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Kneeling for the U.S. National Anthem

by John Spritzler

September 25, 2017


What is the purpose of the national anthem, and of the American flag? Their purpose is to promote a simple and profoundly wrong idea. This idea is that all Americans*, rich and poor alike, billionaires and homeless people, Fortune 500 CEOs and residents of Native American reservations, Bill Gates and people living in the inner city ghetto, the folks living in Beverly Hills and the ones living in Harlem, (etc., etc.) all have a shared, fundamental common interest as Americans.


The anthem and the flag are thus reminders that no matter whatever disagreements we may have with other Americans, those disagreements pale in importance when compared to the fact that we are all Americans and that we stick together as Americans to defend ourselves ("our country") against all who are foes of America. The anthem and flag are in this way used to make us proud of "our country" where we enjoy the freedom of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, a freedom we are reminded that we need to defend from foes of America who want to destroy that freedom.

If the idea that the anthem and flag promote were true, then I would be as opposed to actions disrespecting those symbols as many people today are opposed to the actions of people such as Colin Kaepernick who kneel instead of stand for the national anthem.

Many good and decent Americans do in fact believe that the idea symbolized by the anthem and flag is true. For such people, the anthem and flag represent the very admirable idea of solidarity--that people, despite their differences, should support and help one another. Such people focus on the solidarity aspect, not on the "us versus them" (Americans versus non-Americans) aspect. These people often talk about being patriotic (meaning having solidarity with other Americans) and how being patriotic is not the same thing as being hostile to foreigners.

During the Vietnam war, for example, a television show interviewed young women who went to Saigon to serve as nurses in hospitals treating wounded American GIs. Why did they go?, asked the show's interviewers. It turns out the nurses' motive had nothing to do with furthering the aim of the war (whatever they thought that was, and they didn't seem to know or care); their motive was all about helping young men like the ones they knew in their hometowns who enlisted or were drafted to fight in Vietnam. Their motive was solidarity or, as they would describe it, patriotism. And for them the anthem and flag symbolized that patriotism.

For such people, disrespect of the anthem and flag is perceived as disrespect for a supremely noble and positive value: solidarity. (One poll found that 53% of Americans say it is "never appropriate" to kneel during the national anthem.)

How ironic, then, that the reason people kneel for the anthem (or otherwise express disrespect for the anthem or flag) is to express SOLIDARITY--solidarity with Americans who are being treated like dirt by organizations such as the police departments and other governmental bodies (such as the courts) that fly the American flag and claim to be acting in the name of what it represents.

The people who kneel for the anthem implicitly, if not explicitly, understand that the idea that the anthem and flag promotes is not true. Our society is not one big (happy?) family with a common shared "national interest."

We Are NOT One Big Happy Family!

Our society is riven by a fundamental conflict of values. A tiny minority (that rules America) values class inequality based on having our society be one in which money is power and the billionaires have it while the rest don't. This tiny minority values pitting ordinary people against each other to make them controllable so they will grudgingly accept their place at the bottom of an unequal society.

This tiny minority learned centuries ago that one of the most effective ways to pit ordinary people against each other was to enforce white supremacy: make all people of African descent inferior under the law to all people of European descent, no matter what (i.e., the system of chattel slavery). And it learned how to maintain white supremacy over the years by replacing chattel slavery with Jim Crow and then replacing Jim Crow with The New Jim Crow (of racist prison incarceration) when too much opposition develops to the earlier methods of divide-and-rule.

The vast majority of Americans disagrees with the tiny minority (as one can find out by simply asking random people as I do in this video). But they are never provided with a way to explicitly express this disagreement. The rich control public discourse by controlling the mass (and alternative!) media and virtually all of the significant institutions of society. Most people thus have not even heard an explicit articulation of what they are against and what they are for, and so they would have a hard time expressing it if they were ever given an opportunity to do so, which they practically never are.

The only alternatives (to the present-day class inequality that most Americans hate) that Americans are even aware of--Communism or Islamic fundamentalism--are themselves so notoriously anti-democratic that it seems foolish to even think about, never mind talk about or actually aim to win, the abolition of class inequality.

And so there is, in practical terms, a virtual censoring of discussion about the fundamental conflict of values between the tiny ruling minority versus most Americans. The absence of this key discussion creates a kind of ideological vacuum. What flows into this vacuum? We're all too familiar with it: Aggressively promoted propaganda about all Americans being one big family, with the "bait" of the positive value of solidarity used to deflect attention from the censorship of any mention of the conflict about class inequality and the terrible divide-and-rule (especially white supremacy) used to maintain it. The propaganda uses the sanctified status of the anthem and flag to cement the propaganda emotionally.

We've Got to Do Better than Kneeling for the Anthem

While I strongly sympathize with those who kneel for the national anthem, at the same time I am saddened because I see how effectively the ruling class has set things up to ensure that many (most?) Americans perceive that kneeling not as an expression of wonderful solidarity but as an attack on wonderful solidarity.

I am saddened that people have not yet found ways of expressing wonderful solidarity that will be perceived by most Americans as exactly that, and not its opposite. To do this, it is absolutely necessary to end censorship of discussion about the fundamental conflict of values between the tiny ruling minority versus most Americans. One cannot CLEARLY (to the vast majority of Americans) express solidarity with a particular group of Americans being treated like dirt if the only way one can express anger at those who are treating them like dirt is to disrespect symbols that are designed to obscure the conflict between the tiny ruling minority and the VAST majority of Americans, symbols that are designed to make it seem that disrespect of them means disrespect of all ordinary Americans.

We have got to figure out how to articulate much more clearly what we are for and what we are against. This is why I wrote two books recently.


The Washington Post reports, "Poll: 53 percent of Americans say it’s ‘never appropriate’ to kneel during the national anthem." Is the "53 percent" a biased figure? Perhaps. But think about in which direction the Washington Post, an extremely liberal anti-Trump newspaper, would want to bias such a figure. The WP supports all things anti-Trump, such as the kneeling football players whom Trump has sharply criticized. That means the WP would want its readers to believe that the kneeling football players had lots of public support. So, if the WP had a bias it would be to UNDER-report the percent of Americans who say it's 'never appropriate' to kneel during the national anthem. This means that the true percentage of Americans who think it's never appropriate to kneel for the national anthem is, if anything, GREATER than 53%.

CNN, another liberal source, reports, "Americans are split in half on National Anthem protests."

The New York Post reported results more favorable to the kneeling players; it said a poll found only 35% of Americans thought the players who kneeled during the National Anthem were unpatriotic.

The moral of the opinion polling story is clearly this: a very substantial number of Americans oppose the football players kneeling during the National Anthem because they see that particular protest tactic as being unpatriotic, not because they support (or deny the existence of) racist policing.



* "Americans" here means people who live in the United States, as opposed to the larger American continent. Strictly speaking, I suppose, one should use the word "United Statesians," but that's just weird.

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