Punishing Patriots Who Protest: I Am Not Sitting Through This Movie Again

by Bob Schwartz

Loyal opposition is not just a hallmark of American democracy. It is American democracy.

But whenever opposition becomes protest, and protest becomes uncomfortable and threatening, the quick fix for the simple-minded and reactionary (who don’t actually understand democracy, not really) is to label protest unpatriotic and label protesters traitors.

Many of us in America have had to sit through this movie multiple times. If you add historical incidents—such as the Red Scare of the 1950s—there are many more examples.

The latest is the new National Football League rule that players must stay and stand for the national anthem. They can’t leave the sideline, they can’t kneel, presumably they can’t raise their fists in a power salute. Stand, shut up, and play (dance).

This whole scenario was started by the President, who jumped on this as soon as the issue began last NFL season. His most recent pronouncement was that players who don’t stand for the national anthem are not just unpatriotic—they should leave the country. (The irony of the most un-American President in history—who really should leave the country—is hardly worth mentioning.)

So, no, I really don’t want to sit through this movie again. But just as in the past, there is no choice. In the past, though, American democracy—that amazing combination of Constitution and common sense—prevailed and pulled through, though it took a while. The concern this time, in this and other areas, is that balance has tipping points, and recovery of balance can be a very grueling and questionable process once it is tipped over.