Like most schoolchildren, I was taught as a kid to love America without knowing exactly what that means.
Every morning before class started, we would stand as a group, place our right hand over our hearts, and pledge allegiance to the flag. By the way, did you know that according to ushistory.org, the original pledge was written by a socialist minister named Francis Bellamy. Somehow, that seems almost funny, given where we are as a nation right now.
Anyway, back on point, as children we also were instructed to stand for the national anthem because everyone else did and we didn’t dare be different. Refusing to fit in would mean we didn’t love America.
None of that is true, of course. If protesting is considered unAmerican, then what is America?
You can take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner and still love this country. You can sit out the pledge, too, because this is America and we cherish (allegedly) freedom of expression and speech – or, as we now see, the freedom of protest.
I mention this for a couple of reasons.
White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak today at the University of Florida. He makes my skin crawl, and my earnest hope is that enough people feel the same way as to render him quickly irrelevant.
He must be allowed to speak, though, because we love our country enough to believe it can withstand a bigot like him.
Loving America also means National Football League players have the right to take a knee during the national anthem. People have the right to condemn that if they wish. They also have the right to protest the protest by tuning out the NFL on TV and refusing to buy tickets to the games.
Let’s be clear, though: It is not unpatriotic for the players to protest, despite what the president says.
This isn’t North Korea, where Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he likely was beaten until he had irreversible brain damage, because he took a propaganda poster off a hotel wall.
In this country, the government doesn’t control the press so leaders can spew out propaganda to the citizens and keep them under oppression.
I remember in the 1960s when people took to the streets because they realized their government was lying about the Vietnam war. There was a lot of flag-waving then, too, and shouts of “America, love it or leave it.”
That sentiment is exactly the opposite of what America is about. Loving America means citizens can exercise their right to tell the government it is wrong.
How would that go over in China? Dissidents can be imprisoned and tortured for their speech, religion, or just because the leaders felt like it.
They have “elections” in China too, but if a candidate like Donald Trump came along, spewing insults and pushing a lie that the nation’s leader was actually born in another country, he likely would soon disappear – never to be heard from again.
NFL players who protest don’t hate America. It started off as a way to highlight what Colin Kaepernick believed was racial injustice, but it now seems to be more of a showdown against President Trump’s bombast.
So be it.
This is the country we live in, and I think it’s a great thing to love this nation because of what we stand for. You can question authority. People are allowed to protest. They can say what’s on their minds, even if other people don’t like it.
This is America.