Kneeling in a Divided Country: A Comment

◆ The NFL players kneeling and Pres. Trump’s ferocious response have raised hard issues, once again, about race, class, patriotism, and other central questions of American life.

One of my lifelong friends–and someone who has devoted his life to helping others–read my previous posts on these issues and asked whether I was somehow excusing Pres. Trump for his role in the NFL controversy. Was I saying that Pres. Obama had started this divisive talk, shifting the onus from Trump’s speech in Alabama and his Tweets?

Short answer: No, I’m not. But let me share my other thoughts. I thank him for prompting this post.


It’s been a long time coming

This divisive talk didn’t start with Trump calling out the NFL.

It didn’t start with Obama calling out the Cambridge Police.

Both made things worse, but it didn’t really start with anyone.

It’s been bubbling up for a long time.

As I have made clear, I think Trump’s language about these issues is terrible and is beneath the office he holds.

Nor do I like the President of the United States calling for boycotts of private businesses, especially when people are invoking their free-speech rights.

On these issues, my complaints about Pres. Obama are relatively mild.


The Academy has Made Things Worse . . . Much Worse

My bigger complaint is with the academic left which, for years, has attacked the American Dream–in principle as well as in practice–and fundamentally undermined the very idea of E Pluribus Unum. If you say you favor an American Melting Pot, you would be laughed out of any top department of political science or sociology. You wouldn’t have ever been hired in anthropology or the humanities if the faculty knew those views in advance. They would consider you a troglodyte, and think you couldn’t spell the word. You would kill your job chances as surely as asking the Dean what his Zodiac sign was.

These educators have played ethnic-division and identity politics for decades, partly because they think these groups are victims, partly because they want to make sure these groups see themselves as victims, and partly because they want to mobilize them politically. One key point here is that they do not see people as Americans but as hyphenated Americans, and they do not see them as individuals but as members of groups–victimized groups.

The Democratic Party plays a pernicious role here. Their longtime strategy has been to appeal separately to each group and tailor policies to provide government largess for each one. That gives the Democrats a vested stake in seeing that Hispanics, Blacks, Gays, Public Sector Workers, and so on see themselves primarily as members of that beleaguered, victimized subgroup. (Of course, both parties provide largess to major contributors, and big business is at the head of the line.)

The intellectual backing for this Democratic Party strategy has been provided by the academic left. They see an America divided into victimized groups. What unites them, in this view, is that they face the same hegemonic oppressors. They say that in course after course, article after article, and its fruits can be seen in the coalition of progressive activists on campus. What else would bring hard-line Muslims and Gay Rights Advocates together, save a common enemy? This academic ideology of identity/victim politics dovetails with the Democrats’ strategy of sub-group appeals for votes.


Now Comes the Populist Pushback

What has been happening for the past few years is populist pushback against this viewpoint and against an elite political leadership grouped in a few enclaves and increasingly divorced from the broader population politically, socially, and geographically.

This popular pushback is not led by the rich–the alleged oppressors in the academic tale. It doesn’t come from established conservatives. They want predictable, center-right or center-left governance. Jeb or Hillary, not Bernie or Donald.

The pushback comes from an angry lower-middle-class, mostly white but with many others. They are patriotic to the bone. They don’t like people disrespecting their country, constantly running it down, or thinking that Washington always knows best. If Washington knows best, why are their lives so hard?

Trump knows that. And he is their tribune.



NASCAR Won’t Take a Knee–that’s predictable but there’s also a touch of irony

It’s not surprising to find NASCAR fans, owners, and pit crews are all-in for patriotism.

They won’t be taking a knee like some players in the NFL and NBA.

They see that as disrespecting the flag, the country, and those who love it.

Their support for Trump and disgust at athletes who kneel could be predicted by anyone who understood America’s cultural divide and who stood on either side of it.

Pres. Trump is deliberately driving that cultural divide as a wedge issue, much as Pres. Nixon and Vice President Agnew did during the Vietnam War. (Pres. Obama did, too, when he reflexively sided with Skip Gates against the “stupid” Cambridge police. Obama did not usually try to raise the profile of those divisions, but his policies–and the electoral disappointment of his constituencies–is the backdrop of our current turmoil.)

Here’s the report in USA Today, headlined NASCAR owners side with Trump, take firm stance against anthem protests

“Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over,” team owner Richard Childress responded when asked what he would do if one of his employees protested during the anthem. “I told them anyone who works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people have gave their lives for it. This is America.”

Team owner Richard Petty, who won a record-tying seven championships as a driver, said he would fire any employee that didn’t stand for the anthem.

“Anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period,” Petty said. “If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.” –USA Today


Where’s the Irony, You Ask?

The irony lies in NASCAR’s origins–running from the law and making a game of it.

Just as jousting was a way for knights to show off and have fun while practicing their work-a-day skills, so NASCAR began with moonshine runners–drivers who sped across the back roads of Appalachia with a car full of homemade whiskey.

Who was chasing them? “Revenuers.” The federal government imposes a tax on whiskey, and the folks who distilled white lightning had no intention of paying it.

They hid their stills deep in the woods, in back hollers where outsiders were not welcome.


h, but they still had to get the hooch from the still to the customers in town. That’s where the fast drivers came in.

Their whiskey-runner occasionally staged informal races to see who was best. Those evolved into track races and eventually NASCAR.

They probably didn’t see any contraction between saluting the flag and telling the lawman to go to hell.

But lots of us taste a swig of irony.



ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, September 25

Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
Linked articles in bold purple

◆ Germany’s Merkel wins, but she is significantly weaker. Far-right party (AfD) will have third most seats in parliament.

The BBC calls it a “hollow victory.”

The chancellor knew she would most likely win this election. But it is not the victory she or her party had hoped for. It is the conservatives’ worst election result under her leadership. A verdict, perhaps, on her decision to open Germany’s doors to one million refugees.

Addressing her party, Mrs Merkel acknowledged the past four years had been hard. Nevertheless the party had still achieved its aim – to finish first.

The cheers rang a little hollow. Because the real success story of this election belongs to AfD.–BBC

Comment: Germany has been the most stably governed country in Europe for several decades, so this is a blow to the whole European project.

The AfD includes real neo-Nazis, but it won votes from a lot of Germans who opposed the mainstream parties on gut issues such as immigration. Merkel’s open-immigration policy has saddled her country with real problems, and she is paying the price.

Travel ban 3.0: This is a longer-term policy and will be phased in over several weeks.

President Trump issued the order on Sunday. (Story here in the New York Times)

The new order adds Venezuela, North Korea, and Chad to the list, which now covers eight countries. Most citizens these countries will be banned from entering the US, though the specifics differ for each country.

Comment: Attorneys General from Democratic states will inevitably sue. They may win in some liberal courts but will lose at SCOTUS, if it makes it that far.

 Lots of NFL players kneel, supported (at least publicly) by coaches and owners. Trump keeps tweeting, driving the issue

The Washington Post headline is typical: In showings of protest and solidarity, NFL teams respond to Trump’s criticisms

The Chicago Tribune, which has a midwestern-conservative editorial page, ran an editorial ripping the President for adding to the nation’s divisions, adding that he did the same thing after Charlottesville.

Going forward, how about he leaves discussions of free speech, race relations and religious protection to leaders who still have credibility?” –Chicago Tribune editorial

Although national polls have no appeared on the issue, I see three positions emerging.

  • The players are right, or at least they have every right to do it. People on this side emphasize racial inequities, income inequalities, police brutality, and other progressive agenda items.
  • Trump is right. These players ought to show some respect for the country that made their success possible. People on this side emphasize patriotism and other conservative agenda items (some traditional conservative, some more nationalist).
  • Each side has a point, and each has a problem. The players have a right to protest, if they wish, but they have imposed a political agenda on an escapist entertainment for most fans. Do it somewhere else. They add that Trump may be right to defend patriotism but it is un-Presidential to call the players SOB’s and to urge consumer boycotts.

Comment: Whether this dispute is good for Trump or for the players (I think it is smart politics for Trump), it is not good for the country. It highlights and deepens serious divisions among Americans.

I’m sure Roger Goodell would love to get back to his main job: explaining why 300 lb people smashing into each other repeatedly has no effect on the brain “that we have really proven, etc.” It’s the Marlboro Man redux.

London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan compares Trump to ISIS (Fox News)

He has also said Britain should not host Trump on a visit and certainly not consider it a “state visit.”

Comment: Khan has time on his hands until the next terrorist attack on his city.

He has taunted Trump and flaunted the safe, multicultural environment of London before. After that tweet in May 2016, he watched as his city was lethally attacked by terrorists several times.

GOP will roll out its tax plan later this week with cuts and maybe reform.

The Washington Post is already stirred up, saying it will help the rich

Comment: Here’s the problem: the top 1% pay about 40% of the country’s income taxes. If you cut taxes, even if you tilt the cuts toward the middle class, you are bound to help a lot of rich people.



ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, September 24

Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
Linked articles in bold purple

North Korea says it will “inevitably” go to war with US. That was the essence of NK foreign minister’s speech to UN (Los Angeles Times)

North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho warned Saturday that it is “inevitable” that his country will launch a missile toward the mainland United States in revenge for the insults President Trump has directed at leader Kim Jong Un.

“None other than Trump himself is on a suicide mission,” Ri said. –Los Angeles Times

US bombers fly off the coast of North Korea, north of the 38th parallel, in a major show of force (Reuters via Straits Times, Singapore)

US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighter jets flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea on Saturday (Sept 23), in a show of force the Pentagon said demonstrated the range of military options available to President Donald Trump. –Reuters

Comment: The US flights are not only a message to Pyongyang, they are a message to China that a war could break out and the US would use overwhelming firepower. Only that prospect, and the related prospect of Japan and South Korea going nuclear themselves, has moved China to act.

My hunch is that Beijing is trying to figure out what kinds of pressure they can use to change North Korean policy or, alternatively, if they want to risk backing a coup.

From the serious (North Korea) to the ridiculous (Trump versus the NFL, NBA): What happened? And what makes it important?

The tweets and text below explain what happened.

It’s important because it exemplifies America’s techtonic cultural and political divide, particularly over race and patriotism.

And it highlights what Trump’s supporters like about him (straight talk, forthright defense of America) and what his opponents loathe (vile language that worsens an inflamed situation).

On Twitter and at his big rally in Huntsville, AL, Pres. Trump attacked NFL players who “took a knee,” rather than stand for the National Anthem. That behavior has spread among NFL teams this season.

A flurry of counter-attacks came from the NFL, led by Commissioner Roger Goodell. This kerfuffle spread to the NBA when LeBron James called the president “a bum” and Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry decided not to visit the White House.

Immediately, CNN decided this was all about Trump being a white nationalist racist. They talked about the Alabama rally being a “white crowd,” etc.


Comment: Here my initial take.

  • The President took a traditional position in an untraditional way. It is hardly surprising that a President supports American patriotism and its prominent symbols.
  • It is beneath the dignity of the office to call the players “sons of bitches.”
  • The players have free-speech rights.
    • Pros don’t have to stand for the national anthem unless their contracts say otherwise.
    • College and high-school players are in a more complicated situation. The coaches and school administrators can set rules of behavior.
  • Fans have rights, too, and can boo the players, refuse to buy products they advertise, refuse to go to games, and so on.

Three points have been missing in this discussion, which seems to be a big deal on cable TV.

  • Professional athletics is entertainment. The athletes are entertainers, same as Hollywood actors, Nashville singers, or sports networks like ESPN. Taking controversial political stances will narrow their audience appeal, as they are finding out. NFL owners know that. They must be beside themselves.
  • The country’s racial and political divide was bound to spread beyond the normal boundaries of politics. Black athletes were drawn in to this controversy, just as they were drawn into the Black Power controversies of the 1960s.
    • Now, the activists on all sides will mobilize and get involved. This is Al Sharpton territory.
  • This could well be brilliant politics for Trump
    • It plays perfectly to his base and to the majority of Americans who respect the flag and other patriotic symbols. Trump knows that in his gut and he moved to exploit it. (His own crude language may undercut some of that support.)
    • The NFL fan base–and Trump voters–hate the players’ disrespect for the flag and national anthem.
    • With NFL attendance and viewership down this year (for whatever reasons), Trump can take credit for leading a parade that was already marching down the street.
    • The only thing that could be better for Trump would be for leading Democrats to support the kneeling athletes. That would be a gift to Trump, but the Democratic base may force prospective presidential candidates to take that position, just as it is forcing them into support for single-payer health care.





Best book title in a long time

Our friend and neighbor, Lucy Biederman, now teaching at Case Western in Cleveland came up with an inspired titled:

The Walmart Book of the Dead (Amazon link)

She wrote most of it in Louisiana, while getting her doctorate in poetry. She explains the origins of the book in an interview with the Case Western Daily:

Living on a graduate student stipend in the Deep South, writer Lucy Biederman had few shopping options—so she found herself frequenting a place at once mysterious and magical to her: Walmart….

“The last thing you’d expect is for someone to not have an opinion about Walmart,” said Biederman, a lecturer in English at Case Western Reserve University, “but a lot of these opinions can be too easy.

“The closer you get, the more complicated it gets,” she said. “It’s similar to death in that way.” –Case Western Daily

Her observation about Walmart’s place in American culture–and its gaping cultural divide–is insightful:

To some people, Walmart is so essential it’s more than a store—it’s the pulse of their existence.

And to others, Walmart represents so much of what’s wrong with profit-seeking. I wanted to bridge that gap. –Lucy Biederman


Comments: Statisticians are unable to calculate the number of expected jokes the author will have to endure about “future books dealing with Costco or Target?” (In rural Louisiana, the questions will be about “Dollar General.”)

As for me, I still can’t believe Lucy is the first person to see the obvious connections between Walmart and ancient Egyptian religious practices.


ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, September 23

Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
Linked articles in bold purple

◆ John McCain puts a dagger in the heart of “repeal and replace.” Won’t support bill of his close friend, Lindsey Graham (New York Times)

Comment: There is still a thin path, but it is only a sliver since several Republicans are likely “no” votes.

Even if the Senate passes something, it might not make it through the House.

If this bill fails, as expected, then Congress will move onto tax reform and tax cuts.

Trump in his element: Gives a rousing speech to enthusiastic crowd in Alabama, offers strong support to underdog Senate candidate, Luther Strange (

Comment: Strange is running behind former Alabama state judge, Roy Moore, who redefines the word “controversial.”

Besides the usual kind words for “Big Luther,” Trump underscored two points.

  1. Strange had given him crucial support on legislation without making demands (Trump emphasized the Senator’s loyalty to him, Trump, and not to Mitch McConnell).
  2. Strange is sure to win in the General Election; Moore is far less certain to win, though Trump said he would back him in the general.

Handling Sexual Assault Investigations on Campus: Sec. of Ed. Betsy DeVos Reverses Obama-Era Policy (New York Times)

The nub of the matter: Under Obama, standards of proof were lowered significantly. DeVos is allowing colleges to raise the standard, once again, to “clear and convincing evidence.”

DeVos on Friday scrapped a key part of government policy on campus sexual assault, saying she was giving colleges more freedom to balance the rights of accused students with the need to crack down on serious misconduct.

The move, which involved rescinding two sets of guidelines several years old, was part of one of the fiercest battles in higher education today…

The most controversial portion of the Obama-era guidelines had demanded colleges use the lowest standard of proof, “preponderance of the evidence,” in deciding whether a student is responsible for sexual assault, a verdict that can lead to discipline and even expulsion. On Friday, the Education Department said colleges were free to abandon that standard and raise it to a higher standard known as “clear and convincing evidence.” –New York Times

The Obama Administration lowered the standard unilaterally, without the normal discussion associated with regulatory changes. They simply sent colleges a “dear colleagues” letter of advice that effectively told them what they had to do to keep their federal funds.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, hailed DeVos’ decision: “Dear Colleague: It’s over! Education Department rescinds controversial 2011 letter”

Comment: It is fitting that the Obama Administration skirted all procedural restrictions to impose its policy. That’s exactly what Campus Kangaroo Courts do.

Second, since colleges can now set their own standards of proof, expect the battle to shift there. Administrators are in total control of these campus investigations, so the wrongly-accused students’ main hope will be federal courts.

Responding to the Opioid Crisis: CVS will limit prescriptions to 7-day supply (CNN)

Comment: The scale of the emergency is staggering.

Every three weeks, the number of Americans who die from drug overdoses equals the deaths in the Twin Towers.