As I’ve read the seemingly endless takes on last week’s unavoidable, divisive issue of protests in the NFL, I’ve found myself left somewhere in the vast expanse between the two very distinct, common partisan responses to the wave of anthem protests sparked by President Trump’s comments.
Early last season, when Colin Kaepernick’s protest first entered the news cycle, I was struck with a wave of passionate apathy regarding the entire issue. As someone who cares deeply about combating police brutality and criminal justice reform, I was particularly discouraged when the discussion surrounding the protest devolved into a debate on virtually everything except those two issues. I believed the time and energy of the conservative movement could be better spent elsewhere. Any hopes we had of these protests fading out the news cycle died when the President waded into the discussion last week, at a rally campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama.
This prompted a week-long firestorm of severe criticism, jersey burnings, and even prompted a fan to burn his Colts season tickets. Much of the criticism was, like last season, generously sprinkled with the sentiment of, “people died for your right to protest, but how dare you exercise that right.”
Predictably, firebrand pundit Tomi Lahren made her voice loudly heard on the issue, saying:
“So the Left and overpaid, whiny pro-athletes are now all about the Constitution and First Amendment. Yeah, so long as the message and speech is their own.” – Tomi Lahren
As conservatives, we need to take a step back and objectively examine what our movement is becoming: a movement more loyal to personality and arbitrary partisan divisions than principle.
Case in point, Lahren seems quick to emanate the behavior of the “snowflakes” she so often decries – vehemently defending her own exercise of free speech, but expresses outrage when the “other side” does the same. She and her ilk are equally dependent on this type of righteous indignation as anyone on the left, yet they’ve made a name for themselves by crusading against outrage culture. In essence, “outrage for me, but not for thee.”
Another example is when many conservatives expressed outrage in August when Google fired engineer James Damore over his controversial internal memo, criticizing the “ideological echo chamber” at Google. Today, those same people are cheering our President’s call on NFL owners to release players who kneel in protest, even going so far as to call them “sons of b*tches.”
Where was the conservative outrage over Kim Davis? Many rushed to the defense of the Rowan County, KY Clerk, claiming she was exercising her First Amendment right by declining to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. If one believed Davis, a government employee, was within her rights, shouldn’t that rationale translate into supporting an individual’s right to stage a silent protest for three minutes before a football game? This is clearly not about principled defense of the First Amendment, this is modern American politics at its worst.
The original meaning behind Colin Kaepernick’s misguided protest has been lost in the storm of partisan outrage. It’s not about the issue of police brutality and racial inequity in America, it’s become an intellectually-hollow shouting match. One group suggests those who kneel in protest should leave the country while another accuses white athletes who don’t protest as “standing for white supremacy.”
Are we capable of having any kind of honest political conversation in this toxic atmosphere of outrage and echo chambers?
The issue of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem is nothing but an inconsequential distraction. It’s only mark will be exposing the rampant hypocrisy which has crept into our movement and displaying it for the world to see. The only purpose these types of issues serve is to further polarize our nation and the result is wasted time and deeper division.
While we’ve all been shouting at our neighbors, televisions, and on twitter, Republicans still control both chambers of Congress and the White House, while Obamacare is still the law, our tax code remains unchanged, and the federal government is still operating on a continuing resolution. We haven’t accomplished much. Every day we spend consumed with whether or not someone takes a knee during the national anthem on Sundays is a day we aren’t spending holding our government accountable. Every day we spend assuming the worst about our political opponents is a day not spent on changing hearts and minds in favor of our ideas.
Our country doesn’t need more blind partisanship and cultured outrage. America deserves better.