The Battle Over the National Anthem?
Donald Trump, Roger Goodell, National Anthem Protests, NFL, NFL Owners
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President Donald Trump started a firestorm with commentary he offered during a campaign speech in Huntsville Alabama this past Friday, September 22nd. During that speech, he suggested that NFL owners should “fire the son of a bitch” that refused to stand for the National Anthem. He also suggested the first owner to do that would be the most popular person the country, at least for a week.
Roger Goodell responded to the President’s comments by saying, “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
Goodell issued his statements on Saturday morning, September 23rd. The next morning, September 24th, Donald Trump responded with two tweets on Sunday morning, September 24th that seemed to at least encourage a boycott of the NFL and hinted that the NFL was already suffering due to its recent political stances.
The NFL responded, bigly. Some team owners made statements that matched what Jeffrey Lurie of the Philadelphia Eagles said. Lurie said, in part, “Having spoken with our players, I can attest to the great respect they have for the national anthem and all it represents. We at the Philadelphia Eagles firmly believe that in this difficult time of division and conflict, it is more important than ever for football to be a great unifier.”
The Eagles, and other teams, stood for the National Anthem, but locked arms while they did so. Other teams knelt as one, such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens, who did so on foreign soil. The game between the two teams was played in the UK.
One team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, made an announcement that the players would not come out for the national anthem, but one player did come out, Alejandro Villanueva. Photos show that many other players for the team stood at the end of the tunnel for the National Anthem, but they did not come out of the tunnel like Villanueva did.
All told, about 150 NFL players took part in the Anthem protest in this past weekend’s slate of games. Roger Goodell responded to the protests with this comment, “The way we reacted today, and this weekend, made me proud. I’m proud of our league.”
The NFL did not have their players come out during the National Anthem at all until 2009, when they began to be paid by the Federal government to do so. The NFL and its teams have been paid over $50 million by the Department of Defense to not only send its players out to stand for the National Anthem, but also put on other displays of patriotism and support for the military.
The NFL is still taking payment by the Department of Defense to put on these patriotic displays. It is also currently relying on taxpayer subsidies to fund its stadiums, to the tune of $6.7 billion in the last 20 years, with many more hundreds of millions expected in the near future with the new stadium in Las Vegas alone.
For his part, President Donald Trump may have broken the law with his tweets suggesting the NFL should be boycotted:
18 U.S. Code § 227 – Wrongfully influencing a private entity’s employment decisions by a Member of Congress or an officer or employee of the legislative or executive branch
“(a)Whoever, being a covered government person, with the intent to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity—
takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act, or
influences, or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another,
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 15 years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
(b)In this section, the term “covered government person” means—
a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, the Congress;
an employee of either House of Congress; or
the President, Vice President, an employee of the United States Postal Service or the Postal Regulatory Commission, or any other executive branch employee (as such term is defined under section 2105 of title 5, United States Code).
Of course, the fact that Trump did not directly call for a boycott leaves him plenty of wiggle room to avoid prosecution. As is often the case, the law leaves plenty of room for “interpretation,” and no doubt the views on this will not so coincidently match whether Donald Trump is on your team or opposing it.
Before I begin my commentary, here is a video recap of what has happened so far:
Most of the people that read my articles and/or watch my videos regularly fall within the political or anti-political range of limited government to full-on anarchist. This audience looks at all of the machinations of the debate over the national anthem as the wrong conversation to have in the first place.
From the perspective of many people within this range, people such as myself, the fact that a national sports business is mixing so many obedience-encouraging rituals to the state into their games borders on the creepy. From “our” perspective, this looks very similar to the creepiest group-think chanting and other type of rituals we see coming out of North Korea or any other totalitarian regime.
To be sure, I am not suggesting that America is North Korea, only that the ritual, which is how people like me view it, has the same appearance as the rituals we see coming out of North Korea. Sure, they’re not paying tribute to an individual, like they do in North Korea, but to a ‘state.’ But still, for people like me, the fact that it’s not an individual, but a state getting this, what seems like, socially-demanding level of submission in the form of standing and putting your hand over your heart during the playing of the state’s theme song, doesn’t make this whole thing any less creepy.
For people like me, and probably many of you reading this article or watching the video, what to do during the playing of the National Anthem is a debate we often have among ourselves. Standing for the national anthem and putting our hands over our hearts pretty much violates all of our core beliefs. People like me do not believe in participating in rituals that seem to elevate central authorities to near-demi-god status, which is what this ritual seems to do, from our perspective.
Some of us choose to strategically make ourselves absent at events while the national anthem is being played. I choose to stand, but I won’t place my hand over my heart. Some choose to simply sit and face the social wrath that often happens when some individual in a crowd decides to do something fundamentally different from the rest of the crowd.
For people like me, the national anthem protest is a non-issue. The conversation WE want to have is about the ritual itself. For people that do not view the world quite like I and others like me do, I understand why the issue is such a dominant topic around the proverbial, metaphorical, and sometimes literal water cooler.
What I would like you to understand, if you’re one of those who believes in standing for the national anthem, is that people like me don’t hate you, and aren’t trying to personally hurt you by not standing for the national anthem. We simply have very different worldviews on how humans should govern themselves.
In this commentary, though, I do not wish to speak so directly to the people who do not share my similar worldview. I doubt very much that I could come to an agreement with either side of that debate, the one that exists within the framework that accepts the notion that the national anthem being sung before sporting events is “a perfectly respectable, perfectly reasonable display of patriotism and honor for all that our country has done for us, and to honor and respect all those who died to make us free.”
There is so much that I disagree with in those sentiments, but for this commentary I wish to speak to the people like me, who already reject the whole idea of the national anthem in the first place. I am here to say that for you, for me, this debate currently going on around us is one worth noting, worth paying attention to.
I have explained in many previous articles and videos that I am a self-described VisPrivusian (Vis=Power, Privus=Individual). I believe in always working to tilt the balance of power away from coercive enterprises and toward individuals and free associations.
In order to more effectively be equipped to do this work, it is in my best interest to understand the reality of power around me. It is to this end that I believe people like me have a reason to pay attention to this debate, for the nature of the debate, the reactions of the different interests involved in this debate, can tell us a lot about the reality of power across all of what I would describe as the four major spheres of power influence, which are social influence, force influence, demonstrable (also market) influence, and ideational influence.
In this commentary, I am going to narrowly focus on one aspect of this debate, the President’s comments on Friday evening, September 22nd, that set off the latest back and forth between him and the NFL. While many are pointing out, and correctly so, that the President’s comments have actually expanded the anthem protests and galvanized the anthem protesters like they were not before, they seem to be missing the other side of that galvanizing coin, which is what I want to talk about today.
President Donald Trump launched into his criticism of the NFL anthem protests with this opening salvo, a salvo that includes an expletive, albeit a mild expletive by the standards of expletives:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of the bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired….He’s FIRED!”
If you look at the words here, he uses a very positive word to rally his alliance around, love. He immediately intones the high moral ground with the invocation of the word love to describe what will be a description of an action, to fire the players that take part in the anthem protests.
How does he describe the person who sits for the anthem? Well, first he uses the word “disrespect.” This word “disrespect,” coupled with the word flag invokes feelings of rage in his target audience, the America First nationalists. First, he gives them the moral high ground, using the word love, and then he gives them fire. But he’s not done with the fire. He goes on.
Now that he has prepared his audience, given them the moral authority to be outraged, and further tweaking that sense of outrage, he’s going to give them a reason to emotionally attach that sense of moral authority and outrage directly onto him as the leader of the fight against this outrage, this disrespect.
He does something that Presidents in the 20th and 21st centuries have not typically done, at least not out in the open. He enters into the overt guttural. He dares use the phrase “son of a bitch” to describe these men who dare take a knee during the national anthem.
This phrase does two things, first, it reinforces the outrage, it galvanizes his crowd to prepare to take action AND it also causes them to transfer their hopes and fears onto the bold leader, the man willing to continue to shatter the veneer of fake political politeness and FINALLY stand up, unapologetically against anyone who would dare challenge the sanctity of the source of their affection, the American state. Donald Trump is making himself, metaphorically, priest and king in this exchange, though not literally.
Now that he has them, he is ready to pull the trigger on the action item, albeit at this point he is only opening the door to the ultimate action that he is preparing to call them to take. What is it that you would love to hear? You would love to hear that the person who knelt for the flag was fired. First, he says it plainly, then he says it viscerally, as if he were the one making the command.
I am willing to bet, at a subconscious level, his audience will make that connection. In their subconscious, this man of action (even though nothing will happen to these players because of his words), symbolically, emotionally, viscerally, Donald Trump, fired these men who would dare disrespect the national anthem, who would dare sully the American state.
Then he lets the stew brew. He allows the flames to bring the stew to boil. And when the stew is hot enough, when steam rises from its boiling broth, we hear that steam resound with the chant, “USA, USA, USA, USA.” Metaphorically, viscerally, the foe has been vanquished by the proverbial priest-king. The crowd acknowledges the defeat of the enemy by chanting the affirming incantation, “USA, USA, USA, USA.”
Now that he has galvanized the crowd, established their allegiance to him and prepared them for the action to come, he’s going to offer a token gesture of peace to the owners, one, I would wager, he is almost sure will be rejected.
“You know, some owner’s gonna do that, he’s gonna say, that guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired, and, that owner, they don’t know it, they don’t it, they’re friends of mine many of them, they don’t it they’ll be the most popular person, for a week, they’ll be the most popular person in this county.”
Donald Trump is using social influence to appeal to the owners to take the action that he wants taken, to fire the people who disrespect the flag, reinforcing a powerful social pressure that already exists in this country, as well as many other countries. If you do not love this country, if you do not respect its flag, its songs, its history, then you are not worthy of even doing business with the people in this country that DO love its flag, its song, its history.
He is not only using social influence at a large-scale level (appealing to the attractive proposition of being very popular) but he is also appealing to the very personal level of social influence, friendship. As I said, I strongly suspect that the President does not expect any owner to accept this, but if some do, if some decide to take him up on his offer, then he still gets the accomplished end, to further solidify the social pressure on anyone who dares stand against the state’s flag, the state’s song, and so much more (which we’ll get to very shortly).
If he doesn’t get any of these owners to go along with his proposition, to fire them and be liked by Donald and the whole nation, what he has done is established with his base his magnanimity, his kindness, his benevolence, his mercy. He is establishing himself with his audience as the metaphorical good king, the merciful priest.
Listen, no matter what you’ve done so far, you can make it right very quickly by simply doing this thing, helping we the American people nip this crazy anthem protest in the bud right here and right now.
Now that he has offered the carrot to the owners, he follows it up with the stick, “Cause that’s a total disrespect of our heritage, that’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for, ok, everything that we stand for.”
Whose heritage is he describing here? He’s describing the heritage of the American patriot, the one who honors the flag, the one who stands for the song. He’s putting the NFL owners on the other side of that line. He’s essentially making the owners, and the players who participate in the anthem protests, enemies of America.
If you don’t fire these players, if you, as a player, don’t stand for that anthem, you are operating in direct opposition to the heritage of the American patriot AND you are coming up against not just one aspect of who we are, but you are coming up against EVERYTHING that we are, EVERYTHING that we stand for. The message to the owners is simple, conform and be loved, or become an enemy of the American way.
For some of you reading this, or watching the video, you are probably finding yourself in complete agreement with the President. I understand from your perspective why you would believe as he does. America is an integral part of your identity. I am not, in this commentary, declaring that what the President is doing here is “right” or “wrong,” but rather I am only describing, especially to people like me, what I perceive to be as the reality of power reflected in what he is saying in this brief moment of what simply comes across as a campaign speech.
I want to also add this to those are reacting with shock at President Trump’s comments, and who exist within the same parameters of human governance that President Trump exists in, mainly within the model of the coercive enterprise, the state, specifically the nation state, that this President’s actions are the natural fruit of the very model you continue to advocate.
Today, it’s your opponent using his platform to put pressure on your allies, tomorrow, it will be your champion using their platform to put pressure on your enemies. President Trump, I believe, understands this reality.
Now, President Trump understands the reality of power. He understands that using force influence, invoking violations of laws, or even attempting to criminalize an action that is not already criminalized, is not really on the table for him. With that understanding of the reality of power, he gives an acknowledgement to that limitation here:
“And I know we have freedoms and we have freedom of choice and many, many freedoms, but you know what, it’s still totally disrespectful.”
He starts off acknowledging the limit in reality, but then proceeds to reinforce the notion that to do this thing, to either allow your players, if you’re an owner, to kneel for the national anthem or to take the knee during the national anthem, if you’re a player, makes you an enemy of the American patriot, of the American way.
He is reinforcing his call to action to his base, the America First crowd, the ones who voted for him, the ones who continue to support him. He is preparing them for two courses of action, to first exert social influence and second to exert demonstrable, specifically, market influence on those who would dare stand against the flag, against the song of the state, the national anthem.
President Donald J Trump is not targeting you or I in this calculated move. He’s targeting those that are intentionally using the tactic of invalidating your enemy’s idol to replace it with another idol that, in the end, will demand just as much conformity as the one they’re attempting to destroy. Still, even if we’re not the target, that will matter little, for we are accepted collateral damage, by both sides.
To a large extend, Donald J Trump has embraced the tried and true tactics of the left. During the campaign, he followed, for the most part, Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. He’s doing it now as well. In this brief address to the NFL owners and players, he is following a few of Alinsky’s rules.
“Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people.
Donald Trump is claiming a power that he may or may not have, but he would be hoping the enemy perceives he has that power, the power to exert social influence on those who would undermine “America.” He can rally his army of deplorables to financially hurt his enemy, the NFL.
“Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
The President stayed well within the bounds of his target audience. They understand supporting the national anthem. They understand how to apply social and market pressure on those who do not support the national anthem.
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
He certainly did that in here, accusing the owners and players of fundamentally coming up against EVERYTHING that Americans, that is, patriots, stand for.
“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
If you hear the reactions of the crowd, it’s fair to say the President is employing a tactic his audience enjoys executing.
“If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
Here is an important point. While many are saying that the President’s words have only served to galvanize the protesters and expand the protests, what he is actually doing, I believe, is nudging them towards taking more extreme stances against the flag, against the national anthem. He is making it easier for his base to vilify them, to rally around him in response, and to be galvanized to take action against them.
The negative, that these people are disrespecting the American way, is pushing through to become a positive, that it will galvanize HIS base to take what, I surmise, will be a series of actions, including actions in November of 2018 that have very real consequences, including market and social actions.
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
The President, in this moment of his Alabama speech, chose to go DIRECTLY at the source of power for the NFL, the entity that gives these players the mega-platform they have to make these political statements. He went after the 32 owners.
He did so relentlessly, unapologetically, frankly, viscerally. He gave the NFL owners only one out, complete compliance, an out, I would support, he knew perfectly well they would not take.
The other tactic the President is embracing is that of neo-liberalism, a practice that began to emerge in the late 60s and early 70s and, in many ways, is gaining even more momentum over the last few years. It’s a tactic that uses market pressure to affect social change, even forcing state action through market pressure.
The NFL itself has been a practitioner of this tactic, threatening states that pass legislation that counters the progressive agenda with boycotts, as they did with Arizona over illegal immigration laws that were passed and with North Carolina over their so-called bathroom laws targeting transgenders.
What the President is telegraphing is that, while progressives may hold a lot of board seats that enable them to use their power on those boards to get these mega corporations to apply market pressures to advance the progressive agenda, his army of deplorables have their own market power.
If the corporations want to use their power to socially engineer America, the deplorables can use their buying power to counter that effort. Targeting one of the most powerful symbols of the neo-liberal practice is Trump’s way of going directly after the source of the power of that practice. And he is doing it using their own tactics against them.
From the perspective of the minarchist, the anarchist, the libertarian, the limited government person, there are no ‘good guys’ here. The two major antagonists in this fight, the America First crowd, Donald Trump’s Deplorables, and the Social Justice crowd, the Progressives, both want a powerful central authority, both want to continue to use social influence, demonstrable (or market) influence, ideational influence and force influence to assure that their ideas of human governance become the law of the land, the only socially accepted practice of the land.
From the outside looking in, Donald Trump might appear as a wanna-be tyrant, but I am here to say he is not. He is a reflection of the reality of power in the battle for human governance in America today. What Donald Trump most likely recognizes is that there is no consolation prize for second place in the war for control of human governance in the land occupied by the American state.
As surely as he recognizes this fact, so too does the other side, the progressive camp. They have recognized this fact long before anyone who represented a coherent alternative to the progressives have done. The conservatives, for the most part, still do not realize that this battle for control of human governance in America is a winner-take-all-contest, with only the winners standing at the end.
There will be no compromise, no bridging of differences. We have entered the Highlander part of American history. There can be only one.
Within this context, why would it surprise any of you that the President has dramatically ratchetted up the vitriol against his political opponents? Barack Obama ratcheted up the vitriol compared to Bush the second, who ratcheted up the vitriol compared to Clinton, etc. The process of the consolidation of power, the process of defining the emerging major factions who could potentially claim that position, has been long, and it has been rapidly accelerating.
Still, after all this, why should you care about this battle, you who are looking from outside this struggle that, from your perspective, is asking the wrong question? After all, both major factions at play here are starting with an assumption that a small number of individuals should have the power to dictate to everyone else the rules of human governance, wielding the power to influence through social, demonstrable (market), and even force influence, ESPECIALLY force influence.
This recent move by Donald Trump represents a dramatic escalation in the fight for hegemony over the American landscape. The President has essentially gone after one of the key symbols of the progressive tactic of neo-liberalism, one that also happens to be one of the key symbols of the American way as well, the NFL.
During these times, if you go against the progressive agenda in a major way, you can expect real market pressures coming to bear on you, as we have witnessed through social media targeting so-called hate speech, even domain registrars targeting the free-speech platform Gab. If you go against the America First, Deplorables, Trumpian (if you will) agenda in a major way, you can expect real market pressure coming at you, as we have witnessed with people who have burned the American flag.
People’s lives are being destroyed, economically and socially, for their beliefs, for their statements alone. The actions by this President are only going to increase the frequency of these incidents. What he has announced here is that his team, the Deplorables, mean to fight the same total war that the progressives have been fighting for decades.
Those of us caught in the middle would do well to ask ourselves, before we sound off against a sacred cow of the progressives or a sacred cow of the deplorables, if that’s a hill worth dying on. If it’s not, then a little tactical restraint may be in order, unless you have already mentally given up everything that could be lost by engaging in a field of battle that, above all else, has no place for people like you, for people like me.
But there is something else here that’s worth noting for people like me, there is opportunity, there is hope. This tactic of progressives targeting the sacredness of the national anthem gives us an opportunity to join in THAT conversation, but it is a conversation we must enjoin with extreme diplomacy, for the most part.
The national anthem right now is being questioned by a group of people that want to destroy one idol to replace it with their own. We can have a conversation about destroying idols, end stop, with no replacement in mind. We can do so most effectively not by attacking those who ‘respect’ the national anthem, or even attacking the notion that such a thing as a national anthem should be respected. Raather, we can open this conversatio by simply asking them why, why is it so important to you that others think and act like you? Why can you not let others live as they desire?
When progressives kneel for the flag, they’re not telling the other side that they simply reject the whole idea of state songs being ritualized at sporting events, they’re telling the other side that they mean to attack EVERYTHING that song stands for, whether they intend it that way or not, because they’re not following up the protest gesture with a dialogue about questioning the very notion of singing state songs at sporting events, they’re following it up with demands, demands that only the state, using its monopoly of force, can carry out.
To be sure, some of you know friends very well that might actually hear the message of liberty more easily if they are jarred out of their mindset with shocking, maybe even offensive statements. But I strongly believe the vast majority of people, ESPECIALLY when you are speaking to multiple people at once, directly or indirectly, will be far more receptive to hearing a challenge to their presuppositions that begins with understanding why the national anthem means so much to them, and then using their own statements to challenge their tendency to lash out at anyone who dares not view the national anthem the same way that they do.
The national anthem represents the flag that stood against tyranny, the flag that stood against a barrage on a fort outside of Baltimore during the War of 1812. The national anthem pays tribute to the men and women who died so that we all might be free. These are some of the typical responses I get when I ask that question, and, for now, I’m not interested in challenging those assumptions so much as I am in just challenging one assumption, an assumption that, if successfully challenged, will open the door for other assumptions to be challenged.
That assumption is this, if the national anthem stands for freedom, if it honors the men and women who died to keep us free, then why are coming so hard against people for exercising that freedom, ESPECIALLY for people like, well, like me, who have no desire to destroy one idol to replace it with another?
In summation, the battle between President Donald Trump and his Deplorables on one side and the Progressives, the Neo-Liberals, the NFL and the players who chose to kneel, represents two realities of power, one of which should serve as a caution for those who, for whatever reason, are not ready to pay a potentially high price for activism, and one of which should serve as an opportunity to open doors for others to find their way outside of the paradigm altogether, to find their way to authentic ‘liberty.’
We are at a critical time in the history of human governance, not just in America, but in the world, one which, I believe, has not been seen since the closing of World War One, where people are coming face to face in direct ways with the cost of perpetuating the current model of human governance, the heavy-handed model of the coercive enterprise, the state, more specifically, the nation-state.
The extremes on all sides will only continue to increase. The cost for dissent from those worldviews will only increase. This latest battle reflects that reality perfectly. But, and this is the most important part for those who are close to my worldview, there is opportunity, as there was in World War One, where whole brigades near the end, for instance simply walked away, fed up with the cost of being part of the nation-state, to present another alternative, one that need not cost so much, one that would allow for much more natural diversity than could ever occur with ossifying coercive enterprises where power tends to gather more and more toward the center, attracting more and more narcissistic people to take advantage of the benefits of being the ones to wield that level of power.
There are a lot of difficult, challenging questions to be asked about how humans govern, and even organize themselves. We cannot ask all of them all at once, but we have an opportunity here to ask a simple question, why, why do you demand conformity while you claim to represent freedom, liberty?
If they can come to realize that they cannot hold to both the moral high ground of freedom AND the demand of compliance to their state-inspired rituals, then we will have opportunities to ask more profound questions that could help create greater opportunities for the spontaneous emergence of liberty.