President Trump claims that NFL athletes dishonor America, our flag, our national anthem, and our military when they kneel or lock arms during the national anthem. I think he confuses our country and its principles with symbols and ceremonial rituals. As a former Army officer and combat helicopter pilot, I do NOT feel dishonored by the athletes’ protests. I took an oath as an Army officer to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” Although standing to salute the American flag and the national anthem is a way to show appreciation for the American values they represent, it’s the values that should be honored. Those values include the First Amendment rights to speak freely, assemble peaceably, and petition the government for a redress of grievances. When athletes exercise those constitutional rights, they ARE honoring our nation.
The US Flag Code simply defines customary conduct to guide citizens during flag presentations and the American National Anthem. Code etiquette is voluntary, and there are no federal penalties for violation. For those who take all the rules seriously and are so angry at NFL players, here are a few common violations to watch for: The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose or imprinted on anything that is to be discarded after temporary use; should not be used as part of any clothing or uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, firefighters, police officers and members of patriotic organizations (Scouts, Red Cross, USO, Civil Air Patrol, VFW, Little League, US Olympic Committee, etc.); must be illuminated if displayed at night; must be an all-weather flag if displayed during inclement weather; when displayed on a vehicle, the staff must be firmly attached to the chassis or the right fender (not flown from the back of a pickup!); and should never be carried flat or horizontally (e.g., by a group in a parade or onto a football field).
Here is what I consider true disrespect for our nation: conspiring with a foreign nation to interfere with our democratic election process or allowing anyone to participate in government who has colluded with foreign adversaries in any way; participating in voter suppression or any process that discourages or inhibits a citizen from voting (including limiting voting or registration hours or locations, limiting precinct resources, creating discriminatory ID practices, or “caging” voters); and gerrymandering or any other procedure to unfairly skew election results in favor of one party.
Other activities that disrespect our nation include encouraging or promoting white supremacists or neo-Nazis and their attitudes against American democratic principles, denigrating military veterans who were also POWs, defaming Gold Star families, and being insensitive to parents of soldiers recently killed in combat. Telling a grieving family that their son “must have known what he signed up for” (President Trump) is not at all the same as telling them he “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed . . . and he was surrounded by the best men on this earth” (General Kelly). What is even worse is denying what was said and calling the several people liars who corroborate what was said rather than apologizing and healing any hurt.
Refusing to release presidential tax returns and lying about a promise to do so is disrespectful of American ideals. Ignoring the emoluments clause of the Constitution is disrespectful of our Constitution. Continuing to profit from businesses and refusing to disengage from extensive business holdings is disrespectful of American practices. Appointing people to head government agencies who are determined to destroy the agency they head is disrespectful of our nation’s government. Refusing briefings to learn from experienced civil servants is disrespectful of the lofty obligation of president. Inciting conflict, aggression and extremism is disrespectful of the demeanor expected of a US president.
People throughout the world respect America for our principles and the conduct of our leaders, not for our National Anthem or flag rituals. We need to do the same.