Living in a free country means that Kaepernick and his imitators have the right to take a knee when they hear The Star Spangled Banner. Having a right, though, doesn’t mean that you are right.
When it comes to Kaepernick & Friends, those people who feel offended by their disrespectful gesture are right to feel that way: There’s nothing noble about virtue signaling, which is all that these highly paid athletes are doing. It’s a meaningless, painless activity that simply puffs up their profile in the drive-by media.
Things would be different, however, if they engaged in true acts of civil disobedience. Doing that might earn them respect even from those who disagree with them.
Back in the day, civil disobedience used to mean something very specific. Although long a recognized part of Anglo-Saxon and English culture (mostly through jury nullification), it was Henry David Thoreau, in the mid-19th Century, who best articulated the doctrine we now recognize. Thoreau objected to a poll tax because he felt the money was being improperly spent to support slavery and the war with Mexico. Rather than paying the tax, he took a principled stand, refused to pay the tax, and went to prison.
As it happened, Thoreau’s friends quickly bailed him out, so he did not have much time to glory in his martyrdom. Nevertheless, this single night in jail inspired Thoreau to write the definitive essay about a citizen’s obligation to strike out against unjust laws and practices — and to demonstrate the law’s invalidity through each citizen’s personal martyrdom. Significantly, Thoreau felt that such a principled stand gained weight from an attendant sacrifice, which is usually imprisonment:
Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her–the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.
Part of taking a principled stand means a willingness to pay the price. Martin Luther King was willing to pay the price, as was Mohandas Gandhi. Rosa Parks, who knew she risked imprisonment when she refused to move to the back of the bus, was willing to pay the price. Nelson Mandela surely paid the price and then showed tremendous grace when he had in his hands the power to get revenge . . . but didn’t.
How things have changed in America. If you’re a Leftist, you get to break the law or with community norms . . . and receive only loud applause. I first realized that true, sacrificial civil disobedience is a dead letter for Lefties in February 2004, when San Francisco’s then-mayor, Gavin Newsom, suddenly announced that he was going to ignore California’s laws against same-sex marriage, and have the City issue marriage licenses to all gay couples desiring them. The Press oooh’ed and aaah’ed about his bravery, and gave him a platform he used to leverage himself to California’s Lieutenant Governorship and, he hopes, one day sees him seated in the governor’s office itself (helped by his current campaign to destroy the Second Amendment).
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