What's Tony Thinking

“All Rise for the National Anthem”


Congratulations to the NFL for pumping new life into a controversy that seemed moribund.

By this week ordering players to stand for the national anthem (or else stay in the locker room) the football owners managed to fire up the whole controversy once again, just when it gave every sign of being out of gas.

Then the President followed up on the NFL’s pronouncement by saying that players who didn’t stand for the anthem should be kicked out of the country. (He has as long a list of those he wants to kick out as of those he wants to keep from getting in.) Trump should have been flagged for “piling on.”

One good reason for the NFL players who had knelt or sat for the anthem to bag their protest is that it was providing Trump with way too much fodder. He had turned the whole thing, in the words of Seattle Times sports columnist, Larry Stone, “into a dog whistle” for his base.

One of my leadership axioms, “Change by addition, not subtraction” is relevant here.

In the church, the very best way to fire up extraordinary enthusiasm for something that should have died long ago is to declare you are killing the damn thing. I testify from hard experience.

Okay, so “Women’s Fellowship” is down to four members, three in their mid-nineties, while there’s nothing at all for the growing numbers of women who are in the (out of home) workforce. So, you declare that “The Women’s Fellowship” is over and done. You’d be amazed at the fiery passion for the thing that was down to tea and cookies for four on Tuesday mornings once a month.

Or “the alternative worship service” attended by the seven people who missed the memo: “the sixties are over.” Try killing that. I did and can show you the scars.

As this applies to the NFL, instead of banning anthem protests — which gave every sign of dying off of their own accord — put your energy into efforts that seriously address racial inequities in our country (and in sports). Change by addition. The subtraction happens as the energy shifts to the new ventures.

Oh well, Roger Godell (the NFL Commissioner) didn’t ask me. He seems determined to get Colin Kapernick, if not employed, at least sainted.

And then there is the President. This is, he tells us, a matter of “respect.” One wonders what his wife thinks of him waxing eloquent on the matter of “respect.”

The President speaks in profane language of those players who “dis-respect our nation” by kneeling at the singing of the national anthem (kneeling seems to me as if it might be a quite profound gesture of respect, but never mind).

Matthew, Chapter 15, comes to mind. There the Pharisees and scribes (the forces of religion done right) complain to Jesus that his disciples do not engage in the prescribed ritual – “the tradition of the elders” — for washing hands before they eat. (My grandsons are with the disciples on this one, that is, happy to dispense with hand washing). But the issue then wasn’t hygiene. It was appearances,  looking virtuous, better than others, and appearing to be respectful.

Jesus responded to their complaint by quoting the prophet Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” His exasperated sigh is unrecorded but audible.

For this President respect for our nation seems largely a matter of outward appearance — flag waving, military parades, big edifices. Not about inner loyalty or principles.

Get those players lined up and standing! He doesn’t give a damn about undermining the Constitution by his attacks on the judiciary, the Department of Justice and the FBI.

Beneath the “honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” is an important distinction. The distinction between nationalism and patriotism.

“Patriotism,” as George Orwell wrote, stems from “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life.” In this case, the democratic way of life, a way of life governed by laws not men.

Nationalism, by contrast, wrote Orwell, “is inseparable from the desire for power.”

Our President is a nationalist, no doubt about it. Is he a patriot?






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