shopping at a handful of Houston-area stores, but they’d never stepped foot into a Gallery Furniture store until early Tuesday morning. They wandered in, soaking wet, just after evacuating from their apartment.

 

Floodwaters were ankle deep, and they struggled to make the drive.

 

When they arrived at the showroom volunteers handed them dry clothes, toothbrushes, soap, shoes — and a mattress still covered in plastic. Marez is moved by McIngvale’s generosity.

 

“We never stepped foot in (one of his stores) and now I’m just like, wow, I mean, they opened up the doors. Like nothing. He didn’t even second guess it,” she says. “He was just like, ‘Let me help you.'”

 

McIngvale is also paying for portable showers so evacuees can have their first hot shower in days.

 

Marchione, the employee, says his boss has opened the store to evacuees and is providing meals because it’s his way of giving back to a community that has brought him success over the past 36 years.

 

“This is Houston,” Marchione adds. “That’s how Houston rolls.”

Jim McIngvale was my guest on radio, because he answered my call with the generosity he shows to all calls on his time and attention. Media had descended on ‘Mattress Mack’, he agreed to brief exchanges with them while working, mainly to put the word out that all help for evacuees was needed and welcomed. He told me that a reporter for some big media outlet asked why he was doing all this work in his big company store, housing and feeding so many people. He said “because I have to”, but the reporter replied “no you don’t”. He quickly corrected “yes I do”. It’s what he knows, it’s what he lives.

“I was raised as a Catholic,” he told the local KENS5 news in Houston. “I continued my Catholic faith throughout my life, trying to do the right thing and hopefully, you do the right thing and help people along the way.”

His Gallery Furniture business is still helping, in the cleanup phase and beyond.

The Miami Herald editors published a fervent wish for such charitable goodwill for Floridians before Irma hit: “Be kind, send help, rebuild“.

 

Nerves are frayed, to say the very least. But South Floridians have always risen to the occasion during difficult times, extending a generous helping hand, with no hesitation, with no expectations of reciprocation.

It is one of the Editorial Board’s most fervent wishes — but only one — that in the pre-disaster hunt for plywood, water, gas, and hotel rooms, we remain civil, empathetic. Remember Connect Miami? April’s successful community-wide initiative to encourage residents to engage with people unlike them? To hear their stories? To find commonality? Irma will be put this initiative on steroids.

People from everywhere have been quick to step up, show up and reach out, not even knowing they’re part of a national rapid response team. They didn’t ask what identity group the afflicted belonged to, nor what political party,nor how they voted in the last election. The only questions they asked and are asking are ‘What do you need?‘ and ‘How can I help?

 

I’ve had several guests on radio these past two weeks somehow involved in disaster relief and recovery, charitable organizations and government aid, professionals, spiritual directors, people trying to help people and connect with the best ways to get things done.

Some of them said something I’ve been thinking, hoping, saying on my show, that we should be able to keep this going. See ‘the other’ as a person to engage, to serve, to share a vulnerable moment with and find ways that encounter can benefit both. And build or rebuild the nation that’s made up of people, known to be fiercely independent, but who are remembering how interdependent we truly are.