By David Underhill –
MOBILE, Ala. – I have stood as the Confederate flag rose in front of a burning cross. I didn’t do this out of respect. I did it because I wanted to get out alive from that Alabama farm field where I had gone one night long ago to see what a genuine Klan rally would be.
Grim squinting Mike Pence, who plays the role of vice president, stalked away from a recent pro football game before the kickoff. His boss had ordered him to do this, if any players failed to show “respect” by erect posture along the sidelines during the opening flag and anthem ceremony. As some have done at most pro games lately, a few knelt in protest against deadly injustices allowed to fester. This was as predictable as windy weather in hurricane season.
So was Pence’s staged pique. If he truly respected the flag, he would not by trying to compel anybody to violate what it symbolizes.
This patriotic scuffle began last year when one man, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, decided to sit during the ceremonies in protest against epidemic police killings of unarmed blacks. The team owners, plus piranha politicians, reacted like they were the ones suffering brain damage from concussions. By demanding that he stand and “respect” the flag they were trying to force him — in the name of the freedom and liberty which the flag represents — to do something contrary to his beliefs. And they are demanding the same to all the other players who have now joined his cause.
These rulers are blind to the absurdity of denying their subjects the right to protest under a banner guaranteeing their right to protest, because the rulers’ actual concern isn’t respect. It’s obedience.
That Spells Trouble, Right Here In Our Country
Someone unwilling to jettison his beliefs in deference to the flag and anthem is trouble. He might not obey on command. And if he isn’t punished for this, others could take courage from his example and decide not to be robots themselves. But if he suffers they will watch and learn a useful lesson.
This lesson fortifies the masters of any enterprise, whether a team that needs cohesion to win, or a business that needs all cogs meshing to prosper, or a military machine that needs loyalty for going to war. Particularly if that war is not starkly necessary. Not a defensive spasm to protect home from some invader. Not a strategic maneuver to aid some distant ally in peril. But a wag-the-dogish scam creating crisis abroad to squelch domestic uproars.
Then, if you are commander-in-chief, you need obedience—from the military who must go kill and perhaps die in foreign lands, and from the civilians who must accept whatever privations war brings. Respect for flag and anthem isn’t necessary for this. Obedience can substitute (for a while anyhow, even when the commander was himself a flagrant serial-offender draft dodger).
Just as you needn’t be a Christian to be a Christian. You can pass as Christian by performing certain rituals and reciting certain creeds, but you don’t have to lead a life that follows Christ’s example. You don’t even have to do the ceremonies. You can be a Christian because your mama was or because you were born into a place that calls itself so. Just as others can become Muslims simply by joining ISIS.
And standing to face the flag while the anthem plays at a football game does not make you a patriot who respects the country’s emblems. But it does signal your willingness to obey. Its absence in just a few players was enough to propel Pence out of the stadium, and to ignite profane rage from his chief.
Counterfeit vs. Real Respect
Respect attaches to behavior worthy of it. In To Kill A Mockingbird, attorney Atticus Finch defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman and loses the case. As he exits the courtroom all the members of the defendant’s community present rise and stand in silent tribute to his effort. That’s what respect looks like.
A country fully worthy of respect would not have to compel any of its people to display a counterfeit respect. They would spontaneously offer the genuine item.
When some don’t, it would be wise not to look for failures in them as the reason and not to try hounding them into conformity. Instead pursue whatever is causing them to withhold respect.
This search might lead you to lofty places. There you would find operators so distant from respect-worthy that they have rattled and horrified the world. Far from Making America Great Again, they have turned it into a thrashing, menacing cartoon character that inflames historic antagonists, alienates friends and neighbors, and stokes internal frictions.
If these potentates respected us — those who elected them and the majority who did not — they would slink away in shame and regret at the disrespect and danger they have spawned. But they don’t have the integrity or decency to do that.
In such circumstances it’s helpful to recall that the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence said “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires” an explanation for the drastic actions which are to follow.
© 2017, David Underhill. All rights reserved.