Liberty matters. Freedom matters. Lately, too many of us allow our liberties and freedoms to be eroded. I am not talking about politicians. I am talking about John Q. Public. People on the Right. People on the Left. People in the Center. Not consciously. Through the back door, as it were.
So, when a politician uses his position to encourage the public to punish people for exercising the freedoms this country grants us, take notice.
Warning. I am about to criticize the President. And perhaps rant and rave a bit. If that bothers you, stick around anyway. See what I have to say. I am talking about liberty after all. One of cornerstones of this nation. That’s something we should all be concerned about. Maybe you’ll find some of my points valid. If not, you can always get mad at me later.
The President spoke last night and tweeted this morning. (For future historians, that’s September 22 and 23, 2017.) I feel obligated to respond. Because I love this country’s core principles of liberty. Because I want to make us all aware of how we are letting those principles be eroded in the court of public opinion.
But first an apology and some context.
THINGS ARE NOT THE WAY I PLANNED THEM TO BE
So, confession time.
When I started this blog, I wanted to be fair and balanced. At least, as fair and balanced as I could manage. I wanted, and still want, to encourage an open dialogue.
I have a bunch of stuff in rough draft form that is just that. Some of it has no political leanings at all.
But it takes time to flesh out that writing. Time to proof and edit. With my day job and life’s many ups and downs, I don’t always have that time.
Meanwhile, events keep happening that require comment. And, a lot of that has been stuff requiring criticism directed at one side more than another.
I am sorry. That’s not how I wanted things to go right off the bat. But I am not the one doing the actions that require these comments. And I don’t feel it is right to let some of this stuff pass by without comment.
When I wrote about figleaves (here), I micro-analyzed a small portion of one of candidate Trump’s speeches. That was not to put all blame on Trump or people of certain political leanings. It was because he has used the figleaf technique so well. I provided a micro-analysis so we could all be on the lookout on a macro scale. Regardless of political affiliation. In fact, look out for it in matters not even related to politics.
I also wrote a few articles in the wake of Charlottesville (here and here). I warn you. There are more to come. I just have to find the right words. And what is coming will criticize specific sides of the political spectrum. This is not because I hate one side. It is because I see some alarming trends. I feel duty bound to make people aware of them.
President Trump’s recent comments again compel me to speak out. To defend principles of liberty I value far more than any single political party.
Sorry if that seems like I am coming down really hard against one side over another. Right now, the side I am on is that of our liberties and freedoms.
LIBERTY IS A CORNERSTONE OF THIS COUNTRY
Let’s take a look at a famous bit from the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Take a look at that. Really try to understand it. It says that some truths are freaking obvious. They are “self-evident”. One of those freaking obvious truths is about liberty. That all people have certain “unalienable rights,” including liberty.
What does that mean? That the right to liberty cannot be separated from human existence. Something unalienable can never be foreign or strange. It cannot be outside of human existence. According to the Declaration of Independence, liberty is a natural part of humanity.
The Declaration then goes farther. What if a government is destructive to those self-evident truths, like liberty? Well, the Declaration says that it is the right of the people to overthrow that government. Revolutionary stuff. Of course, it’s literally a revolutionaries’ document. But, more to the point, that’s how important liberty was to the founding fathers.
Then there is the good old First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Yep, liberty and freedoms are pretty important to this nation.
But supporting this country’s principles of liberty can be hard. You have to accept that if everyone has liberty, some will abuse it. To protect liberty for all, you even have to allow some to abuse it. That means Nazis get to march. That means hateful people get to speak their minds. You have to tolerate hard-to-stomach stuff from a few, so that all can benefit.
Too often these days, I see us in a rush to judge. To feel indignant. Or superior. Or threatened. Our instinct is to push back against those that triggered our reaction. In so doing we often don’t just condemn those folks. We condemn the liberties that made what they did possible.
That is a dangerous direction to go in. And most of us don’t see it. We merely seek to shush the voices upsetting us. Instead, we end up eroding the liberties that protect us. If those voices can be shushed, so can yours or mine.
I refuse to remain silent while that happens. I have bells to ring. Alarms to sound.
CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT
So, what did the President say to get me all up in arms about liberty and freedoms and whatnot? It’s about kneeling football players. Seriously? That’s it? Yep. That’s why I say it is easy to miss the erosion via the back door.
To be clear, the same freedom of speech that protects you and me, protects the President. He can say what he likes. I am not denying his right to say what he did. I am just using my right to free speech to respond.
In all fairness, what the President touched on has been an ongoing issue for a while. He is not the originator. I do not hold him solely responsible.
Like I said, this is about professional athletes making statements by kneeling during the National Anthem. And people’s reactions to it. Need references? Here’s a few articles. There are plenty more where those came from.
And honestly, it is not limited to professional athletes. Amateurs are getting in on it too. Here’s a recent article about a team of 8-year-olds.
I touched on this in a recent blog article (here). Please take a look. I am not going to re-hash that article here. To summarize some key points –Even if you don’t agree with the statement being made, the means of making it is entirely legal and an exercise of freedom of expression. Further, kneeling is one of the most respectful things you can do if you are not going to stand for the Anthem.
People have been upset, called for boycotts and firings, etc. in the wake of the various kneeling incidents.
In the rush to condemn the sentiments, people also hastily condemn the liberties that give us the right to express those sentiments and opposing ones.
You have no doubt run into the phrase, “Why, there oughta be a law!” Well there is. And it does not say that this kneeling business is outlawed. It says that not only is it allowed, but that it should be and must be allowed. Because that’s how liberty and freedom work.
The controversy existed before the President ever weighed in on it. But last night, at a rally, he did. For further context, the rally audience was the Trump base. He was not speaking to the U.N. or the Boy Scouts of America. He spoke in Huntsville, Alabama, in support of a candidate in the Republican primaries for the Senatorial race to replace Jeff Sessions.
Here’s a link to one article on the topic. There are plenty more.
Some quotes from Trump’s speech on the topic of players kneeling during the National Anthem:
- On actions the owners should take: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’ You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
- Trump also called for boycotts: “But do you know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave.”
Today, Trump tweeted, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
The President has a right to free speech, like the rest of us. I am not criticizing his right to say what he did. Nor I am criticizing citizens’ rights to vote with their wallet and boycott.
Please note, though, that the President said fans should boycott and players be fired because the players protested. Because they were “disrespectful”. Because they exercised rights granted to them under the law.
A private citizen did not stand up and encourage boycotting and firing in the wake of people exercising their civil liberties. The President did. That’s why this is worthy of criticism. The guardian of liberty just called for us to squelch liberty.
Whether you generally support Trump or not, hopefully you can agree that squelching liberty is concerning. In this all-or-nothing culture we seem to have developed lately, let me give you a little reassurance. You can agree with someone on most things and not agree with them on everything. So, you can be concerned that Trump did this and still be a Trump supporter. It’s okay. I am not asking you switch political allegiances. Just that you not be blind to the erosion of liberty.
This morning, Trump tweeted in response to other actions by NBA athletes. Championship teams of most professional sports are usually invited to the White House at some point. It is not clear that an invitation has yet been made to the current NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors. However, the Warriors announced that should the team be invited, it would take a vote on whether it would go or not. Warriors player Stephen Curry said he would vote against it because he did not like what he feels the current President stands for.
In response, Trump tweeted “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
With that context, I wrote the open letter to the President below. It criticizes. Not because I hate one political group or ideology. But because President Trump’s own words call for criticism.
Open Letter to the President in Response to Your Recent Comments in Huntsville and on Twitter
Dear President Trump,
For going to the White House to be an honor, the person in the position of President needs to represent honorable American values. Such as valuing the Constitution.
When the President instead publicly encourages people to be punished for exercising freedom of speech and freedom of expression, that is not valuing American principles of liberty.
Yes, people are free to boycott something because they don’t like an ideology evinced — whether that’s sports, other forms of entertainment, or retail stores does not matter. Citizens do have a right to do that. Freedom of speech and expression is not freedom from consequence.
But when someone at the head of a country grounded so firmly in those freedoms actively encourages boycotts and punishments as consequences of exercising those freedoms, it is no longer about “no freedom from consequences”.
Instead, you are saying that freedom of speech and freedom of expression should not be exercised at all. It is only allowed if the speech or expression is in a form with which you agree.
That is not freedom of speech and expression. That is censorship. That is the opposite of Constitutional and American values. That is suppression of long cherished American principles.
When you use the position of your office as President to suppress American liberties, you are not acting honorably as a President.
We are a republic. We do not have kings, or leaders for life. Our leader is not some fixed, unchanging point. The question of whether going to the White House is an honor is based on the values of the person who holds the office of President at the particular time.
You have acted dishonorably to U.S. values. You have been dishonorable to core American principles. Therefore, going to the White House while you hold office is not necessarily an honor.
Jackie Robinson was the player who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He was a great player. He was a man of intelligence and integrity. He was a veteran of the U.S. Army. He was everything we should respect in this country. In his 1972 autobiography, he had this to say about his 1947 World Series appearance:
“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
What you said in Huntsville last night is that, on the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s MLB debut, he should have been fired and the games he played boycotted, because he could not stand for the anthem or salute the flag due to racial inequalities in this country.
You said you would rather destroy the sport in which a single such man played rather than he be allowed his lawful right to freedom of expression.
That is what you said you stand for as President of the United States. You would rather destroy the career of an honorable individual, great athlete, and heroic person, than let him express himself. Over what? A song and some cloth on a pole. Neither of which represent this country half as much as the Constitution does. The Constitution whose principles you chose to suppress rather than support.
To this day, we hold our sports heroes, such as Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, in far higher regard than we do most of our Presidents. We certainly hold them in far higher regard than any of the more recent Presidents. Because we are a nation that respects achievement over position. You want to be honored as a President? Getting elected is not enough. You have to act honorably once in the job. You failed utterly in that last night.
In an earlier blog article (which can be found here), I discussed football players kneeling for the National Anthem. I asked people to take a step back and really look hard at what bothered them about that.
I urged folks to ask themselves hard questions. To push themselves. To give themselves honest answers. And to know what they truly respected.
If we did not already know your answer from your previous actions, your recent comments have made it clear now. At least as to what you do not respect. And that is the Constitution. Core American principles of liberty. Freedom of speech and expression.
You know. All the stuff a President of the United States is supposed to stand for.
So, no. It is not an honor to visit the official residence of a President like you.
If you want that to change, be a better President. Honor this country’s principles. Stand for freedom and liberty for all.
You don’t get the loyalty of the American people simply by being elected President. That is not how a republic works. A republic’s leaders get loyalty because they earn it.
You want our loyalty? You want our respect? You want it to be an honor to meet with President Trump? Then start earning it.
You can start by honoring the principles in the Constitution. You may want to refresh yourself on what it says. I understand that Khizr M. Khan will loan you a copy. Get on that.
You want to “make America great again”? Start by being a President who honors the American cornerstone values of liberty and freedom.