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Patriotism more than revering our national symbols

Write to the Point


September 28, 2017

Here are some observations and thoughts on Donald Trump’s tirade against National Football League players protesting what they feel are racial injustices by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at football games.

First, let’s not lose sight of who started this in the first place: Trump. His comments, delivered in the safety of a campaign rally in front of ardent supporters, were inflammatory, divisive and for some, personal attacks on their mothers.

After all, that is what you’re saying when you call someone a son of a b----. I wouldn’t take such a claim lightly about my mother either.

And until Friday, kneeling during the national anthem by a handful of players had become largely ignored by most of the country.

Second, it’s ironic that someone who sought and received five draft deferments when his country called him to serve during the Vietnam War has the gall to stand up in public and question others’ patriotism because they refuse to honor a symbol of this country.

I’m going to repeat that for emphasis: When his country called, not asked, Donald Trump to show his patriotism and serve in the military, he deferred.

Third, the protest started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year has never been directed at or about the military. Protestors and supporters have said so.

Those that make it about disrespect towards our service men and women fall into three categories:

1. People who have linked their personal experience to our nation’s symbols and deeply, and emotionally internalized both. That’s simplistic, yes, and I and many, many others respect their view.

2. People with an agenda in opposition to acknowledging and solving the issues the protestors are trying to highlight. By making this about the military, they deflect potential criticism and exposure of their true intents.

3. People who are duped by those in No. 2.

Fourth, I’m disappointed in the NFL and others who have taken the bait and responded to Trump’s tweets. I understand not backing down to the bully, but at some point I wish we would realize this individual is not a leader and lacks credibility.

Ignore him. He’s irrelevant, which is a strange thing to say about someone who should be the leader of our country. I have never, ever, felt this way about any previous president.

Fifth, symbols. Our flag is a symbol of what our country stands for, our anthem is a tribute to our resilience and unified pride in the face of conflict and the Pledge of Allegiance is our dedication to our country’s principals.

They are not, however, the actual values we hold dear and promote to the world. They are only symbols, and when defending symbols becomes more important than the values they stand for, we have a problem.

What are our values? What do we believe? Let’s start with the Declaration of Independence.

We believe universal equality is a self-evident truth. We believe life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are birthrights of everyone.

The Preamble to the Constitution, the document defining our government, how it operates gives us more: a more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, promotion of general welfare and securing “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

These are our values, our ideals. This is what we believe in and they are what people have suffered and died for — military and civilian — over the last 241 years.

Achieving these ideals for everyone should be our national goals. Indeed, it would be my wish these ideals be kept on the table next to where we read or watch the news so we can evaluate every law, every policy proposed or adopted by our government in their light.

If they match, great. If not, we must tell our elected representatives — emphatically — to try again.

Our national symbols represent all of us, our ideals, but also our successes and our failures. Many see those symbols illuminating the former, while, like it or not, many see them in the light of the latter.

We need to summon the angels of our better nature, like compassion and humility, along with good healthy skepticism for the status quo and tackle our failures. That’s what athletes’ protests are trying to draw our attention to.

Until we do that, we might see more people kneeling.

John McCallum can be reached at


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