United We Kneel, Divided We Stand

I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world.  It’s a dangerous world out there.  It’s like Vietnam, sort of.  It is my personal Vietnam.  I feel like a great and very brave soldier.  [Women’s vaginas are] ‘potential landmines’ . . . there’s some real danger out there.  Dating is like being in Vietnam.  You’re the equivalent of a soldier going over to Vietnam.  (womanizing Donald Trump, whose five deferments   enabled him to avoid military service in the Vietnam War.

“Trump Boasted of  Avoiding STDs While Dating: Vaginas Are ‘Landmines … It Is My Personal Vietnam,’ “

—  People.com. Oct. 28, 2016

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of  bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.’. . . You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, [adding that players who choose to stay in the locker room during the national anthem for the 2018 season] ‘maybe shouldn’t be in the country.’

(“Donald Trump vs. NFL players: Tracking president’s anthem remarks in war on protests.,” By Scott Gleeson, usatoday.com, May 24,2018)

One could drive a truck through the hypocrisy of this women-objectifying, vagina-chasing, Vietnam War draft-evader, who now demands that National Football League players “stand proudly for the national anthem.”  The president, whose “personal Vietnam” was the danger he faced in catching sexually transmitted diseases from sleeping around, is now the authority on patriotism and honoring the sacrifices of the military.

Never mind whether Donald Trump infected any women, or made any pregnant and secretly paid for their abortions.   Such thoughts are beyond those evangelical Christians, who are happy to surround and lay their hands on him in prayerg, in the hopes that his political power will rub off on them, so that they can impose their biblically-based pro-life beliefs on everyone and their biblically-licensed discriminatory “religious freedom” beliefs against LGBTQ citizens.  It is about power, not piety.  About gaining power over people, not empowering them.

The latest “patriotic” salvo is President Trump’s approval of the NFL’s new policy of requiring players who are on the field to stand at attention and show “respect” when the National Anthem is played, or their team will face a fine. And those players whom the league now allows to remain in the locker room until after the Anthem: “You shouldn’t be playing.  You shouldn’t be there.  Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.” (“Trump praises NFL’s anthem policy, says protesters maybe ‘shouldn’t be in the country,’” By John Fritze and Gregory Korte, www.cnbc.com, May 24, 2018)

Then, as the NFL’s 2018 exhibition season began, President Trump was reported to have “fired off a series of tweets on Friday accusing the athletes of being ‘unable to defend’ what they’re protesting and warned that they will be ‘suspended without pay’ if they continue to kneel.”  At the Philadelphia Eagles opening exhibition game, player Malcolm Jenkins, “raised his fist during the anthem.”  He tweeted in advance of the game, “Before we enjoy this game let’s take some time to ponder that more than 60% of the prison population are people of color.  The NFL is made up of 70% African Americans.  What you witness on the field” he continued, “does not represent the reality of everyday America.  We are the anomalies.”  The ACLU responded to Trump’s attempt to denigrate Jenkins’ intelligence and that of other protesting players: “NFL players have continually defined what they’re protesting: white supremacy, police brutality, and racial injustice. . . . You’re not listening.” (“Racist President at It Again: Trump Claims Kneeling NFL Players ‘Unable to Define What They’re Protesting,” by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams, Aug. 10, 2018)

Most Americans would seem to be appalled by a leader who embodies such obvious hypocritical behavior – especially an “unpatriotic” draft-dodger (not anti-Vietnam war protester) who avoided military service in a war in which over 58,000 Americans were killed and over 300,000 wounded.  But a solid base of white Christian Americans have given President Trump a pass.  They are drawn to him — many apparently symbiotically – seen at rallies in their enthusiastic chorus-like responses to his repetitious, “politically incorrect,” often belittling of critics, at times violence-inciting against protesters, falsehoods-filled stump speeches.  For many of his followers, it is not about truth or morality or empathy – or hardly about the American values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.  It is actually about Trump’s anti-democratic twin appeals to racism and militarism that promise to make America white — andthe “winner”— again.

Many white Christian males who voted for Donald Trump were motivated by the fear of losing their cultural supremacy, not their economic well-being.  This assumption is supported by a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that suggests: “Trump voters weren’t driven by anger over the past, but rather fear of what may come. White, Christian and male voters . . . turned to Mr. Trump because they felt their status was at risk.”  Author of the study, Diana C. Mutz explains: “It’s not a threat to their own economic well-being; it’s a threat to their group’s dominance in our country over all.” (“Trump Voters Driven by Fear of Losing Status, Not Economic Anxiety, Study, Finds,” By Niraj Chokshi, The New York Times, April 24, 2018

Most of President Trump’s support came from people who were feeling left out culturally, not left behind economically.  Numerous polls reported that “Trump supporters were mostly affluentRepublicans.   . . . In the general election, like the primary, about two thirds of Trump’s supporters came from the better-off half of the economy. (”It’s time to bust the myth: Most Trump Voters were not working class,” By Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu, The Washington Post, June 5, 2017)

It was about the threat to the white-favored racial status quo, not economic fears.  In running for president, Donald Trump played to the racism of white voters, whose superior, hierarchical political and social status was threatened by a black president, Barack Hussein Obama.  A black president in their White House – serving two terms. Their president, who not only spoke for them, but whom they and their children were supposed to look up to – with other black political leaders, appointed by Obama, further undermining their once secure dominance.  A black president who turned their white supremacist world upside down.

Candidate Trump knew what cultural fears and racial resentments to stoke. He began his campaign by emphasizing the threat to white culture presented by Mexico, which, he charged, was sending to America people with “lots of problems,” like rapists, criminals and drug dealers.  He also received much racist mileage out of riding the birther movement, contending that President Obama was not born in America, even after Obama produced a birth certificate.  It was not really about where Obama was born, but about the fact that he was black.  Though his middle name, “Hussein,” did suggest that he was born in Kenya, which means he could possibly be a Muslim, which a majority of white Republicans chose to believe.

For President Trump, any signature accomplishment of President Obama’s was fair game to undo.  To the cheers of his mostly white supporters, he erased President Obama’s signature achievements.  He debunked and withdrew from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. He rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that protected young immigrants called “Dreamers.”  He then created a horrible, life-long, nightmare for many parents and their children by separating them at the Mexican border, to discourage other oppressed families from seeking refuge in the United States –a crime for which he should be prosecuted.  And he tried to cut the legs off Obama’s Affordable Care Act by doing away with the “individual mandate” that strengthened the system by requiring Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.  These and other efforts to make disappear a black president’s legacy – much to the delight of many in his mostly white base.

Another racist dog whistle was Donald Trump’s declaration that he was the “law and order candidate,” which reassured white people that he would keep people of color in their place: at the bottom of America’s white-controlled hierarchy of access to political, economic, legal and religious power.  His encouraging of police to act out violently against people of color is seen in him talking to police about gang violence on Long Island: “ ‘Please, don’t be too nice’ to the people they are arresting.” (“Trump tells cops they should rough people up more during arrests,” By Kelly Swanson, Vox, July 28, 2017)

President Trump must be held accountable for encouraging others to act out his aggressive impulses.  His violence-inciting “law and order” code words are believed to have encouraged certain white police officers to not be “nice” to black suspects, to the point of killing non-threatening persons fleeing arrest – and also those not resisting. This assumption is supported by data which show that “police disproportionately killed black people in 2017.” According to the Mapping Police Violence group’s report, “In the majority of the incidents – 631 – officers were responding to nonviolent offenses or when no crime had been reported at all.” And, “of those unarmed when they were killed, 35 percent were Black, and of those unarmed and not attacking, 37 percent were Black – despite only constituting 13 percent of the population.”  (See “The Data Is In: Police Disproportionately Killed Black People in 2017,” By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio, Diversity Inc, Jan. 3, 2018)

President Trump’s incitement of violence may also be seen in his constant attacks on the media as “the enemy of the people.”  It is not a stretch to assume that his violent targeting of the media created a conducive environment for the grudge-filled man who, in June, killed five newspaper persons at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland.  Trump obviously distanced his “media are the enemy of the people” rhetoric from that murderous scene by “offer[ing] condolences . . . and pledg[ing] to fight violence in America.”  He even declared, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs.” (“Trump who calls journalists ‘enemy of the people,’ offers support after Capital Gazette shootings,” By Yvonne Wenger and Jill Colvin, The Baltimore Sun,June 29, 2018)

But reported a few weeks later, at a VFW meeting in Kansas City, President Trump did an about face, telling veterans, “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.  . . . Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”  In an ugly response incited by Trump, “the crowd booed and jeered the journalists sitting in the room.” (‘TRUMP WARNS VETERANS IN KANSAS; DON’T BELIEVE ‘CRAP’ FAKE NEWS MEDIA TELLS YOU,’ By Shane Croucher, Newsweek, July 25, 2018)  So, following Trump’s own advice, we should not believe him when the media quotes him as saying, “Journalists . . . should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs.” Trump’s words are determined by convenience, not conviction.

Again, after the Annapolis killings, at a Tampa, Florida rally, even before he began to speak, a reported  large crowd gathered near CNN reporter Jim Acosta and drowned out his report with angry third-finger pointing and shouts of “CNN sucks.”  The next morning, “President Trump signaled his approval . . . by retweeting his son Eric’s praise of the harassment.”  Vox writer Zack Beauchamp clearly expresses the violent acting out that Trump incites: “This is the president whipping up hatred of the media in tweets and public appearances, watching it blossom into a reporter becoming a target of hate at one of his rallies, and then expressing his satisfaction with how his supporters are acting out his messages.” (“Trump approvingly tweets video of his rally crowd harassing a journalist,” (Aug. 1, 2018)

Days after President Trump’s supporters shouted down Jim Acosta as he tried to do his job, Trump was at it again, this time at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. where the crowd “broke out into chants of ‘CNN sucks’ when the president blasted ‘fake news.’ “  Trump later referred to the media as “ ‘horrible, horrendous people’ and ‘disgusting’ . . . [and] the crowd responded with boos and jeers.” (“Trump blasts media amid chant ‘CNN sucks,’” By Jacqueline Thomsen, The Hill, Aug. 2, 2018)

It is quite possible that President Trump’s constant branding of the media as “the enemy of the people” will lead certain of his supporters to act out physically against reporters.  CNN’s Jim Acosta raised that very real possibility, saying that Trump’s hostility toward the media “will result in somebody getting hurt.” (‘DARE; CNN’S JIM ACOSTA: I’M WORRIED TRUMP’S RHETORIC ROWARD MEDIA ‘WILL RESULT IN SOMEBODY GETTING HURT,’” Pen.org,Aug. 1, 2018)

Similarly, New York Timescolumnist Bret Stephens’ recent piece, “Trump Will Have Blood on His Hands,” cites a threatening message left on his office number from a Trump supporter who said, “Rather than me shoot you, I hope a Mexican and, even better yet, I hope a n—- shoots you in the head, dead.” (Aug. 4, 2018)  Recall that President Trump was the candidate who said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” (“Trump: ‘I Could Stand In the Middle Of Fifth Avenue And Shoot Somebody And I Wouldn’t Lose Any Voters,’ “www.realclearpolitics, Jan 23, 2016)  He is the inciter-in-chief.

Donald Trump’s election as president saw a dramatic increase in acts of racial hatred.  The Southern Poverty Law Center reported, “In the ten days following the election, there were almost 900 reports of harassment and intimidation from across the nation.  Many harassers invoked Trump’s name during assaults, making it clear that the outbreak of hate stemmed in large part from his electoral success.” (“Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election,” Nov. 29, 2016)

On the first anniversary of the racist violence in Charlottesville (climaxed by a white supremacist ramming his car into counter-protesters and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer), President Trump said, “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence,” (“Trump condemns ‘all types of racism’ on Charlottesville anniversary; critics slam wording,” Christal Hayes, USA TODAY, Aug. 11, 2018)   More distancing from the racist inciter-denier-diluter-in-chief.

With his border wall and Muslim bans and “law and order” mentality – all exploiting racial fears and animus – President Trump has proclaimed loudly that he does not believe in America’s patriotic values of equality and justice for all.   His behavior demonstrates that he loathes the Constitution’s patriotic beliefs that everyone is created equal and has an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  He may wear an American flag on his lapel and occupy the White House, but he is the last person in America to lecture National Football League players (70% of whom are black) — or anyone else — about “standing proudly for the national anthem.”

About that national anthem.  The author, Francis Scot Key, owned slaves, which reveals he had a whites only understanding of “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  The rarely heard third stanza of “The Star Spangled Banner” betrays Key’s racist mind set, and should disqualify that song from being associated with American patriotism:

No refuge could save the hireling and the slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The very slaves Francis Scot Key was condemning to terrified flight and death were black families who escaped from plantations and volunteered to fight for the British against the Americans in the War of 1812 in exchange for the promise of gaining their freedom.  They became the Colonial Marines, and joined the British army as a formidable force. (See “Video: Do You Know the Star-Spangled Banner’s 3rdVerse?,” By Jeffrey Robinson, The Nation, July 4, 2018, and “The National Anthem Is Racist, and We Made a Video in Case You Forgot,” By Felice Leon, The Root, July 4, 2018)

Politicians like to identify America as having a divine destiny: hallowing the country as “the light of the world . . . a city upon a hill cannot be hidden” — as Jesus told his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5: 14-16)  Sadly, in America, the spreading of that white Christian “light” involved casting the indigenous people and black persons into the darkness of genocide and slavery.  Here is seen the roots of American exceptionalism — often blessed by Christocentrism — which helps to fuel the country’s now pervasive militarism and capitalistic pursuit of world domination.

President Trump’s arrival was long-paved with white Christian American exceptionalism.  A “Christ-changed-my-heart” President George W. Bush declared that those who attacked America on 9/11 “hate our freedoms,” when, in fact, the Pentagon’s own study later revealed that Muslims don’t hate America’s freedom, but its imperialistic policies toward Muslim countries. (See“U.S. Fails to Explain Policies to Muslim World, Panel Says,” Thom Shanker, The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2004)

President Bush proceeded to lead an unnecessary, falsely-based, illegal invasion of Iraq.  He used religion to justify this horrible war crime, repeatedly saying, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, freedom is almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in the world.” (“George W. Bush on Faith”)  A high majority of white evangelical Christians said, “Amen!,” and supported this criminal war called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” A war that wreaked devastation on millions of Iraqi mothers and fathers and their children – and saw the deaths of around 5000 Americans and the wounding of over 100,000.

President Bush also used the 9/11 attacks against America to launch his so-called “global war on terrorism” – and with it the pervasive militarization of America.  The Bush administration pursued world domination under the pretext of protecting our security.  An endless war promising endless profit for the military/industrial/energy/ intelligence complex.  Predatory capitalism, supported by also predatory white evangelical Christian nationalists.  Two sides of the same imperialistic coin.

President Barack Obama followed in President Bush’s footsteps.  He continued Bush’s unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the “global war on terrorism.”  He ramped up the use of drone warfare, which resulted in the killing of hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. (See ‘OBAMA’S COVERT DRONE WAR IN THE NUMBERS; TEN TIMES MORE STRIKES THYAN BUSH,’ By Jessica Purkiss and Jack Serle, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Jan. 17, 2017)  And Obama created a “kill list” that allowed him to deny due process to and order the assassination of suspected terrorists, including Americans.

Like Presidents Bush and Trump, President Obama believes that America “is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness, to the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up, not only for our own interests, but for the interests of all.” (“Obama tells other world leaders: ‘I believe America is exceptional,’” By Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2013)  That would be a difficult argument for Obama to make to people in Japan, North Korea, Vietnam and in many other countries– and also to many American citizens.

Patriotism is not about “standing proudly for the national anthem,” but about commitment to “freedom and justice for all.”  That commitment means kneeling in protest when the National Anthem and the American flag are used to rally support for the oppression of others or encourage citizens to remain indifferent to that oppression.  The anthem and flag are supposed to be symbols of everyone’s inalienable rights, not weapons to be used against protesters to maintain an inequitable white-controlled status quo.  At the heart of American idealism is empathy, not exceptionalism.  It is about fairness, which is what the flag is proclaimed to represent, not devotion to the flag to stifle democratic   protests and aspirations.

World War II bombardier, Boston University political science professor and author, Howard Zinn provided a much needed universal understanding of patriotism. He wrote that Americans who die in the Iraq war “will not die for their country.  They will die for their government.”  Zinn explained: “It will be painful to acknowledge that our GIs in Iraq were fighting not for democracy but for the expansion of the American empire, for the greed of the oil cartels, for the political ambitions of the president. And,” Zinn continued, “when they come home, they will find that their veterans’ benefits have been cut to pay for the machines of war.”, (“A Kinder, Gentler Patriotism”, www.howardzinn.org, posted April 13, 2003)

Howard Zinn presented a definition of patriotism that encircled the globe, stating, “We need to expand it beyond the narrow nationalism which has caused so much death and suffering.  If national boundaries should not be obstacles to trade,” he said, “should they also not be obstacles to compassion and generosity?”  Then: “Should we not begin to consider all children everywhere, as our own?  In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world” and “human ingenuity would have to search for other ways.” (Ibid)

Professor Zinn ended with Tom Paine, who, he said, “used the word ‘patriot’ to describe rebels resisting imperial rule.”  Paine “also enlarged the ideal of patriotism when he said: ‘My country is the world.  My countrymen are mankind.’ “ (Ibid)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr also provides a larger vision of patriotism.  King’s criticism of the U.S. war against Vietnam was rooted in his faith, which transcended nationalism, race and creed.  King preached: “I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God.  Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood.”  That “brotherhood” included the Vietnamese people.  King said, “Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.”  King also spoke these words in his sermon on “Beyond Vietnam,”presented at Riverside Church in New York City:

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions.  We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers. (“Beyond Vietnam,” April 4, 1967, kinginstitute.standord.edu)

And at home, Colin Kaepernick spoke for “voiceless” victims of police violence by taking a knee.  In 2016, Kaepernick, a super bowl-winning quarterback for the San Francisco Forty-Niners, refused to stand for the National Anthem.  He sat, and later knelt in protest, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  . . . To me,” he said, “this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.  There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” (“Colin Kaepernick protests anthem over treatment of minorities,” ESPN.com news services,Aug. 27, 2016)  It is 2018, and there are more “bodies in the street” – and a racist-inciting president.

The National Football League season is approaching, and the “women-conquering,” Vietnam War-dodging president is at it again: urging NFL owners to fire players who refuse to stand for the National Anthem.  And one owner, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, already described by some as having a “plantation mentality,” has threatened to fire players who don’t stand respectfully for the Anthem.

It is here that the players have power: in their solidarity.  United we kneel, divided we stand.  If every player kneels during the playing of the National Anthem to protest racial and other injustices, no NFL owner is going to fire the whole team.  Nor are all of the fans going to be turned off and stop attending and watching games.  As players strongly push back in solidarity, some fans may see through President Trump’s hypocritical patriotism and change. They could move beyond patriotic symbols to their substance of “freedom and justice for all.”  Even police departments may well feel moral pressure and heighten their commitment to protect and serve – everyone equally.

As with race, President Trump is using sports to divide Americans.  NBA super star LeBron James has personal words of wisdom for Trump’s divisiveness.  In a CNN interview, James points out Trump’s use of “sports to kinda divide us, and that’s something I can’t relate to because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white and I got the opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got an opportunity to learn about me and we became very good friends.” (“LeBron: Trump is using sports to ‘divide’ the country,” by Ryan Gaydos, Fox News, nypost.com, July 31, 2018)


Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.