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.

Latest

The new What We Do in the Shadows is more dad joke than demonic
104712 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Television

The new What We Do in the Shadows is more dad joke…

by Diana Wichtel

Diana Wichtel reviews a new American TV series based on the hit Kiwi comedy.

Read more
Louis & Louise is a satisfying exploration of gender and identity
104230 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Books

Louis & Louise is a satisfying exploration of gend…

by Brigid Feehan

In her latest novel, Julie Cohen traces the parallel male and female lives of a single character.

Read more
Win a copy of Sir David Attenborough's Life on Earth: 40th Anniversary Edition
104844 2019-04-19 00:00:00Z Win

Win a copy of Sir David Attenborough's Life on Ear…

by The Listener

To celebrate Sir David Attenborough season on Sky, we are giving away copies of his book Life on Earth: 40th Anniversary Edition.

Read more
The Kiwi behind the powerful Aspen Institute's Queenstown launch
104788 2019-04-18 09:00:50Z Profiles

The Kiwi behind the powerful Aspen Institute's Que…

by Clare de Lore

Thanks to the determination of Christine Maiden, NZ has joined an international leadership network that aims to work on issues important to the future

Read more
Science must trump ideology in the GE debate
104784 2019-04-18 08:52:29Z Politics

Science must trump ideology in the GE debate

by The Listener

A New Zealand-developed super-grass that appears to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions might be blocked in this country by the Green Party.

Read more
Simon Bridges hails PM Jacinda Ardern's capital gains tax u-turn as victory
104803 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Politics

Simon Bridges hails PM Jacinda Ardern's capital ga…

by Jo Moir

The National Party is calling the u-turn on a capital gains tax a massive failure for the Prime Minister.

Read more
John Campbell is replacing Jack Tame on TVNZ's Breakfast show
104860 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Television

John Campbell is replacing Jack Tame on TVNZ's Bre…

by Noted

The TV network is switching things up - again.

Read more
John Lanchester’s ecological-dystopian tale about a barricaded Britain
104431 2019-04-18 00:00:00Z Books

John Lanchester’s ecological-dystopian tale about…

by Catherine Woulfe

The Wall may be speculative fiction, but it feel like it's just round the corner.

Read more