In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne recognized British authority for the Mandate for Palestine. Neither US Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, nor Franklin Roosevelt questioned British authority in the Mandate for Palestine, nor Jerusalem…
On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted the Plan as Resolution 181(II), which recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and an international authority for the city of Jerusalem…
Harry S. Truman, President of the United States for approximately 7 years, did not object…
On May 14, 1948, Jewish leaders in the Mandate for Palestine issued the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in defiance of the United Nation as Resolution 181(II)… setting the stage for the 1948 Arab–Israeli War (or the First Arab–Israeli War) between the State of Israel and a military coalition of Arab states, and forming the second stage of the 1948 Palestine war.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States for two full terms, “minimized relations with Israel, but he did not reduce the U.S. commitment to the existence and survival of Israel” (Source).
John F. Kennedy, President of the United States for approximately 3 years, ordered Israel to terminate its nuclear program in exchange for US defense (Source)
Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States for approximately 6 years, ordered the U.S. 6th Fleet, previously sent on a training exercise toward Gibraltar, to be re-positioned to the eastern Mediterranean to be able to assist Israel during the Six-Day War of June 1967.
On June 7, 1967, Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem.
On June 8, 1967, Israeli Air Force jet fighter aircraft and Israeli Navy motor torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty, an American naval research ship incident.
Richard Nixon, President of the United States for almost two full terms, did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Gerald Ford, President of the United States for approximately 3 years, did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
In June 1976, a UN proposal supporting the two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines was vetoed by the United States.
Jimmy Carter, President of the United States for a full term, did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
On September 17, 1978, following twelve days of secret negotiations at Camp David, the Camp David Accords were signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Ronald Reagan, President of the United States for two full terms, did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
In 1987, Jonathan Pollard, a former US intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to spying for and providing top-secret classified information to Israel.
On November 15, 1988, Palestinians declared the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, which referenced the UN Partition Plan of 1947 and “UN resolutions since 1947” and was interpreted as an indirect recognition of the State of Israel, and support for a two-state solution.
George H. W. Bush (41), President of the United States for a full term, did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
From October 30th to November 1, 1991, Spain hosted the Madrid Conference (co-sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union), to revive the Israeli–Palestinian peace process through negotiations, involving Israel and the Palestinians as well as Arab countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Bill Clinton, President of the United States for two full terms, did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
In 1993, the Oslo I Accord, an agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, was signed in Washington, D.C.
In September 1995, the Oslo II Accord, an agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, was signed in Washington, D.C.
October 28, 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 was passed by the US Congress. President Clinton, however, did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem at any point in his for two full terms as president.
In 2000, US President Bill Clinton convened a peace summit between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. In May of that year, according to Nathan Thrall, Israel had offered Palestinians 66% of the West Bank, with 17% annexed to Israel, and a further 17% not annexed but under Israeli control, and no compensating swap of Israeli territory. The Israeli prime minister reportedly offered the Palestinian leader approximately 95% of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip if 69 Jewish settlements (which comprise 85% of the West Bank’s Jewish settlers) be ceded to Israel. East Jerusalem would have fallen for the most part under Israeli sovereignty, with the exception of most suburbs with heavy non-Jewish populations surrounded by areas annexed to Israel. The issue of the Palestinian right of return would be solved through significant monetary reparations. According to Palestinian sources, the remaining area would be under Palestinian control. Depending on how the security roads would be configured, these Israeli roads might impede free travel by Palestinians throughout their proposed nation and reduce the ability to absorb Palestinian refugees. Borders, airspace, and water resources of the Palestinian state would have been left in Israeli hands. President Arafat rejected this offer and did not propose a counter-offer. No tenable solution was crafted which would satisfy both Israeli and Palestinian demands, even under intense U.S. pressure. Clinton blamed Arafat for the failure of the Camp David Summit. In the months following the summit, Clinton appointed former US Senator George J. Mitchell to lead a fact-finding committee that later published the Mitchell Report.
George W. Bush (43), President of the United States for two full terms, did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
In July 2002, the “quartet” of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia outlined the principles of a “road map” for peace, including an independent Palestinian state. The roadmap was released in April 2003 after the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as the first-ever Palestinian Authority Prime Minister.
From December 2006 to mid-September 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority met 36 times; there were also lower-level talks. In 2007 Olmert welcomed the Arab League’s re-endorsement of the Arab Peace Initiative. In his bid to negotiate a peace accord and establish a Palestinian state, Olmert proposed a plan to the Palestinians. The centerpiece of Olmert’s detailed proposal is the suggested permanent border, which would be based on an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank. Olmert proposed annexing at least 6.3% of Palestinian territory, in exchange for 5.8% of Israeli land, with Palestinians receiving alternative land in the Negev, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, as well as a territorial link, under Israeli sovereignty, for free passage between Gaza and the West Bank. Israel insisted on retaining an armed presence in the future Palestinian state. Under Abbas’s offer, more than 60 percent of settlers would stay in place (not return).
In December 2008, Ben-Ami Kadish, a former U.S. Army mechanical engineer, pleaded guilty to being an “unregistered agent for Israel,” and admitted to disclosing classified U.S. documents to Israel in the 1980s.
Barack Obama, President of the United States for two full terms, never moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
On October 19, 2009, Stewart David Nozette was arrested by the FBI for espionage. Nozette, an American scientist for the United States Department of Energy, the United States Department of Defense, DARPA, the United States Naval Research Laboratory, and NASA. At trial, Nozette admitted attempting to sell U.S. classified information to someone he believed was an Israeli Mossad operative. He was convicted for attempted espionage and fraud against the United States.
In September 2010, the Obama administration pushed to revive the stalled peace process by getting the parties involved to agree to direct talks for the first time in about two years.
On July 29, 2013, United States Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to restart the peace process through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
On December 6, 2017, US President Donald J. Trump, ordered the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, on his 320th day in office as President of the United States, with no connection to any direct talks, negotiation, or peace plan.
“I asked the Americans, and the US Government assured me that if we signed the treaty, we will live on our lands free and forever, and we believe them,” Native Americans #IBelieveHim
“I cannot tell a lie, I asked him, and Benedict Arnold assured me that he didn’t betray the Continental Congress to the British,” George WWashington#IBelieveHim
“I asked King George, and he assured me that there is no impressment of American sailors, and I believe him,” James Madison #IBelieveHim
“I asked him, and General Beauregard assured me that all the South wants is Ft Sumter, and I believe him,” Abraham Lincoln #IBelieveHim
“I asked Queen Maria Christina, and she assured me that the USS Maine is welcome in Cuba anytime, and I believe her,” William McKinley #IBelieveHim
“I asked him, and German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann assured me that the telegram was just a joke, and I believe him, Woodrow Wilson” #IBelieveHim
“I asked the Weimer Republic, and the Germans assured me that if the US signs pseudo-Versailles Treaty then the US and Germany will be friends forever, and I believe them,” Warren G. Harding #IBelieveHim
“I asked French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand, and he and Kellogg assured me that they could end war forever, and I believe them,” Calvin Coolidge #IBelieveHim
“I asked him, and the Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō assured me that rumors of an attack on Pearl Harbor are just #fakenews, and I believe him,” Franklin D. Roosevelt #IBelieveHim
“I asked him, and the Stalin assured me that he has never blocked Allied access to West Berlin, and I believe him,” Harry S. Truman #IBelieveHim
“I asked him, and Mao assured me that he no longer has any interest in North Korea, and I believe him,” Dwight D. Eisenhower #IBelieveHim
“And I asked him, and Khrushchev assured me that he didn’t send any nuclear weapons to Cuba, and I believe him,” John F. Kennedy #IBelieveHim
“I asked them, and the Soviets assured me that I was responsible for the Kennedy Assassination, and I believe them,” Lyndon B. Johnson #IBelieveHim
“And I asked him, and Ho Chi Ming assured me that he didn’t order the Tet Offensive, and I believe him,” Richard M. Nixon #IBelieveHim
“And I asked him, and the Ayatollah assured me that he’s not happy about taking of the American hostages, and I believe him,” James E. Carter #IBelieveHim
“And I asked him, and Chernenko assured me he didn’t shoot down Korean flight 007, and I believe him,” Ronald W. Reagan #IBelieveHim
I asked him, many times, and Saddam told me that he didn’t gas those Kurds, and I believe him,” George H. W. Bush #IBelieveHim
“I asked him, many times, and Osama told me that he didn’t order the 9/11 attacks, and I believe him,” George W. Bush #IBelieveHim
“I asked him again, and Putin said he didn’t meddle. And I believe, I really believe him,” Donald J. Trump #IBelieveHim
For students and scholars of philosophy, politicians often present examples of the worst forms of logic. These logical errors are studied by experts in debate, rhetoric, and argument. It seems too that logical fallacies are a go-to for political speechwriters as well, and not for the best reasons. The current President of the United States is a master of false logic; truly a master: he can articulate his opinions as facts and at the same time deny or obfuscate dissenters through his mastery of debate. He is not the first celebrity tied to fallacies of logic (see McNamara’s Fallacy, Noah Sweat, Jr., Gish Gallop, etc.), but Trump has mastered several tactics, such as argumentum ad ignorantiam (Argument from Ignorance and Argument from Incredulity), argumentum ad lapidem (Appeal to the stone), and his favorite, argumentum ad nauseam or argumentum ad infinitum, Argument from Repetition.
Trump entered the public arena of politics crusading against President Obama’s legitimacy as President of the United States. The so-called birther movement was argumentum ad ignorantiam at its finest. And it worked. How or why else would a sitting President of the United States lower himself to releasing his personal birth certificate when no other had done so before? Trump’s bombastic style of argumentum ad lapidem prevented career politicians from both parties as well as the mainstream media from taking Trump seriously early in Election 2016. And again, Trump’s argument of Appeal to the Stone worked. It worked on Twitter, it worked on the campaign trail, and it ultimately led to victory in the ballot boxes. Why should Trump release his taxes? Why should we believe the sexual assault claims? Isn’t climate-change a convenient Chinese hoax? And while belittling critics with Appeal to the Stone, Trump skillfully played argumentum ad nauseam or argumentum ad infinitum to his base: I will Make America Great Again, I will repeal Obamacare on Day One, I will withdraw from NATO, I will scrap NAFTA, I will build The Wall and Mexico will pay for it. Altogether, Trump’s campaign was a masterful exercise in Appeal to Emotion – where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning.
Most of this is water under the bridge, so why write about it now? While the election may be over, using the rules or logic to interpret Trump’s governing style is a useful lens. As pundits have said before, Trump seems to be running the Administration like a campaign and has yet to transform campaign tactics into an effective leadership style or governance strategy. The logical fallacies that play so well in 140 unchallenged characters and 30-second soundbites, ring hollow in the halls of power in Washington, D.C.
Enter the argument of False Equivalence. This fallacy or tool in Trump’s arsenal is the describing a situation of logical and apparent equivalence, when in fact there is none. That’s the game when suddenly non-violent protests by NFL players receive equivalent attention, dare I say even more attention than a nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, and the genocide of the Rohingya in southeast Asia. And it’s working. Trump is the Entertainer-in-Chief, he knows ratings and he can smell rhetorical opportunities. Before Trump called out NFL “sons of bitches,” Trump’s solid 38% had dipped to 35%. Small, but quite significant if you’re seeking legislative traction and/or considering reelection at all. I doubt many Americans think that a sports athlete kneeling is tantamount to nuclear holocaust, but Trump skillfully changed the headlines.
The rhetorical attacks on NFL players is also an example of Appeal to Motive, a subtype of ad hominem, that dismisses an idea by questioning the motives of its proposer. Adrian Peterson, Keelan Johnson, Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy, TJ Ward, Aaron Hernandez, Pacman Jones… the list goes on and on. For years, Americans have criticized NFL players for their criminal behavior and appealed for them to be role models. Now, NFL players have endangered their livelihood and agitated their fanbase to participate in a form of non-violent protest to raise awareness of civil rights. In a parallel universe, that would be admirable, but here, at the feet of the Twitter-in-Chief, it has become dishonoring the flag à la Appeal to Motive.
Certainly, Donald J. Trump did not invent the idea that the NFL players were “dishonoring the flag,” but he masterfully excited not only his base, but has guilted others into agreement by argumentum ad verecundiam, or Appeal to Authority, where an assertion is deemed true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it. This could also be called Proof by Assertion which is when an argument, kneeling is disrespectful, is repeatedly restated regardless of contradiction. If the President says its disrespectful, it must be true. Personally, I also feel Trump has focused on an issue, patriotism, that is more likely to trigger emotional responses than critical thinking. The fact of the matter is that in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected Americans from being forced to salute the American flag. End of story. It’s not illegal. Period. Is it disrespectful? Not compared to burning the flag, I would think.
How about kneeling during the National Anthem? Is that an act of dishonoring the flag, and the soldiers who fought and died protecting America? Woe. How about that for a use of rhetorical strategy? That’s Appeal to Emotion and Appeal to Ridicule all in one. Bringing in the Soldier’s Sacrifice and loading the argument with terms like protecting or defending. Appeal to emotion, the argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning, and Appeal to Ridicule, the argument is made by presenting the opponent’s argument in a way that makes it appear ridiculous, after all, do you want to be the person that looks into the eyes of a soldier’s mother and says that its ok for people to disrespect the flag? [Or go on Twitter and tell America that a Gold Star casualty like Capt. Kahn, or a POW like Senator McCain, are not heroes? Seems like patriotism can a bit selective.]
The President’s trump card is this invoking of the Soldier’s Sacrifice to make the Soldier’s Argument. The Soldier’ Argument is a form of identity politics, where one’s tribal affiliation not only determines one’s political opinion but necessitates that a) all members of the tribe agree, and b) that either only members of the tribe have a right to an opinion on the issue or that tribal members’ opinions are intrinsically more accurate opinions. (Ultimately, the Soldier’s Argument, as literally invoked by President Trump, also shows Trump’s own hypocrisy too, since Trump himself did not serve in the US Armed Forces.) Of course, any hyperbolic extension of this argument illuminates its inherent fallacy and implies a Hive Mind. Do all police officers agree on the use of force or the limits of the 4th Amendment? Do all women have the same opinion on reproductive rights? I suppose Clarence Thomas must not be a real African-American because he has differing opinions on Civil Rights than most African-Americans. This is the danger and fallacy of identity politics and the Soldier’s Argument. It is one manifestation of ideological protectionism. Common strategies used by those who take this worldview include the use of rhetorical manipulation and logical fallacies to persuade others of things that are essentially false.
The Soldier’s Argument is any argument used to compel or influence others to agree with a particular preconceived position, rather than being a means of analyzing evidence and thereby arriving at a better understanding of the truth. As Paul Krugman puts it, “the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not for illumination.” Such arguments are often made only when it suits a predetermined agenda, in this case, that the NFL kneelers are unpatriotic and disrespectful, and ignored when it conflicts with that agenda (again, Trump’s treatment of McCain and the Kahn family). Simply put, it is a form of hypocrisy, i.e. advancing a given principle in cases where it supports one’s beliefs but ignoring or denying it in cases where it contradicts those beliefs.
Soldier arguments are used to create and maintain a self-congratulatory epistemic closure, labeling opposing arguments of any kind the “enemy” and therefore erroneous and a threat which must be attacked rather than legitimate criticism which must be considered if it cannot be logically refuted. It’s similar to the Psychologist’s Fallacy that occurs when an observer assumes that his or her subjective experience reflects the true nature of an event. I’m a teacher, therefore I know everything about teaching, I’m in the health profession, so I know everything about medicine, I have a small business, so don’t tell me about government regulation, etc., etc.
The coup de grâce of Trump’s rhetorical style is the No True Scotsman argument. No True Scotsman makes a generalization true by changing the generalization to exclude a counterexample. After all, no truly patriotic American could possible condone kneeling NFL players, right? It is an easy argument to make. Like waving red meat in front of a hungry animal. After all, it’s easier to defend a symbol, than to talk to those you disagree with, right? Tolerance is uncomfortable. Understanding is hard work. Embracing divergent opinions is a difficult way of life. By the way, that US Supreme Court case? West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)? The decision was written by Justice Robert H. Jackson who was also the US Judge who presided over the Nuremberg Trials of former Nazis after World War II. Jackson knew something of autocratic despotism, is remembered for his forceful defense of free speech and constitutional rights generally as being placed “beyond the reach of majorities and officials.”
So, no, Mr. President, I don’t buy your Soldier’s Argument. I see through your rhetorical devices. I recognize your mastery of logical fallacies and I laugh. I laugh at Trump for all his logical errors, I laugh at Americans for falling for your manipulation of fact and emotion, but mostly I laugh at myself, since my observances don’t seem to make a difference and, after all, Mr. President, you did win.
But, while I reject the Soldier’s Argument, I asked myself… what do soldier’s think? So, I asked my current students who served in the US Armed Forces, what do they think of the current debate over the flag and the NFL kneelers? I have approximately 12 students this semester who are US Veterans. This survey is qualitative, not quantitative and by no means do I intend to make sweeping generalizations of all veterans’ opinions. That would be the same mistake of the Soldier’s Argument. However, each of these responses is valid, because they are the expressed opinions of veterans that have “fought for the flag.” I received a response from seven of the twelve veterans that I solicited for an opinion. The seven included 4 Army veterans, 2 Navy veterans, and 1 Marine veteran. Five were male, two females. Five Caucasian, and two non-Caucasian. All were deployed overseas. Two are combat veterans. All are enlisted. (Students had been coded as A1, A2, A3, A4, M1, N1, and N2.)
Four of the veterans were critical of the kneeling to differing degrees, two stating unequivocally that it’s disrespectful, with one of those two saying, “I don’t think nonmilitary people who do this understand that it’s disrespectful to our flag and nation” (A3). Two other veterans were milder in their criticism, saying that, “I won’t lie it does bring a twinge to my heart when I see people not standing for the anthem” (M1) and that “to me it is disrespectful and ‘rubs me the wrong way,’ [but] I see it as a peaceful form of the First Amendment” (N1).
Five veterans continued that recognition of the First Amendment explicitly or implicitly stating that it’s about Free Speech (A2, A4, M1, N1, and N2). A2 went further and said, “As a veteran I do not feel personally insulted when athletes protest the national anthem or abstain from rending honors. I further find threats of violence against those who disrespect (or even desecrate) the flag to be an abhorrent threat to freedom of speech.”
A4, Caucasian male, state that he believed race was a factor in veterans’ opinions. He said, “Personally, I understand that kneeling for the anthem is a protest against the injustice of the police and government, not a protest against our veterans or the flag, which most veterans I’ve noticed seem not to understand given how much this debate has been politicized. Partisan lines are being drawn thanks to the media and our president. In terms of race and dominance it is mostly my white ‘type A’ personality friends and family who are in a rage over Kaepernick’s kneeling, while my foreign-born friends are still confused about what free speech means in America… nowadays it seems people only share the opinion that parrots their favored media outlet.” M1 similarly said, “Being in the service they ingrain a whole lot of customs and courtesies in you, especially for the flag. In that environment, you represent the flag and the flag represents you. However, on the outside as a civilian (with many of the injustices happening every day), from what I can tell, a disproportionate number do not believe the flag represents them. To them, the flag is representing a country where people there is little equity; where it is far easier for some and difficult for many.”
N2 wrote, “As an American and a Veteran, I am frustrated. I see this NFL ‘controversy’ and I get angry, because this shit shouldn’t be as big as it should be. You got President Trump tweeting about it and not to mention all the news sites reporting about it. To me this seems like a distraction from real world issues, and it creates further division in our nation. We still have many issues that should be brought forward, but instead they continuously get buried upon the B.S we call corporate news. Such issues like our homeless Veteran problem (homelessness in general), Veterans suicide rate (mental illness), and the cutting funding for education.”
My takeaways from soliciting opinions from my veteran students is this: Veterans are like other Americans. They have their life experiences and they have their opinions. Like most Americans, my veteran students will always stand for the flag, but many of them believe Americans have the right to not stand too. Two veterans, A1 and N2, question whether the kneelers understand the situation or whether it’s the right protest to make, saying, “We understand that the government is not perfect and that many atrocities have been committed but the flag does not stand for those radical or extreme instances” (A1). N2 sums up the best of the Soldier’s Argument (and I think A1 and A3 would agree) by saying, “I will always choose to stand for the flag no matter what. I know the flag is just a symbol. A symbol that perhaps has been tarnish over the years, but I still stand to honor my fellow brothers and sisters who served. I stand for those who are still stuck in the warzones, I stand for those who took over the watch when my time was done, and I stand for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We are the ones who denounced a normal life to sail the seven seas or fight in a barbaric war. We sacrifice our sanity, family, happiness, so others can enjoy theirs.”
Conversely, A4 wrote, “I consider Kaepernick a hero because he gave up his career and millions of dollars to protest a cause he felt was worth fighting for. Dozens of NFL players have followed his example and if nothing else has at least got this country talking about the issues involved, in my mind his protest was a success.” And, similarly, N1 concluded, “I see it as a peaceful form of the First Amendment. I see them as expressing themselves and what they stand for through an idiotic, yet ingenious way of getting the attention of everyone in the country. Could the timing have been better? Absolutely. However, kneeling for the flag is a much better protest then burning the flag. The Armed Forces did not go to war to abandon an Amendment. They went to war to defend the rights of all Americans. Regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, sex, and identity.”
Maybe we can respect our soldiers by not subjecting them to the Soldier’s Argument? Maybe honoring our troops means recognizing that each veteran has her or his own opinion. I guess, my final question in all this is, who are you in this chapter of American history? Are you President Trump, defending the flag by attacking Americans? Are you the kneelers, either disrespecting the flag, or making a social protest? Or are you the Chris Long, who stands during the National Anthem, one hand on his heart and the other hand on the shoulder of his fellow Americans to support their rights in the Land of the Free?
According to the U.S. Constitution, before the President-Elect “shall enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The Constitution is a living document and is made of three parts: the original text, the Amendments, and -since Marbury v. Madison- the decisions of the US Supreme Court. Not only are each of the 27 Amendments part of the US Constitution, but Article Six establishes the Constitution, and all federal laws and treaties of the United States made according to it, to be the supreme law of the land, and that “the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything [sic] in the laws or constitutions of any state notwithstanding.” Well, so what? What does this have to do with Colin Kaepernick and Donald J. Trump?
Well, in the United States Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), and reaffirmed in U.S. v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990), the US Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional for a government (whether federal, state, or municipality) to prohibit the desecration of a flag, due to its status as “symbolic speech.” Or, to put a positive spin on a negative statement: desecration of the American flag is constitutionally protected. To be clear, when SCOTUS ruled on desecration of the flag, the issue was flag burning and other forms of physical destruction.
Remember Toni Smith? Toni Smith was a member of the Manhattanville College women’s basketball team who protested the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 by turning her back on the U.S. flag during the playing of the National Anthem on court. In a written statement, she explained her actions saying: “For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government’s priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag.” Smith went further and said that, if the US flag represents those who died to protect our American freedoms, it also represents the Native Americans and slaves who died under that same flag. But perhaps, you know, Toni Smith was wrong because she turned her back to the flag.
Now enter John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Neither athlete desecrated the American flag. Neither turned their back on the American flag. They stood, with heads bowed, and raised their fists in silent protest. But, you know, Carlos and Smith were wrong because they raised their fists to the American flag. Where these American athletes at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, “Sons of Bitches”? Perhaps some Americans still think so, but I also suspect some Americans understand the statement made in the context of the Civil Rights Movement. But at least they were standing, right?
Not like Marie and Gathie Barnett. Those two kids refused to stand for the American flag (nor recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Were they “Sons of Bitches”? I doubt it, but they were expelled from Slip Hill Grade School near Charleston, West Virginia. Of course, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. The decision was written by Justice Robert H. Jackson who was also the US Judge who presided over the Nuremberg Trials of former Nazis after World War II. Jackson, who knew something of autocratic despotism, is remembered for his forceful defense of free speech and constitutional rights generally as being placed “beyond the reach of majorities and officials.”
The problem with criticizing flag burners, back-turners, and fist-pumpers is that the cloth becomes more important than the people. It is a form of idolatry. The flag is not America, it is a visual representation of both the American government and American ideals. The flag was worn by American servicemen defending Pearl Harbor and by NYC first responders saving lives on 9/11. But it was worn by Michael Slager and Timothy Loehmann as well when they shot unarmed African-Americans. It is a symbol, not a person. How can we tell our fellow Americans what a symbol must mean to them? How can we tell our fellow citizens what they should be thinking when they see the flag? When we uphold the rights of symbols before people, we undermine the assumption that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
So, what of Colin Kaepernick? Did he burn the flag? No, but if he did, it would have been legal to do so anyway. Did he pump his fist? No, but if he did, it would have been legal to do so anyway. Did he stand for the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner? No, he did not. He didn’t stand in front of a flag, while a song was played. Just like Marie and Gathie Barnett didn’t stand. And now, while Kaepernick may not be playing in the National Football League, other NFL athletes have continued the protest kneeling begun by Kaepernick.
It is beyond question that Colin Kaepernick and others have the legal right to kneel. The question is not why they kneel, but why it bothers so many Americans that they do so. Apparently, our country stands for freedoms, but we just better not exercise those freedoms. Apparently, men and women have died protecting our freedoms, so we better not betray those sacrifices by, you know, actually exercising the freedoms that they died protecting. Perhaps if we truly wanted “to become a more perfect Union,” we should recognize opportunities to improve society instead of shaming whistle-blowers and goading employers to fire political activists.
Of course, the same US Constitution that protects Kaepernick also protects those who criticize him. However, it is strange that a man who has called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, called Rosie O’Donnell fat and ugly, mocked Serge Kovaleski for his physical disability, described Arianna Huffington as ugly both inside and out, assumed Megyn Kelly was influenced by her menstrual cycle, described a breastfeeding mother as disgusting, and stated that prisoners of war aren’t heroes because they let themselves get captured… this same man has stated that NFL players who silently kneel during the presentation of a flag and the playing of a song, that these men are “Sons of Bitches.” Apparently, a silent kneeling protest is somehow more offensive than the verbal abuse of Presidential free speech?
The President of the United States takes an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and the legal interpretation of that Constitution has consistently established that Americans are not required to stand, nor recite, nor face, nor prohibited from destroying the flag. The role of the President ought to be to defend the rights of Americans and the exercise of those rights. It is easy to stand up for those you agree with and their rights. Character is standing up for those you disagree with and their rights.
Whether it be individual psychology, sociology, religion, or politics, identity formation is so fundamental to all of our human interactions. What we saw in Charlottesville is the expression of racial identity formation. White privilege versus true equality and equity. How are we to interpret these events? How can we make reason of the perpetuation of militant White extremism in the wealthiest nation on Earth?
I start with Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor is such a gift to logic and reason; Occam stated almost a thousand years ago that the simplest explanation is most often the actual explanation. What percentage of women were at the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville this past weekend? How many first or second-generation Americans?
What we have is a sociological situation in which multi-generational Caucasian American males feel that something is fundamentally unfair, that the sand has shifted beneath their feet. And they are right; economic factors have shifted, and not in their favor. Those factors are automation, international trade, increased female participation in the workforce, and the increased chasm of compensation between the lowest paid employee in a corporation and the CEO.
Historically, this phenomenon is rooted in the Southern white male experience. As described in Thandeka’s book, Learning to be White (2000), there is a historical and artificial division between the white and non-white lower/middle classes. The Southern elites used racial stratification to instill a superiority complex in lower/middle class whites to distract from the economic stratification of the colonial and antebellum South. This continues to pervade our racial interpretation of class, economics, and status. And as the great factories of the North have oxidized into the Rust Belt, that mentality has migrated north as well.
And combined with this, in my opinion, in the mutt-ification and alienation of Anglo-Saxon and German Americans. It is my opinion that there is a deep-seeded sense of alienation among poor Anglo-Saxons who look at the nationalistic fervor of Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, etc., and wonder… why not me, why not us? These same WASP males look at immigrant populations, particularly Mexican-Americans who have maintained their culture/language and even the contrived celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and wonder… why not me, why not us?
Immigrant Catholic Latinos, Sikhs and Hindus from India and Pakistan, Muslim refugees, and warped perceptions of Affirmative Action…. and disenfranchised white males wonder… why not me, why not us? “Wasn’t this a Christian (Protestant) nation? Remember Antebellum and the 1950s, ‘we’ didn’t have all these problems… A purported Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage (apologies to FDR) … and many Anglo-Saxon Christians wonder… why not me, why not us?”
In Ohio, before WWI, Cincinnati had daily newspapers in German. In fact, German-Americans still make up a plurality of the US population demographically; most Americans are German. And Germans and Irish immigration waves entered the US at approximately the same time. But now, after two World Wars, who flies German flags in their front yards? Each St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is an Irishman, but when are we all German-Americans? And many multi-generational German-Americans wonder… why not me… why not us?
Indeed, many Anglo-Saxon and German Americans do not recognize their ethnicity; they identify as “American,” and see the embracing of ethnic and non-white racial identity as un-American. In homogenous nation-states, to the extent they even exist anymore, it is easier to see economics in class terminology, but here? In America, the great classless society, where everyone from the store manager to the CEO is “middle-class,” how can we see the economic realities of the New Jerusalem? In the America that was established not as a social ‘revolution,’ but as a conservative reaction to the threat to wealth, in the America that annexed the Mexican Cession to further the expansion of slavery, in the America that pointed its White Fleet guns at Japan, Opened Doors in China, and took the Philippines from Spanish-speaking Catholics… how can we NOT see economics in racial terms?
Only four of the Fortune 500 companies have an African-American CEO, and 43 of the 44 US Presidents have been Caucasian (remember Grover Cleveland counts as both the 22nd and 24th US President). So, given the racially-charged history of the United States, how does a multi-generational Anglo-Saxon or German American male look himself in the mirror and understand why he too is not a CEO or the President of the United States. “Why Alice, I oughta, one of these days! POW!”
And there you have it. In a culture in which females traditionally have measured their self-worth through family and relationships, and males have judged each other by “bringing home the bacon,” many Anglo-Saxons and German-Americans wonder… why not me… why not us?
They wonder, whatever did happen to the American Dream? “Did I do something wrong? I don’t think so; it must have been taken from me… you know… by those people who look different….”
As globalization came to China in the late 1800s, some Chinese resisted in what became known as the Boxer Rebellion. Westerners called the anti-immigrant nationalists shadow boxers for the shadow boxing techniques of the nativist movement. The nomenclature, shadow boxing, has lasted much longer than their rebellion against globalization. And that’s precisely what this new rise of the angry White Male Christian is, it is a movement of shadow boxers angrily fighting for a privilege that is not morally theirs, against an enemy that doesn’t exist, while Palpatine fuels their fire and consolidates wealthy and power with his national and international oligarchs.
These are the angry white males from Charlottesville. Personally, I neither agree, nor condone the hatred and violence that they have readily accepted. I reject their self-described victimization and jingoist perceptions of history, but I understand them. I understand, and feel, their pain. They are shadow boxing a phantom menace that they neither see, nor understand. And they collectively killed Heather Heyer. They killed those two State Troopers as true as if they had swiped their helicopter out of the sky themselves. They have killed.
We can kill too. Or we can stand in solidarity with the spirit of Heather Heyer, with the spirit of MLK, Caesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony, and Chief Joseph. We too can turn the other cheek. We too can love our enemy as our brother…. We too shall overcome.