Protests against our national anthem reached new lows last week when an unidentified man “took a knee” on the White House lawn as the national anthem was performed. He was attending a patriotic celebration originally meant to honor the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
There was ample media attention paid to the event itself, and how a team tribute morphed into a Red, White and Blue gala, but this man’s overt objection to symbols of national unity went nearly unnoticed.
It took place on June 5 – a date in our history when events occurred that caused us to pray for a common purpose. It was the date in 1944, that General Eisenhower made the final decision to launch Operation Overlord, and in 1947, when Secretary of State George Marshall outlined his eponymous plan for rebuilding Europe. The nation twice mourned on June 5 – in 1968 when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, and in 2004, when President Reagan died.
In those times, we were able to agree on the seriousness or solemnity of the occasion. Today, not even the once-sacred symbols of national pride are universally respected.
Back at the White House, the protestor’s contempt for his country caused him to defiantly demonstrate against our anthem. It was not at a football stadium or in a town square – it was directed at the Commander-in-Chief, before uniformed military and took place at our most recognizable monument while a ballad intended to unite us as one people was sung. In today’s environment, that is deemed unremarkable.
America is no stranger to protests. They’ve been used throughout our history from Boston Harbor to south central Los Angeles. Peaceful demonstrations that address injustice can be effective and noble – like those of the civil rights or pro-life movements. They can move people toward good or destructive ends. Sometimes they unite, but more often they divide.
Today’s “take a knee” protests are in the latter category. They are insidious, and unless the target of protest is changed, no good will come from them.
It began, of course, in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the start of NFL games. In one of history’s more questionable decisions, Commissioner Roger Goodell allowed the protest to continue, believing they were good for the League’s image. Now the NFL is suffering, and fellow Americans are at each other’s throats. Well done, Roger.
What demonstrators, and their hallelujah chorus in the media don’t understand is this: when you protest the national anthem, you protest our country. The anthem belongs to all of us, as does the flag. They represent a people – living in unity and working as one; bonded under a constitution, the rule of law, and its equal application; respectful of our past and optimistic about our future. As imperfectly as they may manifest themselves at times, these are our ideals.
To undercut those symbols is to spread a cancer that is eating away at our nation.
From the start, Mr. Kaepernick made clear he was protesting the flag and the country – not a specific issue – when he said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
In doing so, he throws the heroes, problem solvers, and well-intentioned under the same bus as those who are genuinely bad apples.
Some who dissent during the anthem say it’s about police brutality. But if your concern is the cop, why protest the country? The anthem is not sung for police officers alone – it represents every American. Take your concerns to city hall and the police precinct where they will be directed at those accused of committing injustice and to those empowered to correct it.
Even one of the players’ ardent defenders recently stumbled into the truth. In a recent debate, CNN’s Chris Cuomo, characterized the kneeling players’ mindset: “It is hard for me to honor the flag right now and honor our country,” he explained on the protestors’ behalf, “when there are issues I’m so against.”
Precisely, Chris. Kneelers refuse to honor the flag and the country because they object to each. They’re not directing their protest to the issues. We all have causes of concern and laws we oppose. There are rules, regulations and norms we attempt to change, but we don’t indict the country or our national symbols in the process.
Demonstrations against our national anthem – whether they take place in a football stadium or on the South Lawn – are an injustice to our republic. They dishonor Americans who’ve fought for a safer, better country. They teach our kids that they live in a country where justice can’t be obtained. Our national anthem is about overcoming adversity and that’s why it should be celebrated – because as Americans, each of us is empowered to make this a more perfect Union.
Tom Kilgannon is the President of Freedom Alliance, an educational and charitable foundation which honors and supports America’s military and advocates for a strong national defense.