San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick definitely has the nation’s attention by his decision to not stand during the national anthem. In a Labor Day press conference, even President Obama weighed in on Kaepernick for following the First Amendment by “exercising his constitutional right” to protest police impunity in the use of excessive force on vulnerable populations of Black citizens. And then there are six 5th graders, a teacher reported, who followed Kaepernick’s approach and took a knee during the school’s pledge of allegiance.
Meanwhile, Trump reacts by claiming that, as president, he would promote “pride and patriotism” in schools and require saluting the flag and pledging allegiance to the U.S. in pubic schools. In the spirit of a militaristic nationalism that sounds as if it’s coming from a dictatorial nation, Trump cried out against Kaepernick’s protest:
“That flag deserves respect… And by the way, we want young Americans to recite the pledge of allegiance. Once country under one constitution, saluting one flag…always saluting. In a Trump administration, I plan to work directly with the American Legion to uphold our common values and to help ensure they are taught to America’s children.”
I guess Trump and thousands of his like-minded followers don’t realize that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 ruled against school officials who required their students to pledge allegiance to the United States. The court cited adverse effects on dissent and how “compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”
And this was at a time when school children saluted “by extending the right arm, palm upward” just like Hitler’s Nazi youth of that era.
Colin Kaepernick’s protest is educational. The public has learned that Frances Scott Key was a supporter of slavery and his third (largely unsung) verse of the national anthem speaks to capturing Black fighting for their freedom against their enslavement under a White supremacy regime:
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Yes, the people of African descent were the “enemy” of the United States as they were fighting for a liberty that “brave” Whites were bragging to the world they had – largely, however, from the exploitation of slave labor that fueled that development of capitalism in the 19th century.
After 9/11/01 public schools joined in violating the First Amendment and that 1943 Supreme Court decision by forcing patriotism upon children. At the time University of Wisconsin professor Michael Apple observed how
“the tropes of patriotism and vengeance all work together to create a mighty call not for justice but for vengeance.”
A September 2001 New York Times article under the headline “School Colors Become Red, White and Blue” reported,
“As a surge of patriotism has washed over the country in the wake of the terrorist attacks, nowhere has the revival been more omnipresent than in schools.”
Representative of this moment 10 years after 9/11, one woman recalled that as a 15-year-old at the time of 9/11,
she “had no concept of what it meant except that suddenly we were saying the Pledge of Allegiance again every day and having assemblies about patriotism, and everyone was flying their flags again out of nowhere.”
And we know how that round of patriotism has resulted in U.S.-led endless war in the Middle East that continues 15 years later…
Somehow many Americans find repulsive images of Nazi Youth and what they represented under Hitler. Yet we have a significant proportion of our citizenry desiring compulsory patriotism. Soon they’ll want to require children to wear brown uniforms and black boots while demanding the right hand salute that has happened at numerous Trump rallies. Kaepernick’s protest and the conversation it set off, however, serves as an important counter balance to this rightwing march to fascism in and out of our schools.