Protesting the protestor

Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. (AP Photo)

Flags and songs aren’t people. They don’t have feelings or emotions.

The American flag and the national anthem are not capable of “feeling” respect or disrespect, any more than a dishcloth or AC DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

So, when some Americans say in anger, “He disrespected the flag” or “She disrespected the anthem!” what they’re actually saying is, “They disrespected my feelings for the flag and my feelings for my country.” I don’t deny the authenticity of their anger or their right to express it.

What I do have a problem with is their presumption. The presumption that everyone’s feelings for America should be the same – or the same as theirs.

The American experience is not uniform (and never has been). For example, as a white American male, I haven’t felt the sting of systemic racism. But just because I haven’t felt it doesn’t mean it’s not there; it simply means I didn’t experience it personally. So systemic racism did not shape my American experience, the way it shaped George Floyd’s family or the experience of millions of other African Americans.

For me to understand something that I haven’t experienced, I need to listen and employ empathy. And if there’s one thing in short supply in America, it’s empathy.

Many Americans don’t want to hear about someone else’s experience, especially if it does not mirror their own. So, when they see an Olympic athlete protest, they immediately dismiss the protester as ungrateful, selfish, and un-American. They never pause to consider that individual’s experience – they don’t want to know why the person is protesting – they simply point a finger and condemn or compare the protesting athlete to one who did not protest.

But when Americans see an aggrieved citizen of a communist country stand up for their rights, we (almost uniformly) celebrate their protest as brave and heroic. Demonstrating that even though empathy is in short supply, there’s an abundance of hypocrisy in the USA.

America was not born perfect. In the past, women and blacks could not vote, gay people could not marry, and civil rights were a pipe dream. And so, Americans (including Olympic athletes) fought, protested, and marched against these injustices.

And even though we stand head-and-shoulders above most other countries when it comes to freedom and opportunity, we are not yet that “perfect union” – that’s always going to be a goal. It’s always going to be America’s journey. And along the road to that more perfect union, Americans (and American athletes) protest or march or fight to shed light on things like racism, sexism, and voter suppression.

That’s been our history, and it has served us well.

In a Democracy, Criticism is Love

A lot of people mistake criticism of America by citizens as hate towards their country. I would argue the opposite is true – that criticism is love when it comes to democracy.

American democracy is an ongoing experiment, one that remains in pursuit of a more perfect union. And so, America consistently tries to live up to the ideals on which she was founded. And when the government that represents us does not live up to those ideals or starts to stray away from democratic principles, we must correct America’s course, through constructive criticism, through dissent and protest, and through the vote.

In America, the citizens are not static witnesses to democracy – we don’t sit idly by when our representatives behave in ways that contradict American ideals. We don’t sit on our hands or keep our mouths shut when we see systemic racism and an unfair justice system. We don’t just go along with a president who inspires and praises a violent insurrection against our country. Instead, we speak up loudly and condemn lies and the deplorable actions that spring from those lies, and we do so because we love America, not because we hate America.

As citizens, we are not parented by our government. We are not obliged to remain silent in deference to government officials when they go afoul of democratic principles and American ideals.

In a democracy, the citizens are the parents or the controlling authority, and when you see your child behaving poorly, you don’t ignore the behavior because you love them. Instead, you criticize the behavior, demand that they change the behavior. . . . because you love them.

Somehow, our understanding of the relationship between the government and its citizens has gotten totally twisted. So many of us view our President or government as infallible parental figures that should be obeyed and respected at all times. We think that speaking out against either means you don’t love or respect America.

In a democracy, criticism is love. In a democracy, criticism is our responsibility, especially when we see America straying from the principles on which she was founded.

Everybody sing along to the Troompa Loompa song . . .

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Troompa Loompa dipitty-dee

We’ve got an orange presidency

Troompa Loompa

Liar in Chief, a two-bit gangster

A thug and a thief

What do you get when you vote for a schmuck?

A science-denying know-nothing fuck

When the guy at the top

Doesn’t know how to think

The world will always be on the brink

 

Troompa Loompa dipitty-dense

The orange-faced-moron

never makes sense

Troompa Loompa dippy-dang

Be better off with a President Yang

What do you get when you vote for fool?

A monosyllabic orange-faced tool

When the guy at the top

is a know-nothing hack

We never move forward

We always move back

Troompa Loompa dipitty-dump

We’ve got a guy who likes to flag hump

Troompa Loompa dipitty-shit

Aren’t Troompa Loompas tired of it?

What do you get when you vote for a dick?

An immoral moron who makes you feel sick

When anger and fear get spun into hate

We’ll never ever

Make America Great

 

Troompa Loompa dipitty-doo

To get rid of orange, you gotta vote blue

Troompa Loompa dipitty-dye

Trump is worse than a stick in the eye

What do you get when you fall for the ruse?

A burnt-orange menace who parrots Fox news

We’re deep in the weeds

Stuck in the morass

Still republican’s kiss that sorry fat ass.

Troompa Loompa dipitty-dee

We’ve got an orange presidency

Troompa Loompa dipitty day

Can’t wait for November to vote him away

The Threat

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The threat is existential

The rhetoric is real

Hate can hinder progress

When a liar lies with zeal

Democracy’s a drunk

she teeters on the curb

And every day’s a day

We have to reckon the absurd

America’s in chaos

She’s lost in discontent

Fertile ground for revolution

Discord and dissent

Ask who stands to gain

When the country’s split in two

The ones who gain the most

Are never me and you

Time to take her back

Put her back up on that hill

Let her shine

 the way she used to

Before the Russians

found their shill