What Binds Us

The other day I was listening to the Bill Simmons podcast where he talked about an old  skit on Saturday Night Live. It was about the Brady Bunch meeting the Partridge Family. He remarked how funny it was back then and how that same skit could never work today because, as a society, we no longer have common cultural experiences. In other words, not enough people would get the jokes. He theorized that in our current society there is no one thing that we all share and understand. A mere thirty years ago, everyone in my generation watched those two shows, knew the characters and “got” the inside jokes.

Today, there are no longer common cultural events and national traditions which bind us together. With the advent of cable T.V, YouTube, Netflix and Amazon there are no longer shows we all watch and, therefore, experience together. Today T.V shows, books and movies are created to target niche consumers.  There are few cultural events, aside from sports or politics, where we have a reference point that helps us understand the culture at large.

The ongoing scandal within the NFL where players are “taking a knee” highlights for me the disparate views of what I clearly thought was a cultural norm: standing out of respect for the American flag. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on my current thoughts about the NFL and its players kneeling.  I argued they should stand. The response I got blew me away. Some people loved the post while others called mea plantation owner for harboring such thoughts.” The vitriol spewed my way was eye opening.

Part of what shocked me was the divide. There was no consensus. We have come to the point where, as a nation, we are no longer able to agree that standing for the national anthem is the right thing to do.  Perhaps it is the result of growing and entrenched regional biases. I actually understand this possibility better than most. I grew up in the liberal northeast and now live in Texas. The opinions of these two regional groups of people could not be more different. With few exceptions, I can generally gauge in advance where each will stand on most issues. Yet, this prospect saddens and depresses me as I watch this divide grow with passing time.

These divisions are slowly ripping our nation apart. Ironically, I believe many of the problems that we now suffer are similar to the dissolution of a marriage.

In the Catholic faith, when a couple gets married, the priest utters a line that says “…and the two shall became one.”  On a physical plane it is impossible for two peoples’ bodies to morph into one, so the church is referring to something deeper that happens on the spiritual plane where souls merge. A few years ago a friend of mine got divorced. He told me that he experienced such trauma over the issue that he was in immense pain for quite some time. He prayed about it and had a dream where he saw a sword cutting apart he and his former wife with whom he had been “joined.” The sword was cutting the one body into two separate beings. The pain that he was suffering was due to the trauma of cutting away one’s flesh.

Nationally, we find ourselves divorced from the principles on which the nation was founded. How else can you justify the candidacy of Bernie Sanders who campaigned on a socialist platform while living in a capitalist country? Our culture no longer has any shared values. Blue states believe in one America while red states believe in another. There is no common ground.  This post began identifying how even in our expression of entertainment we no longer share a common culture.  Today, the majority of skits on “Saturday Night Live” are focused on politics (always a divisive issue) precisely because there are so few subject matter skits that an entire audience would get.

Sadly, I realize that I no longer live in the same country as my fellow Americans. The country founded upon a document declaring we have unalienable rights from our creator co-exists with one which believes there is no God.  We have become a country where a significant amount of people believe there is no such thing as a man or woman; there is no objective truth; only that with which we “identify” or what gives credence to our preferences. Babies aren’t babies they’re tissue and the definition of marriage is dependent upon what a legislature decides.  The ever changing tide of popular opinion is now what defines and moves our nation, not principals.

If you believe everything is fine and the things I’ve cited here are no big deal I wish I could experience your delusion. I wish I could crawl into that bubble with you… but I can’t. The forces shaping our country are leading us to ruin. We no longer have sufficient commonality to bind us in a meaningful way.  We are a collection of isolated states that happen to occupy a piece of land called America.  We are no longer united.

Over 2000 years ago the Greek storyteller, Aesop, said it best: “United we stand, divided we fall.” If that’s too far back in history for you, then turn over that dollar bill in your wallet.  “E pluribis unum“, adopted by the Founders in 1782, translates as “out of many, One.”  So whether 2000+ years ago or 235…we have turned this principle of standing united on its head. The current mantra of the United States of America is best expressed as “out of One, many.”  Since the past is often instructive, perhaps its worth more than a moment’s reflection on Aesop’s warning: divided we fall.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

The NFL, The Owners & Kneeling

The NFL still has a problem.  Players continue to kneel while some are not participating at all. Others have added raising their fists in protest.  At first, the owners did nothing as the repercussions were minimal. However, once President Trump came down strongly on the side that players should stand, the whole topic moved center stage.

I find it fascinating that it was President Trump’s comments that spawned subsequent action by the American public. After all, the “controversy” had started a year prior without any real decline in ratings. Fans had neither boycotted nor expressed their displeasure over the kneeling. But when the President said out loud what many people had been thinking and feeling, it provided the impetus to finally turn off the television sets and stop going to the games.

The NFL has shifted into damage-control mode and is doing everything it can to make this story go away. Their attempts  now include allowing players to remain in the locker room instead of protesting on the sidelines.

The owners’ positions fell apart and turned around once they realized that a majority of paying customers opposed the players antics. The operative words in that last sentence were “paying customers.”  These owners are billionaires and know perfectly well how to finance deals; however, most of these stadiums are funded by public financing.  The casual fan has no idea that it’s his money paying for the stadium. Fans not only get charged for attending the game, they also gets taxed at work for the stadium they build. Adding insult to injury, they have to sit and watch the country they love be disrespected by the owners’ employees (a/k/a/ players)!

Given that it is 1) a public stadium; 2) funded by taxpayer dollars and 3) a public event, there should be no issue for the participants to engage and show proper respect for the public ceremony. Some may argue that going to the NFL is a private event; but, Congress created the NFL monopoly. Such legislation allows NFL members huge advantages, including taxpayer funded stadiums. Therefore, they are public events. Common decency toward the nation via the flag is a reasonable expectation under the circumstances.

There are two major points that have been obfuscated.

  1. The players do not have a right to protest. This is not a First Amendment free speech issue;
  2. A property owner has the right to do what he/she desires to do with his/her property.

I have worked at plenty of companies, and in situations, where I was bound by applicable rules. For example, in the military, it is prohibited to speak to the media about politics. Such commentary has the potential to undermine the system. I could express my misgivings personally but not in a public forum. Having taken civics in the sixth grade, I knew that property owners’ rights are virtually unlimited as long as they do not violate the Constitutional rights of one’s employees.

Demanding that your employee-players not take a knee isn’t a violation of anybody’s Constitutional rights.

Admittedly, workers have rights as well. In a free society, a worker has the right to quit his job any time he wishes to do so. In my own case, I could have subsequently left the military, started a magazine bashing the military and nobody would or could have stopped me. Personal opinion expressed publicly on my own time.

If NFL players feel so repressed, or oppressed, they can quit and take another job any time they so choose.

What I think the protests are really about is attacking the culture. At the heart of every culture is a generally accepted code of conduct without which no culture can survive. This is why the NFL protests are a big deal. In previous generations, there were manners and ways to address your concerns while heeding the culture’s code of conduct, protocol, symbolism, and traditions.  Those used to include respecting the flag.

Our Founding Fathers established a culture that made the “experiment” called America the greatest and most liberty-focused society on earth. There are countless benefits to being born here. These benefits are memorialized within our founding documents and have been maintained, in no small measure, by the sacrifices of life made by prior generations. Take a look at the citation for a Medal of Honor Winner. You will come away with profound insight into the depth of anger felt by so many Americans towards NFL players and owners who perpetuate and allow this behavior.

Nobody wants to see the rights of the players infringed upon; but the venue they are choosing is neither the time nor the place to exercise those rights. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com