The most recent incarnation of the culture wars have contorted a perfectly legal and Constitutionally underpinned form social activism into a logically maligned attack on Veterans. #TakeAKnee never, ever had anything to do with Veterans and yet using predictable racist dog-whistle tactics groups on the Right have initiated a backlash against protests about institutional inequality in the Justice System by morphing the cause’s actions into an “us-versus-them” conversation about patriotism and by extension veterans.
Vets unfortunately then became caught in the middle of a culture war that had nothing at all to do with their service. Rather, they became a pawn of the right to use patriotism as a cover for bigoted beliefs by pitting one group’s love of the flag and of the uniform against another group’s desires to raise awareness about inequality.
If you aren’t sure how we got to the point where to things that seem to have nothing to do with on another, it’s pretty simple:
A black man protests other black men being incarcerated and killed at a much higher rate than the general population. He, as a black man, uses techniques used by a myriad of protesters, some dating back more than 50 years. He, as a black man, happens to have a fairly high profile position in society playing sports which also provides some financial well being.
Queue the “racists” even if they don’t realize that their responses are racist: There are the Conservatives who dispute the systemic injustice and twist statistics to try and demonstrate how Whites Citizens and/or the Police are actually the victims. There are the White Working Class who dispute social injustice in general, claiming their failing socio-economic state isn’t of their own making and they actually don’t have privilege, but rather minorities are ruining their lives. Then there are the traditionalist football fans who have no choice by to accept some black stars in the league but generally have treated black Quarterbacks different than their white counterparts. And, of course, since the protests are during the Anthem which is part of a Flag Ceremony where white male solders have been the face of American military strength for generations there are some traditionalists who see this as an afront to the foundations of America.
Their responses are typical, predictable and fairly well trod dating back to the mid-last century during the birth of the Civil Rights movment.
Either because they willfully ignore the underpinning of the original protest because of ideological beliefs or they lack the intellectual ability to understand the #TakeAKnee protests for what they actually are, these people reframe their counter-protest position to be about something else entirely.
Knowing they cannot counter-protest #TakeAKnee from the white point of view without proving the protest’s point, and because they actually cannot fight the factual reality of what the protests are about with anything but unsubstantiated opinions of their own, the counter-protest leaders reframed it not to be about injustice but disrespect.
Not just any disrespect either. The specific attachment of it to the humanity of Veterans as opposed to a more amorphous idea Constitutionality and to the physical attributes of the Flag and Anthem rather than the more vaguely conceptual patriotism. This was a very calculated attempt to hijack the conversation and turn the act of black men exercising “free speech,” “freedom of assembly” and “freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances” as it pertains to Amendment 6, for example, which requires a fair an impartial trial by jury rather than death by cop, or Amendment 14 which guarantees due process rather death by cop, or Amendment 8 which guards against the cruel and unusual punishment such as of death by cop, and so on.
This sets up an “us-versus-them” approach leveraging Authoritarian beliefs against the broader idea of protests that challenge the status quo.
The Right’s love affair with Authoritarianism is well documented, be it looking at the academic work of Matthew MacWilliams at UMAss Amherst, Marc Hetherington of Vanderbilt, Jonathan Weiler of UNC, Jonathan Haidt of NYU, Stanley Feldman of SUNY Stonybrook, Elizabeth Suhay of American University, Karen Stenner, Theodor Adorno, Milan Zafirovski and others as well as journalistic research by Vox/Morning Consult, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the Washington Post and analysis by groups like National Election Study, and so on.
So, it’s no wonder the underlying idea of even counter-protesting really didn’t gain any ground at all until then Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump decided to use it as a culturally decisive moment to dog-whistle his Alt-Right supporters into action, a year after the original protests by Kaepkernick actually began. The predictable response was a rush to support the Flag and the Troops that Defended it by a bunch of people who couldn’t stand seeing a black man get credit for pointing out inequality they didn’t want to believe existed in the first place. Thus the reflexive and unoriginal #IStand campaign was formed and subsequently supported by a bunch of Dunning-Kruger suffering people who were so uninformed they didn’t even realize that they didn’t know what they were even counter-protesting in the first place, they simply Stood Up because they didn’t want to know any better.
Thankfully, for as ignorant as many of the counter-protesters are to what is really happening the theatrics of the racist origins of the counter-protests haven’t done much actual harm.
For starters, the National Football League was already in “trouble” before the protests began. TV Viewership dropped nearly 10% between 2014 and 2015 and another 14% between over the 2015 and 2016according to Nielsen. The attrition experienced this season at a relatively small 5% seems more than likely to be influenced by whatever the league’s been experiencing the previous few seasons more than the protest /counter-protest struggles. Likewise, attendance follows a similar trend. It’s declined the past three consecutive seasons and the current and projected numbers for this season are in line with that trend. What’s more, there appears to be very little correlation between teams with high Kneel Down rates and attendance. Finally, revenue continues to be uneven throughout the league this season which is a trend that began several seasons ago according to league insiders who spoke off the record with the likes of ESPN and Sports Illustrated in the past.
Much of the analysis of these declines previous to the Alt-Right hijacking of the narrative had to do with a) how the league ran itself including the decisions to move Monday Night Football from broadcast TV to paid programming; expand the number of Thursday night games; introducing and expanding the European schedule; increasing the number of available commercial stoppages which push the game length beyond 3-hours as well as b) the uptick in high profile domestic violence problems; the CTE/head trauma problem; the league’s ongoing disputes with the Patriots including Deflate Gate plus c) the lack of perceived parity despite the salary cap and rule changes created to enable parity and which resulted in what to most fans feels like predestined dynasties and d) increased competition, including a resurgence in popularity of baseball; increased interest in soccer, video gaming and other sports, plus more entertainment options in general as the digital distribution overall continues to mature.
Of course, if you listen to the Conservative talking heads this season you’d miss all of those issues that have built up over the last half-decade plus and be focused on Veterans.
Unfortunately, however, the reality is all of this extra talk about Veterans by those on the right has done very little to actually help Veterans themselves. It’s all platitudes about patriotism by the counter-protestors and very little actual action.
You’d expect fundraising increases would be a huge talking point to the power of the counter-protests. It hasn’t happened. And, it is why most major Veterans organizations have not promoted any increase in donations due to the supposed greater awareness and support the counter-protest should logically be driving. They haven’t actually experienced any change in donations or community support despite all the talk about how Vets should be honored.
You’d expect a much bigger uproar against the treatment of current duty personelle with many of the recent changes if the counter-protesters were really there to support the Troops. The reality is the #Resist movement on the left were the ones who primarily stood up for Transgendeer Troops after the President’s illegal ban, and who protested the recent White House sponsored change from Retired back to Active status for pilots and other personelle in order to ramp up the war in Afghanistan, and who have been outspoken against the ongoing abuse women, ethnic and religious minorities, and LBGTQ recruits face in military academies, during basic training and in some of their deployments. And, most recently, the DOD is considering reducing the fitness requirements for new recruits allowing those with a wider range of diagnosed conditions to actively serve despite research demonstrating how past lower restrictions increased rates of both disciplinary offenses and suicide among those with predetermined conditions. The right is complacent while several protest groups on the left are working to block the impending order.
You’d also expect the upcoming budget changes affecting both Veterans and Active Duty personelle to be at the top of the concerns for the counter-protesters and yet they’ve been largely quiet on what effectively become reductions in the V.A. budget, and reductions in health care, specifically mental health, within the Department of Defense’s budget despite a large overall expansion of the DOD’s budget.
Then again, it’s not like the right was screaming about the proposed Health Care bill that would have targeted Vets and Active Military alike with increased costs and a reduction of access to care at a time when they are already considered to be underserved to begin with. It was primarily the left that stood against the proposed changes for any number of reasons including the negative affects to Vets.
If it were really about Vets the counter-protesters would be leading the way on educating the general public about these issues. But, it’s not. It is focused not on expanding the wellbeing of veterans but on singly attacking the original protesters.
It’s why, instead of promoting Veterans causes first and foremost during interview the counter-protesters focus on the League and the status of it how many players are kneeling, who is kneeling and if they even have a reason to kneel. Sadly, what should be respectable organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have gotten suckered into this line of thinking, which is a shame because normally they do pretty good work.
It’s why the most popular memes being circulated around Conservative groups have to do with how military regalia is a “uniform” while a football player’s garb is a “costume” and how “rich” athletes aren’t heroes but anyone who served in the military is. While there may be some underlying truth to those beliefs, the reality is the comparision does nothing at all to advance the needs of Military Personelle and exist solely to tear down athletes. If one really wanted to make a meme that served the needs of those in Military Service they would focus on the high rates of PTSD, depression, anxiety which lead to a disproportionally high rate of suicide among both active and retired personelle. The physical and psychological trauma suffered by both the Military and Athletes are real issues that deserve real attention, and yet, there’s more talk overall by progressives wanting to deal with healthcare overall than there is from conservatives who still harbor the belief that depression and anxiety is a sign of person weakness that can be prayed away and not issues caused by physical and psychological trauma that requires medical intervention.
It’s not even about being a good patriot and supporting the Armed Forces. Otherwise, there would be a much higher rate of enrollment than there is and the DOD would not be expecting another shortfall in recruits again this year. If these Conservative Patriots really were about their cause and not just being a bunch of closet racists they would enlist at a greater rate than they have to date or at least have taken their counter-protest of patriotic service to heart and found a way to get involved. As it is the DOD is pulling personelle out of retirement due to a lack of these so-called patriots actually participating rather than just posting memes and forwarding spam emails about how whiney rich athletes are.
The reality is, this is not a protest FOR Veterans as much as it is USING Veterans in order to oppress minorities.
That’s because it’s very difficult to accurately dispute what NFL players are protesting about in the first place. The justice system is injust. And, while it’s not just Blacks who suffer this injustice, their plight is much more pronounced than most. And, it is because of how uncomfortable this makes racists feel when confronted by black men with social standing pointing out the injustice. Rather than accept the facts, the knee jerk instinct is to discredit and since the statistics clearly show a systemic injustice in the Justice System rather than dealing with the stats the idea is character assassination. And, unfortunately, caught up in that are Veterans who otherwise wouldn’t have cared much about the protests before being dragged into them by racists who needed political cover.
Anyone who has followed the origins of the protests and had any bit of an open mind about what Kaep and others where trying to bring awareness to understands #BlackLivesMatter is, was and continues to be a movement about “liberty and justice for all.” Saying Black Lives doesn’t undermine the rest of everyone else’s importance, it points out the very fact that generally speaking black lives don’t matter when you look at the Justice System. While the rest of us receive the expected minimal level of deference by the Police, by Prosecutors, by the Courts, by Corrections Facilities, etc. as prescribed by legal president and through statutory regulation blacks generally don’t receive that same minimal level of respect during their interactions.
Even after the beating of Rodney King and death of Latasha Harlins that eventually lead to the LA Riots in 92 the gravity of how corrupt some in the Justice System are and how unequal the treatment of minorities continues to be some twenty-five years later. While the LA Police force may have improved some over time making strides similar to the ones the Baltimore Police Department is touting is is making now the reality is there are literally thousands of departments across the nation where inequality is ingrained in every aspect of how they so-called “protect and serve.” When off-duty black police like the officer in St. Louis in June, or the black NYPD officers who complained about harassment by the department in 2014, or even the mysterious case of Howard Morgan it just begins to demonstrate that even minority police aren’t treated equally by the system.
Until we come to terms with the true nature of the problem unfortunate incidents where unarmed and innocent civilians are traumatized or killed during their interactions with the Justice System will continue to crop up time and again in the headlines.
And, the fact of the matter is, the next spate of incidents to occur, there won’t be false patriotism and platitudes about respecting veterans to hide behind. Right now, Veterans make for convenient cover in an effort to willfully ignore the poor policing going on in this country. Poor policing, one might note, that’s being encouraged by the President himself when he makes comments about knocking suspects heads into police cruiser doors before those suspects are even charged with a crime, forget about being proven guilty thereof in a court of law. If it’s ok for the police to abuse one group of citizens without accountability, at what point do you think it won’t become normal for them to abuse any and all citizens with absolute authority? All of us can become targets of this kind of abuse at any point, so there is NEVER a good reason to cede ground over the moral and ethical necessity of liberty an equality. You might not like your neighbor but that alone isn’t reason to be ok with their mistreatment by the Justice System if you really have a love for and respect of the Constitution.
I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again, if one of us isn’t free and equal than none of us are.
And, again, none of this was ever about respecting Vets so please stop hiding your racism behind their uniforms. Show Vets the respect they deserve this weekend by ditching your bigotry driven counter protests and supporting what they fought for — the Constituion’s promise to “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” — by recognizing not only their sacrifices but also respecting the reason why the original protesters were kneeling in the first place in that not ever citizen is actually receiving the promise Vets fought so hard to ensure.