President Donald Trump descended on Alabama last week to fire up support for Senator Luther Strange’s senate campaign.
Between awkward backpedaling over his endorsement of Strange and launching schoolyard insults toward a nuclear-armed state, Trump managed to deepen the already abysmal rift between Americans.
Specifically, he lambasted peaceful protests over systemic racism in America.
In sharp contrast to his commenting that some of the Charlottesville white nationalists are “fine people,” he called anyone who kneels during the National Anthem in protest against systemic racism a “son of a bitch.”
A number of NFL football players have opted to kneel during the National Anthem to give attention to the oppression still felt by the African American community, and large swaths of America are more than eager to stand against this challenge.
In the past, Trump has encouraged police to use unnecessary force on people, so it isn’t a surprise he’d fall on this side of the debate.
What is shocking, however, is the amount of people who have followed him in feeling outraged.
They aren’t explicitly being supportive of police brutality; hardly anyone would openly support such a thing.
Their outrage typically takes the form of feeling America is being disrespected because it’s being criticized.
Some of the outraged claim the National Anthem is sacred and, therefore, shouldn’t be connected to protest.
This outrage is misplaced, and after critically looking at the intent behind the kneeling, it’s clear why.
The intent behind the protests isn’t to disrespect the U.S. military or any of the values our country claims to hold.
In fact, the protests practice one of our most sacred values: the right to protest for a better future for all of our people.
Kneeling during the National Anthem is symbolic — it expresses that our nation’s values aren’t being upheld.
The purpose of the protests is to express the disconnect between the struggle of African Americans and American society at large.
Paradoxically, the severe backlash from the protests confirms the protests’ legitimacy: that one America, filled with people telling themselves and their Facebook feeds there isn’t a problem, is trying to stifle the cries of another America — one that’s been kicked down and gagged since its inception.
These protests are a call to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Eric Reid, one of the original players who knelt with Colin Kaepernick, explained, “It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”
People complain of the provocative nature of the protests and desperately wish these protesters would go back to being only black bodies for entertainment.
But in most cases, to challenge the status quo, it has to be provoked. Changes within systems of power rarely happen completely voluntarily — the powerful must be provoked. Calls for protesters to “just go back to playing football” are calls to deny them their humanity and their roles as active citizens.
Central to the American ethos is a respect for criticism of how power is exercised; our Declaration of Independence is almost entirely a list of grievances toward British power.
These criticisms are seldom met warmly — privileged classes naturally don’t like to accept criticism of themselves.
This amounts to those challenges being, sometimes extremely, unpopular in their time.
Some of the bravest instances of the fight for progress were derided during their time, but our world stands stronger as a result of their dissent.
Being unafraid to offend the powerful is a part of the American ethos; it’s the sentiment that’s resulted in our nation’s great blights and beauties — from the horrid picketing of the Westboro Baptist Church to the liberating March on Washington.
And respecting this sentiment is true patriotism, which should be clearly distinguished from the blind nationalism of defending a piece of red, white and blue fabric or a tune over red blood and black skin.