David Brooks Should Take A Knee And Stop Writing Stupid Op-Eds

David Brooks wants to “persuade” high school football players who are kneeling during the national anthem to protest systemic racism that what they are doing is “extremely counterproductive.” He does so by identifying this country’s “civic religion,” which is “a fusion of radical hope and radical self-criticism” and “based on a moral premise–that all men are created equal.”  This religion has been “nurtured…by sharing moments of reverence.” Sadly, this religion is now “under assault” from a “globalist mentality” and  “critics like Ta-Nehisi Coates” and a “multicultural mind-set.” Now, unfortunately, Americans are not so patriotic any more and so now, “sitting out the anthem takes place in the context of looming post-nationalism.” As such, when Americans sing the national anthem, “we’re not commenting on the state of America….We’re expressing gratitude for our ancestors and what they left us.” But if we don’t sing the anthem, all hell breaks loose:

We will lose the sense that we’re all in this together. We’ll lose the sense of shared loyalty to ideas bigger and more transcendent than our own short lives. If these common rituals are insulted, other people won’t be motivated to right your injustices because they’ll be less likely to feel that you are part of their story. People will become strangers to one another…You will strengthen Donald Trump’s ethnic nationalism….

Roughly: if you don’t sing the national anthem and show the appropriate respect to a country whose blessings in your case have been decidedly ambiguous, racists like Donald Trump wins. So you see, if you fight racism, racism wins. Cut one head off, another one appears. Why don’t you just give up, shut up, stand up, and sing? You’re playing football, stayin’ healthy; you might go to the NFL and make lots and lots and lots of money like that other ingrate, Colin Kaepernick. You’ll get to participate in sponsored rituals of patriotism in big stadiums. So go ahead and sing that “radical song about a radical place [and its slavery].”

Because Brooks’ column is an advice column, let me dial 1-800-RENT-A-CLUE for him. The only folks instantiating the “civic religion” Brooks speaks of are the high-school football players who, through their public protests, are risking abuse and denigration from patriots, and worse, patronizing advice from painfully clueless, overpaid, incompetent writers. They, and not the hysterical patriots, are the ones actually displaying a “fusion of radical hope and radical self-criticism.” Their actions indicate that they don’t consider this nation a finished product; they consider it a work in the making. By doing so, through their peaceful, non-disruptive protest, they are making the most hopeful statement of all: that political activism can lead to change. Their actions are not complacent and quietist like Brooks; their silent protest is expressive and eloquent. It adds another note to the American symphony, which is an unfinished work. The American ideal is not a coin, which once minted, carries the same value; it is an ongoing notion, one revealed by history, and by action and thought.

The high-school football players are dynamic innovators in this realm of political practice and theory; Brooks represents stagnancy and stasis. America needs more of the former, less of the latter.

A Tale of Two Independence Days

Today is July 4th, Independence Day in the USA. That is some forty-one days distant from another Independence Day, August 15th, which will be celebrated in India. I have not ‘celebrated’ August 15th for many years. It meant there was a political speech being telecast live; prime ministers spoke of national achievement and sacrifice; I tuned out. It meant the national television channel would show documentaries on ‘freedom fighters,’ men and women whose service to the ‘nation’ always put  mine to shame. It meant I would be reminded, yet again, of the words of a stirring speech by the most un-Indian Indian to ever be Prime Minister. I never saluted a flag, never sang the anthem on August 15th. (I sang it on many other occasions, always standing to attention when it played.) The ‘freedom struggle,’ despite the best efforts of history books, national broadcasting systems, and political parties, remained a dim portion of the past I shared with my ‘fellow citizens.’ I knew about, and vaguely sensed, Independence Day, but it passed me by every year, without fail.

I never failed to find Nehru’s speech moving though. And I never failed to appreciate the day off from school.

On August 15th, 1987, I caught a flight to New York via London and left ‘home.’ I cracked the expected joke for anyone that cared to listen and humour me: I was free at last, gone over the black water, over the oceans. On December 1st, 2000, in down-town Manhattan. I took the citizenship oath for my newly adopted nation. There were many others present that day, a veritable United Nations of origins, saying the magic words out loud. Then, my American passport handy, I flew off, to another land, elsewhere, Australia, to live and work there for  two more years. I was very confused about nationality but I was not confused about travel documents. I needed them; some of them made life way more convenient, they meant easy passage through airports, friendlier customs and immigration officials the world over. Getting a visa to go to India felt like a small price to pay for that convenience.

So now, Independence Day comes six weeks earlier, with a bigger number attached to it. (Sixty-five back in India, two hundred and thirty-six here.) I live in New York, in Brooklyn. I teach American pragmatism, Dewey in New York City. This is a less sober holiday, more of an open invitation to hedonism. There’s more beef being cooked,  for one thing. (I will celebrate July 4th, in all probability, as I have for many years now, by attending a barbecue.) There are fewer reminders of freedom fighters, but more flags are visible.  I still don’t salute a flag, I still don’t sing the national anthem. (I stand to attention for the Star Spangled Banner in sports stadiums but don’t place my hand over my heart.) The English are still dastardly, that much hasn’t changed. (There is a greater fascination with the Royal Family though.)

And I still appreciate the day off. Nations are  good for holidays at least, a small compensation for their otherwise immense burdens.