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Just one problem with Pence’s Colts game counterprotest

One of the ideas I particularly value is freedom of expression, which includes freedom to protest, especially peacefully, and to argue about what’s right and wrong about our nation.

Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence standing during the national anthem prior to the start of the game between the Indiana Colts and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
White House/Myles Cullen

A lot of lefties were annoyed by Vice President Mike Pence’s departure from Sunday’s Indianapolis Colts game to protest against several players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. I’m not annoyed (except for one pretty big problem with it). I favor peaceful protest, including by those with whom I disagree.

Pence’s move seemed a bit canned, a bit planned, but so what? There are those who believe Pence went there just so he could walk out. But so what?

I don’t doubt that the players who knelt also had a plan to do so. The NFL players who have been kneeling since this whole thing started have, mostly, as best anyone can discern, been protesting racism and perhaps some other forms of social injustice. It is a peaceful protest. There is no law nor even an NFL rule against it. Same for the veep walking out of the game. Let him. After doing so, he issued this statement:

I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem. At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now, more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that unites us. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem. I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem.

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Personally, I don’t think the players’ protest has anything to do with “our soldiers.” That’s just cheap political posturing. The players haven’t said anything to protest about soldiers, except for some who have said their protest has nothing to do with soldiers. The flag isn’t any more a symbol of soldiers than of anything else about our country. It does so happen that the anthem is a song about war, the relatively obscure and confusing War of 1812. And it happens to have been written by a slaveowner (Francis Scott Key). And it originally had a verse in it that mentioned slavery (although it’s unclear what kind of statement that long-ago-dropped verse was making about slavery).

The flag and the anthem are symbols of our nation, which is, among other things, a complicated bundle of ideas, some better than others. One of the ideas I particularly value is freedom of expression, which includes freedom to protest, especially peacefully, and to argue about what’s right and wrong about our nation. The football players have that right. The vice president has that right.

Oh, yeah, the one problem I had with Pence’s protest is not that it was planned but that he flew on Air Force Two from Las Vegas for the game in Indianapolis, then back to Los Angeles after the game, and President Trump announced (by tweet) afterward that he had asked Pence to do the whole thing (including walking out if the players took a knee), which makes it look like an expensive stunt, at taxpayers’ expense.

The cost of the two flights was estimated at a quarter million dollars, slightly more than the veep’s annual salary. Personally, I’d be happy to see the Republicans show their famous concern for the high cost of government spending by doing less flying around in Air Force 1 and 2 and more time doing their jobs in Washington. (And, by the way, you should see the inconvenience to any city that is visited by these federal dignitaries, not only at the airport but in closing highways for the use of the presidential limos, etc. But, pardon that interruption. I wasn’t talking about government spending, I was talking about peaceful gestures of protest, which I support.)

Now play ball. And after the game, having peacefully announced by our different silent acts of protest that we disagree, let’s find a time and place to talk over our disagreements, calmly, respectfully, maybe even factually, and see if there’s any way to move toward common ground or a compromise. Or is that just too freakin’ crazy?