Don’t be seduced; both Trump and the NFL players can be wrong

Editor & Publisher

Let’s shift to the conundrum of taking a knee at the football games.

When Trump is not shaking his Tic Tac rattle, he is twittering his erudition to the universe. The latest is his battle with NFL players for taking a knee.

And you know what? I do not like either. I hate the way the dynamics of television urge us to become self-righteous and take sides.

The fact is, their taking a knee is based on its own set of prejudices and assumptions. The assumption is that white police culture is out to get blacks and our justice system is overtly and intrinsically biased.

The fact is, the violent so-called protests we saw after Ferguson and in Baltimore should be called what they were — riots, not protests.

And the very intrinsic realities of pervasive social injustice will never be remedied with angry assumptions and simple gestures.

But then Trump had to take the simple emotional expression of support expressed in taking a knee and turn it into a freedom of speech issue. And he in fact made martyrs out of the players.

I personally find the football players’ gesture of taking a knee all too predictable, safe and somewhat silly.


Who really owns the problem?

Now the issue has blossomed and the owners of the teams are expressing their right to tell players, “I don’t want to see that.”

I cannot imagine paying to go to the New York City Ballet to have a performer politicize the event. After all, even the Yankees are forbidden to grow facial hair. Where does it stop? What if a player wants to give the finger to the flag?

These players are highly paid for a job. They are not in a public street protesting, they are messing with somebody’s franchise, investment and business. I hate to say it, but they should protest on their own time.

But then again, the President weighing in with his Twitterstorm is even worse. He is only widening a gap. The same way Obama widened the race gap by foisting a Justice Department investigation every time a black man was injured or shot or died during the pursuit or arrest by a white cop.

We are regressing as a culture. The top is starting to spin out of control. We are all complicit in this country.

And I have to remind myself of my own hypocrisy. If we do not like the athletes kneeling, remember we are the culture that worships athletes and entertainers. We do not laud physicists and philosophers and artists and poets. No, we are a mass pop culture. We create OJ, Michael Jackson, Trump and Eminem and then we disavow, castigate, romanticize and narcotize ourselves as we revel in their rise and fall.

Think of today’s world as Euripides meets Camille Paglia with a hip-hop beat in the background. And the chorus on television is the pharmaceutical manufacturers urging us to ask our physician for deliverance.


Back to taking a knee…

It helps to look at life symbolically. It helps to amplify cultural images and find parallels in life, ourselves and art and the past. They do not have to be perfect comparisons, but it helps.

Let’s examine taking a knee. What are other protests we can think of?

There were the 400,000 people in the streets in the early 70s against the Vietnam War. There was Rosa Parks not giving up her bus seat. There was Gandhi’s Salt March, there was Jesus refusing to stop preaching and allowing the brutality to create a martyrdom symbolizing all of our suffering. There is the man in Tiananmen Square run over by tanks. There was Thich Quang Duc and then there was Lysistrata, Harvey Weinstein’s favorite

We have a rich history of using our position to make a point. Some are passive, some active, some violent. They all have a visual spectacle about them. They all want to draw attention.

Two ugly truths converge in the taking a knee.

The first is the fact that nothing is more terrifying than police brutality.

When those in power — like a President or Weinstein or a cop — allow their personal feelings and emotions to get in the way of their job, all trust and faith in the system collapses.

There is the old story of the Samurai warrior who tracked down a murderer and was about to behead him, which he was charged to do. The murderer spit in his face as the Samurai drew the sword. The Samurai then sheathed his sword and released the criminal. The reason is when the criminal spit in his face it angered him. That would have made the execution a personal act — which was forbidden. The same with police — when their emotions get involved and when they bring their baggage into the situation — that in and of itself is a crime.

But the other hard truth is black men commit a hugely disproportionate amount of the crime in this country. About half of the murders are committed by less than 15% of the population. Who pays for that? Who respects the law and who is violating the law? So disrespecting the flag on behalf of those whom disrespect the law does little to help our society.


Spending real effort, money

The answer is always difficult and it is always the same. We must spend a tremendous amount of money and effort and energy to invest in helping each other — the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, the hungry and the downtrodden to help them become a part of the American success story.

We need to practice compassion. We need to elevate, not condemn cops, and not choose felons over those trying to protect.


Falling off a flat Earth

It is an exciting time to be alive. The planet is so beautiful. Technology is exciting. Anything seems possible.

But there is this backdrop; a feeling like we are living on the brink as if the Earth is flat and we are running off the edge.

Or maybe it is akin to heading toward a waterfall.

And if the world is heading toward a waterfall, I am not feeling relaxed with Donald Trump steering the raft.

But the good news is I can hear his voice — “Don’t worry — I am making us great again.”

And then I can hear the rattle of his Tic Tacs and the sound of his Twitter feed popping up on my phone.

I close my eyes and tell myself it will all be OK. After all, we are all together — all of America — in that raft with Trump and his Tic Tacs and his tweeting.

As the Buddhists and the Hollywood producers say, “It is all just a dream.”

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