Because everything is politicized these days, the NFL and the national anthem have become early midterm election issues, with red state Republicans pressuring targeted Democrats over the flap. All vulnerable Democrats from red and purple states need to do is glance at a few polls to get a sense of how this is playing generally -- but they also have to consider the potential wages of alienating the party's far-left base, which demands constant, self-righteous "woke" signaling. Here's West Virginia Republican Patrick Morrissey weighing in on the controversy, following up with a press release calling on Joe Manchin to take sides:
#NFL players should be down on both knees thanking god they live in country allowing them to make millions while showing such disrespect.— AG Patrick Morrisey (@MorriseyWV) September 24, 2017
"Senator Manchin has sided with his liberal friends countless times over West Virginia’s conservative values...Now, his silence in the face of deep disrespect to our national symbol is further proof that he will not stand with West Virginia. As a senator, Sen. Manchin owes it to the people of West Virginia to tell them where he stands. Does he stand with his liberal whining activist buddies, or does he stand with our veterans and thousands of patriotic West Virginians?”
That was a few days ago. Yesterday, Manchin obliged, condemning the protests and saying that NFL owners shouldn't allow kneeling during the anthem:
"This is something that the owners have to address...[they have to] step in here and say, 'I'm not going to tolerate it'... I think everyone should stand and show reflect for the flag that represents the greatest nation on earth."
Republicans are also going after endangered Indiana incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly -- last heard from frantically trying to clean up a puddle of outsourcing hypocrisy -- over this firestorm. After Donnelly criticized President Trump for "dividing Americans" on the issue, GOP campaigns pounced: "Joe Donnelly is showing Hoosiers once again who he really stands with—the Washington liberals he votes with 9 out of 10 times. Liberals and media elites politicize sports like they politicize everything else to demonize anyone who rejects their radical agenda. They hold up the disrespectful actions of athletes and celebrities as something heroic and deride anyone who disagrees. Joe Donnelly's liberal friends are dividing Americans, not Donald Trump," the Todd Rokita campaign said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Reuters is touting its new poll showing that a majority of Americans (57 percent) disagree with Trump's sentiment that anthem kneelers should be fired from the NFL (count me among them, by the way). The first seven paragraphs of their story deal with Trump's opinions and the public's reaction to it. Buried much farther down are the findings that a double-digit majority opposes Colin Kaepernick's protest, with 58 percent of respondents agreeing that athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem (including close to two-thirds of independents). More:
Reuters poll:— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) September 27, 2017
85% 'almost always' stand for the anthem.
74% place hand on heart.
58% say pro athletes should be *required* to stand.
Even with reflexive partisan tribalism in the driver's seat of contemporary American politics, the flag and the anthem remain sacrosanct in most Americans' minds. I don't believe that controversial political speech should be a fireable offense, and I think requiring citizens to stand for the anthem is a bit authoritarian for my taste. But patriotism and respect run very deep in America; in its zeal to oppose Trump at every turn and create a backlash to his excesses, the Left is fighting a losing battle here. I understand anthem protesters' argument that it's not about the flag, the anthem, or even the country; it's about drawing attention to disproportionate police brutality against people of color. I abhor racism -- especially when it's practiced by a handful of bad apple agents of the state -- and support criminal justice reform. These are important issues. But when the national anthem is deliberately selected as the occasion for these protests, the story becomes about the anthem. It just does. And a lot of people see that as deeply disrespectful, and justifiably so, in my mind. Plus, statements like this from the leader of the protest movement complicate the messaging that it's not rooted in anti-Americanism:
Kaepernick: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people" https://t.co/0OKsOCkoRm— Chris Barron (@ChrisRBarron) September 26, 2017
I'll leave you with a Weekly Standard piece knocking down the renewed, pious slogan about dissent being the "highest form of patriotism" (this formulation took an eight-year hiatus from 2009 to 2017), and this little tidbit about Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman and ex-Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva -- just in case you needed another reason to respect him:
Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva is donating all proceeds on his jersey/apparel sales to USO and other military non-profits, as he always has.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 27, 2017