Colin Kaepernick is being an ass. But why do people care about that so much? People make showy protests all the time, we just shrug and walk away. Why this time? Why this person? There is a problem of disproportionate response from his critics, and I think it highlights some bad attitudes that may be getting worse. There is a tighter identification of the flag with the military that has some troubling aspects to it. I get why the military loves the flag and the anthem, but that’s not the same thing as automatically associating the flag with the military. The flag is all of us. The anthem is all of us.
This is the place where I usually make everything tribal, and I think that’s a good start: the God & Country tribe feels personally insulted and challenged and is punching back. Yet I think there’s more to it.
Disclaimers: this may be largely an illusion. It might be media sources artificially inflating the issue to keep it going, because they think Colin Kaepernick is right, and they want to use the opportunity. Or in reverse, there might be other groups that believe enough is enough, and have been waiting for whatever example presents itself next to kick BLM, or lack of patriotism, or kids these days. If Kaepernick had chosen differently we might be getting into this same argument this month or next month anyway. “So, Random Sports Person, what do you think of Colin Kaepernick’s protest? Does he have the right to protest? Should Commissioner Goodell do anything about it? How do you feel about the counterprotests? Do you have any controversial thoughts you’d like to share? Do you know anyone with any controversial thoughts? Do you know any racists? Do you think that racism is a problem? Are the people who think racism is a problem a bigger problem?”
No one has mentioned Colin Kaepernick to me at work or in my social circles. So this may all just be business as usual, except it’s an election year and advocates are feverishly trying to goad their opponents into doing or saying stupid stuff. Well, everyone seems to have succeeded at that.
If this is a real something, a real sign that we are becoming more divided, more angry, then I suppose it is best someone figure out what it is and whether we can contribute anything helpful to it. I am not that person. I am also rejecting the other possibility immediately – that this is an opportunity to have a conversation. We might be able to make it into that, but so far I’m not seeing any good signs.
What is happening to the God & Country Tribe? Most Americans used to have automatic membership in it, enough so that it was not a strong identifier of who they were. People belonged to other tribes, usually more than one, to set themselves apart. Carolinian, Italian-American, WASP, Old Money, Farmer, or the newer cultural ones which are stronger now: Arts & Humanities, Science & Technology, Government and Union, Military. But until about fifty years ago, everyone was God & Country as well. Everyone had some association with church, everyone knew some rules about the flag, and stood for the Pledge or the National Anthem. Since then it has weakened in some cultures, perhaps even becoming an item of scorn, while others have embraced it even more fiercely. It has drifted south, and Protestant, and military, though nothing like exclusively. It has become more closely embraced by football, perhaps because the other major sports have more foreign players, or as a byproduct of the military imagery football is so comfortable with.
I don’t know the trend among African-Americans. I get the impression that there are places where patriotism is an unpopular item, but there continues to be a strong black presence in the military, an especially patriotic group, as noted above. There is also a lot of popular focus on competitive sports in the black community, and the flag and national anthem continue to be very much a part of that at all ages. Perhaps that is part of what gives the protest force.
Perhaps people care more about flags when they can’t have altars – or not so publicly, or don’t want them at all anymore. The God and Country Tribe may already be the Country and God tribe, or the Country and Military and Religious Freedom Tribe. That is what CS Lewis predicted in Screwtape will always happen to “Christianity and…” The secondary elements will ultimately take over the primary. I have long felt that was true for many in the tribe, and wondered how long the rest could hold out. I think what we are seeing is another step down that road. I do. It has all become a muddled tribal defensiveness. You are insulting the men* who died for your freedom. You are disrespecting everyone who ever put on a uniform. (And by extension you are insulting our whole God & Country culture, which supports the military more than other tribes. So therefore, you are disrespecting me personally and I want to punch your face.) I think that sentiment used to be farther in the background, but it’s the first one out of the gate now.
Ah, “first out of the gate,” I wrote. That may be a clue as well. The first to respond may not be anything like a majority, just the most agitated and touchy. Maybe it’s just social media giving more prominence to complete asses than they deserve.
*And oh yeah, women. We keep forgetting that.