A big deal is being made about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice (like the fact that a black guy is more than twice as likely to be shot by a cop than by anyone else in our society).
I think you all know where I stand on this, and I've spoken extensively about it on Twitter. What I am going to address here is the issue of patriotism - specifically the expected public displays of patriotism in our culture. Read on if you dare.
In our country we have a near-religious veneration of our nation. We stand and recite the pledge of allegance every day in school. We stand for our national anthem before nearly every major sporting event. It is ingrained in us as children that these are things you simply do - it is an expected public display of your patriotism.
It's also bullshit.
To predicate demonstrating one's love for country on these rote actions is wrongheaded and dangerous. It cheapes the meaning of a genuine display of patriotism. The notion that we "must" stand for the national anthem, and "must" stand for and recite the pledge of allegance as obligatory acts of patriotic piety remove the meaning from these actions.
The pledge of allegance is swearing your loyalty to our nation. When a newly-naturalized citizen speaks those words it is the final part of a long process in which they are pledging their allegance to the country, foresaking all others.
Reciting the pledge of allegance by rote in perfect unison (every child in this nation having learned it to the same cadence) cheapens the meaning of those words. When a natural-born American simply recites it by rote without truly thinking of the meaning behind them they are cheapening the act taken by newly-naturalized citizens every day.
Standing for the anthem simply because it's expected similarly cheapens the gesture made by those who truly and deeply feel the reverence for country Key's poem was meant to evoke - a fledgeling nation facing its first true military test at the guns and cannons of its former rulers and surviving that challenge, and the hope that it will face and conquer new challenges in the future.
In our nation's history many of those challenges have been external - The war of 1812 in which the poem was written, Pearl Harbor, the USS Cole, and September 11th spring immediately to mind. Some challenges have been internal - the Whiskey Rebellion, Japanese internment, the Civil War, the civil rights movement, equality for women under the law, and now the quest for equitable treatment under the law. The internal challenges have, to our nation's great credit, been resolved through largely peaceful means (though if we're being honest about our history lots of heads were cracked over trying to deny civil rights to black folks and the federal vote to women), but calling attention to injustice in a nonviolent way is at the heart of what it is to be a United States citizen.
Let us not, as a nation, try to wallpaper over our problems through meaningless displays of patriotic piety.
Instead let us try to resolve the issues that leave some citizens feeling as though they do not owe their government true reverence.
The sermon is concluded. Go in peace.