“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” – Samuel Johnson, 1775
Heated debate has arisen throughout the nation as a result of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest. Athletes and others are kneeling, sitting or, in at least one case, lying on the ground as the anthem plays. This protest has become intertwined with the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly since the latest among the endless string of questionable police shootings of black boys and men.
Our national anthem ends, ” . . . for the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Who are the “free?” Who are the “brave?” Who are the real patriots?
The United States of America was forged out of a deep longing for freedom and the bravery of colonists who sought liberty from the oppression of England. In 1775, just the year before the Declaration of Independence, Massachusetts formed a government that proclaimed, perhaps for the first time, “God save the people,” rather than “God save the King.” The revolutionary movement’s refusal to mindlessly recite the mantra of authority of Great Britain was an essential part of the establishment of the United States of America.
The Declaration of Independence, adopted a year later, stated in part:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
For black Americans, the ensuing years have been anything but “free.” From slavery, through Jim Crow and enforced segregation, through unequal education, through mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow, the promises of the United States of America have been diluted and withheld.
As with the colonists in the 1760’s and 1770’s, the American “Form of Government” has become “destructive of these ends” for women, children and men of color. And so, as true patriots did in 1775, folks of color and their supporters are refusing to sing, pledge or otherwise declare fealty to the nation that has failed to “effect their Safety and Happiness.”
It is deeply ironic that the nation is divided in this way. The modern day loyalists, who have appropriated symbols of the original independence movement, are deeply angered by the refusal of black folks to honor the anthem or to pledge their unconditional allegiance to the government. The Trump campaign and its racist figurehead are most violently outraged by the resistance. Those symbols – the flag, the Star Spangled Banner, the Pledge of Allegiance, the ubiquitous “God Bless America” – once the anthems of freedom, are now the rallying cries of the oppressor. They are the contemporary iteration of “God Save the King.”
I don’t suggest that a revolution is imminent or justified. The difference between 1776 and 2016 is that the prescience of the founders of our democratic republic provided us with mechanisms for reinvention, recalibration and reconsideration.
Patriotism does not inhabit the lyrics of the bombastic anthem, the unconstitutional Pledge of Allegiance or the trite and seductive melody of God Bless America. Patriotism is not demonstrated by waving a flag.
Patriotism inhabits the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Patriotism is demonstrated by the bravery of men, women and children who love the country enough to demand that it fulfill its overdue promises.
Colin Kaepernick and the millions of Americans who kneel in protest or march in solidarity with those who want Black Lives to matter are the real patriots.
Trump and his “patriotic” supporters are scoundrels, no better that the overbearing Loyalists whom we rejected 240 years ago. This time, as Pogo eloquently stated, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”