Losing the Anthem

King Pyrrhus was a Greek general who fought the emerging Roman Empire from 280 BC to 275 BC. King Pyrrhus won stunning victories against the Romans, but at a heavy price. When he was congratulated for another such victory at the Battle is Asculum, King Pyrrhus quipped “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”

I think about that retort when viewing many of the political battles fought today.

The controversy over football players kneeling during the National Anthem has waned, and Trump is being declared the victor. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell published a letter saying everyone should stand for the anthem and the league suddenly discovered bylaws requiring players to do so or face fines. All in all, it seems like a pretty clear win for Trump, and Rich Lowry explains why in Politico:

It is true that, after Trump got involved, the polling on the protests began to show the public more evenly divided. If you’re Donald Trump and at 40 percent or below in the polls, though, a 50/50 issue works for you. If you are the NFL and hope to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, a 50/50 issue is a disaster for you.

I think this assessment is fairly accurate, but incomplete. Trump won, but the NFL was not the only loser.
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Preserving the First Amendment

In 2014, Democrats tried to “repeal the First Amendment.” You may have heard that phrase before, because during the 2014 midterm elections just about every Republican uttered it. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not entirely untrue. Democrats did not try to repeal the whole First Amendment, just part of it.

In 2014, Congressional Democrats launched a quixotic quest to pass a Constitutional Amendment that would allow the government to regulate political donations, a power that would easily and obviously be abused for political gain. But Democrats did not have a chance of ever passing their Amendment, it was just about virtue signaling to their base voters who think elections are bought by evil corporations.

Despite the Amendment’s inevitable failure, Republicans were right to make it a major issue. The First Amendment is one of the things that makes America special, that makes America great, that makes us who we are. Any threat to it, no matter how small, needs to be combatted forcibly.

That is why I was proud of Republicans in 2014, and so, so disappointed in them in 2017.

On Wednesday, President Trump made statements about the media that go way over the line. In answering a reporter’s question, he said “it is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.” Then Trump clarified his views when he tweeted “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.”

Let’s ignore the purely politically motivated self interested reasons Republicans have to oppose this. If the president is granted the power to take a news network off the air because he doesn’t like its reporting or thinks it’s fake, what will happen when Democrats inevitably regain power? It’s entirely possible Elizabeth Warren would be making these decisions in a few years. And let’s not forget the entirely justified anger Republicans showed when Obama simply tried to exclude Fox News from White House briefings. Imagine what President Warren would do if it was up to her to decide if Fox News was even allowed to be on the air.

That self interest should not even be necessary for any Republican to oppose this.

Don’t look at this as a Republican or a Democrat, but as an American, as someone from a country that prides itself on being born from the pursuit of liberty. If any other world leader had said what Trump said, our State Department would have released a statement about the worrying trend towards authoritarianism.

I completely agree that NBC is biased and has been for a long time. But if Trump is concerned that a news organization is reporting inaccurate data or even lying, he can use all of the trust and goodwill he has built up by always telling the unvarnished truth and never making wild, exaggerated claims.

All joking aside, consider for a moment what Trump is proposing. The press should not be able to write whatever it wants to write, and any network that publishes a report Trump deems unfair (aka anything critical of him) might be taken off the air.

On Wednesday, the leader of the free world came out against a free press.

Even if initially implemented purely as a check against news organizations actually inventing reports instead of ones who criticize trump or just get the story wrong, such a policy would be almost immediately abused. It is not only thin skinned politicians like Trump who would want to avoid criticism or who thinks they are unfairly maligned by the press. In this incredibly polarized environment, opposition can easily be viewed as intentional lying.

In our early years, America actually tried what Trump proposed. It was called the Sedition Act and was supposedly intended to combat a lying press at a time when a still new and fragile nation was threatened by war. It was quickly used to silence newspapers critical of the party in power, while the opposition party remained fair game.

Any limit to a free press is a danger to our democracy and the values we cherish. It is the very foundation of a free society.

No, I do not think Trump will actually make a move to pull the licenses of networks he doesn’t like (and not just because that’s not how it works). But he is not just some celebrity with a TV show anymore; he is the president of the United States and his every utterance is important.

Most people will move on from this. But a few dedicated Trump supporters will rationalize their way into supporting whatever their man says. Day by day, more and more people who called themselves small government, liberty loving conservatives come to support big government, authoritarian policies because the president of the United States proposed it. The Overton Window is steadily widening, and one day we may wake up to find that instead of shrugging at these authoritarian ideas, our neighbors are nodding in agreement.

It is frankly disgusting that the president would oppose the First Amendment, and people should look into it.

Gun Control and Benjamin Franklin 

 

Late Sunday night, Las Vegas was the scene of America’s worst mass shooting in our history. As of this writing, 59 innocent people are confirmed dead, and over 500 are wounded. It is a horrifying tragedy that is difficult to comprehend. At this point many details are still unclear, including a motive.

As expected, there was immediate and sustained demands for increased gun control. I am not one to criticize gun control advocates for politicizing a tragedy. If someone has a plan they believe will save hundreds of lives, I won’t tell them to keep it to themselves. But this debate has gone on for so long I think I could carry on both sides. Which is why I want to discuss a different aspect I don’t think gets brought up enough.

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Police in America 

It feels like cops across America have taken more and more criticism in the last few years. Maybe I’m just noticing it more, but it seems like stories of police abuse (real or imagined) are popping up more frequently, amplified by “hands up don’t shoot,” Black Lives Matter, and the NFL kneeling protests. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few quick thoughts.
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Stand for the Anthem 

Debates raged on Sunday about the decision by many NFL players to kneel for the national anthem, and the field is littered with the bodies of massacred straw men. So let’s get some of the easy stuff out of the way.

Of course the players have the right to kneel during the anthem. That is indisputable. Kneeling during the anthem is a form of political protest and I would absolutely oppose anyone who says they shouldn’t have that right. But that is not the question. The question is should they kneel.

Second, criticizing the kneelers is not the same as supporting what Trump said. I’m not going to quote the president here because this is a family friendly site, but the chief executive should not call for private businesses to fire their employees. It was wrong when Democrats went after Chick-Fil-A, it’s wrong when Trump goes after the NFL.

That being said, instead of taking the high road, many players decided to double down on a protest that disrespects America. The national anthem does not represent Trump, it represents our country. If you want to register disapproval with Trump, the national anthem is the wrong venue to do so.

Finally, some have pointed to the US flag code to obfuscate the argument by saying it’s the people who wear the flag on their clothing who are really disrespectful, not those who kneel. That would be a great gotcha moment if the debate was over adhering to a flag code most people have not heard of. But it’s not. It may be in violation of the flag code, but wearing a shirt or hat with the US flag on it is designed to show support for the flag and for America. Kneeling during the anthem does the opposite.

So let’s walk through step by step why so many people are upset over the anthem protest.

The Star Spangled Banner is not just any song. It is the US national anthem, and as such it represents America the same way the flag does. It represents not just the soldiers manning Fort McHenrey in 1814, but also the Minutemen who guarded Bunker Hill in 1775, the Union troops who repelled Pickett’s Charge in 1863, the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, and the soldiers I know who patrolled Iraqi villages. It represents the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that “all men are created equal,” and the abolitionists, suffragettes, and civil rights leaders who fought to uphold that revolutionary idea. It represents a country that, while not perfect, has done more than any other to spread the message of political and economic freedom to the world. It represents the 320+ million Americans who make up this great country.

As such, we treat the national anthem with respect. Whenever the anthem is played at any event, an announcer generally asks everyone to stand, remove any hat they may be wearing, and place their right hand over their heart. All of this is done as a sign of respect to the anthem and by extension to the country it represents.

Before the anthem is played at football games, fans are usually sitting in their seats and players are standing on the sidelines. When the anthem starts, fans stand up to show respect. For players who are already standing to kneel means they have decided to make an effort to not show respect for America. Make no mistake about it, going out of your way to avoid showing respect is a sign of disrespect.

The players who kneel are actively disrespecting our country.

For evidence of their thinking, lets go to the man who started this ordeal. When he began this protest over a year ago, Colin Kaepernick said “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” This is not a case of players simply taking advantage of the biggest stage they have to make a political point; the intentional disrespect of America is an integral part of the protest.

NFL players have plenty of opportunities to promote political causes. Their celebrity guarantees if they held a press conference or organized a rally it would get attention. Many of them are frequently interviewed for TV, radio, newspapers, and websites; they could talk about their concerns then instead of how impressive they are or the product they are paid to promote. But no. They have chosen the one moment reserved to honoring the United States.

Kneeling during the national anthem cannot be done surgically. It is not possible to only oppose what you don’t like while disrespecting a symbol of the whole nation. By kneeling during the anthem they are not just saying they don’t like racism or police brutality. What the country hears is that they don’t like America.

America is not now, was never, and will never be perfect. But we have done more good for this world than any other country. America began the modern democratic movement. America has invented products and systems that have saved tens of millions of lives and vastly improved hundreds of millions more. For close to a century, America has been the worldwide bulwark of democracy and liberty. Over the course of our history we have developed a society in which the adopted son of immigrants can found a world changing company in his garage and the black son of a single white mother can become president.

America is a country worth honoring, and we should all stand for her anthem.

In Support of Perpetual War

What is the longest war America has ever fought? After splashy headlines in recent months, many would now answer the Afghanistan War. In a way, that answer is correct. But most people would probably date the start of the war to October 7, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom officially launched; or maybe September 26, 2001, when CIA teams entered Afghanistan to prepare for the invasion; or maybe September 11, 2001, when 19 terrorists launched the deadliest attack on American soil since the Civil War, murdering approximately 3,000 innocent people.

Some might instead date the start of the war to when Osama bin Laden announced a declaration of war against the United States in 1996. Others to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Still others might point to al Qaeda’s first attempted attack on Americans in 1992.
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2,977 Individual Tragedies

Many people know the quote attributed to Joseph Stalin that “one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”

When one person dies, we focus on that person’s life; the good things they have done, the affect of their loss on their family, what it means for their friends, etc. But when many people die at once, it is overwhelming. We do not have time to focus on the individual impacts of each death, so it all becomes one statistic. It is too much to comprehend.

As we commemorate the 9/11 attacks, we should remember that it is made up of 2,977 individual tragedies.

The names of each victim who died on September 11, 2001 are below.

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