When we are young, our convictions evolve from mountains where everything is clear and deemed certain. However, the older I get, the less likely I am of being permanently convinced of anything. Thus, when asked how I view the current brouhaha over assorted players in the National Football League taking a knee during our national anthem, I’m typically ambivalent.
Last week I attended a reunion of Vietnam War veterans. We would take a bullet before we’d take a knee. But, as Oscar Wilde said, “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”
I’ve been reluctant to add to the debate since the Constitution affords the privilege to protest peacefully. The 1st Amendment is foundational to the very definition of American, and there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who gave their lives to preserve this right.
I do, however, find it duplicitous when those who take this knee are afforded opportunities to earn tens of millions of dollars for contributing so little to society. The very social structure they protest enables their wealth for merely catching and throwing a football. This dilemma can only survive in an imperfect world.
But as the players take this knee, I understand their sensibilities. I’d like to think they are doing this for those who do not have a voice. America has not fulfilled its promise to the millions of citizens who live on the periphery of the contract the founders made by signing the Constitution.
America is merely an experiment, an improbable one at that. If we pay attention to history we understand how difficult it was for democracy and freedom to take hold and flourish; subsequently, America seems like a political miracle. Jefferson knew this, but he also believed the great the American experiment would appeal to others. “The flames kindled in 1776, have spread across the globe…” he asserted. History has taught us that those freedoms, which are sporadic throughout the world, only exist because of the political philosophy that began in Philadelphia in 1776.
The self-evident truth that “all men are created equal; endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” remains the most powerful philosophical and moral foundation ever penned. It is the foundation of the American republic itself. As we see today, the advance of freedom and democracy is not a straight path, but one that is circuitous, with many setbacks. And our assurance to legislate morality enables us to take three steps forward yet two steps backward.
Within the human condition, there is no perfection. Consequently, the social structures we build are imperfect. If there’s a chance that we can build a better world by taking this knee, then so be it. Our divisiveness is pushing this experiment toward its breaking point.
So, what is it that enables us to survive? I have the answers. It’s the American flag and the promises it represents. It is our right to take a knee when these same promises are not forthcoming. It is the men and women who have died preserving this experiment that was intellectualized by Jefferson. It is the propensity to continue the great conversation on the American ideals.
I contend that this is a time for high ideals because those ideals are all that we have. But ideals are dangerous. Realities are easier but they are destroying the basic fabric of America. Yet we are the stewards of America, which we will then bequest to our children. We aren’t merely struggling for our physical survival, but for the survival of this experiment in of itself. We don't have the luxury of an old world or a common heritage nor do we have a millennium of history. All we have are the dreams and promises that bind us together. All we have is what we want to be.