America’s symbols of nationhood are taking a hammering

by Joanne Black / 30 September, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Trump

Members of the Indianapolis Colts take a knee. Photo/Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick may have started it, but it was Donald Trump who brought almost whole teams to their knees.

No sooner had the US media finished dissecting the etymology and correct usage of “dotard” than “taking the knee” arrived in the lexicon. Most people with any interest in America are familiar with “taking the Fifth” – invoking the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, which says individuals cannot be compelled to give evidence that might incriminate them. But as quickly as you can say “social media”, “taking the knee” has come to refer to people kneeling on one knee during the US national anthem.

The gesture is interpreted as a message to US President Donald Trump, and it is loosely translated as “up yours”. It has not always meant that. The most famous recent knee-taker was San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who adopted the pose as a sign of solidarity during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. He is now influential in the Black rights movement. He is now also unemployed, because after he refused to stand for the anthem, his contract was not renewed and no other football team has contracted him. Apparently, no team wanted to be associated with a public demonstration of personal integrity. A few other athletes have followed Kaepernick in “taking the knee” during the anthem, but it was Trump who brought almost whole teams to their knees last week after he suggested that any “son of a bitch” who did not stand for the anthem should be fired, and if they were not fired, people should boycott the football.

Trump seems able to create division over almost anything. If going to the football was once a respite from the noise and turmoil of US politics, it is no longer. Media coverage after last Sunday’s football round was not scores on the sports pages but front-page reports of the number of players in each team who knelt, stood arm-in-arm or simply stayed in the sheds for the anthem.

Thanks to Trump’s blundering machismo, the reverence that this country has traditionally shown for its symbols of nationhood – the flag, the anthem and, in particular, the Office of the President – is being increasingly undermined.

The sun rose over Washington DC as I sat in my lounge watching RNZ’s live online election coverage on my TV. The polls had closed at 3am on Saturday, DC time, so I did an all-nighter. I thought RNZ’s John Campbell, Jane Patterson, Mihingarangi Forbes and Guyon Espiner did a good job. It was a budget operation, with no whiz-bang graphics, but it was up-to-date, fair and informative, which is all anyone needs. I also kept an eye on the Electoral Commission’s website.

I used to work for Bill English when he was Minister of Finance, so I had a particular interest in this election. I was sorry to see Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell not make it back. He was a good advocate for Maori, and Parliament will be poorer without him.

On the other hand, I wasn’t sorry to see the demise of former Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, whose personal and sneering style of debating I never liked. Mostly, I watched the speeches of New Zealand First’s Winston Peters, the Greens’ James Shaw, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern and English and thought – not for the first time – that New Zealand’s practical, civilised and moderate political landscape is one of its greatest treasures. I did not have to leave home to realise that, but it helps.

This Back to Black column was first published in the October 7, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Win a double pass to Waru
81958 2017-10-24 00:00:00Z Win

Win a double pass to Waru

by The Listener

From eight Māori women directors come eight connected stories, each taking place at the same time during the tangi of a small boy, Waru.

Read more
When Sir Bob Jones met Muhammad Ali
81845 2017-10-23 00:00:00Z Books

When Sir Bob Jones met Muhammad Ali

by Bob Jones

A new biography finds fault with the legendary fighter, but praise wins by a mile.

Read more
Announcing the finalists of the NZ Craft Awards 2017
81876 2017-10-23 00:00:00Z Culture

Announcing the finalists of the NZ Craft Awards 20…

by NZTV Craft Awards

The finalists of the New Zealand Craft Awards have been announced and here is the complete list.

Read more
Hand, foot and mouth disease is not nearly as scary it seems
81868 2017-10-23 00:00:00Z Health

Hand, foot and mouth disease is not nearly as scar…

by Ruth Nichol

It sounds alarmingly like foot and mouth disease, but all they have in common is they are viral.

Read more
What to do in Auckland if you're a local who wants the tourist experience
81902 2017-10-23 00:00:00Z Travel

What to do in Auckland if you're a local who wants…

by Pamela Wade

After living in Auckland for almost 25 years, Pamela Wade decides to reacquaint herself with the city where she still feels like a stranger.

Read more
The Lesley Calvert cold case: 40 years of torment
80160 2017-10-22 00:00:00Z Crime

The Lesley Calvert cold case: 40 years of torment

by Chris Birt

The mum-of-three was found on a hillside in sight of her farmhouse where she'd disappeared 7 months earlier. Suspicions swirled, but no answers found.

Read more
When I went to Rimutaka Prison for a three-course meal
81858 2017-10-22 00:00:00Z Food

When I went to Rimutaka Prison for a three-course …

by Lauraine Jacobs

A three-course meal inside prison walls proves a rewarding experience for food columnist Lauraine Jacobs.

Read more
The Lundy murders: Inside the case that gripped the nation for 17 years
81945 2017-10-21 07:23:00Z Crime

The Lundy murders: Inside the case that gripped th…

by Anne Marie May

A court reporter who's covered both of Mark Lundy's High Court trials looks at how the case has evolved, as the Court of Appeal deliberates his fate.

Read more