September 29, 2017

NFL Players Shouldn't Kneel During the Anthem, but Not for the Reasons you Might Think

In my past posts when I’ve picked a topic to write on I’ve usually done a fair amount of research and came to a conclusion where, while possibly wrong, I had a fair amount of conviction that I was on the ‘correct’ side. This topic is an interesting one, as I don’t possess that same level of certainty, but I do have a few interesting ideas and some evidence that support my ideas. The position I’m going to take is that Donald Trump has picked a smart battle in his opposition to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and this is beyond the topic simply being a distraction from more serious topics. It a good topic for him due to the differential moral reaction in relation to sanctity.

To understand that claim is in necessary to understand the studies of Jonathan Haidt (Mapping the Moral Domain) on Moral Foundations Theory shows which breaks down moral concern into five different individual moral concerns (Harm/care, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/respect and Purity/sanctity). When moral concern is broken down in such a way and people are asked moral questions in relation to those categories a trend develops where conservatives and liberals are shown to have different levels of moral concern for the different moral categories of action. Liberals put higher values and are more sensitive to acts related to Harm and Fairness, while conservatives have higher concerns for acts related to Ingroup, Authority and Purity.

Understandably kneeling during the anthem wasn’t a pressing issue when Moral Foundations Theory was being created, so it wasn’t examined, but something analogous was tested in the permissibility of flag burning. These are both acts of protest, while flag burning seems to be the more extreme, both are acts where the sanctity of the act is the major moral component. A LiveScience article quotes Haidt as saying, “The best predictor of how much a conservative will hate flag-burning is how strongly he or she feels that some things are sacred, he said.”

Kneeling during the anthem is a great topic for Trump due to the disproportionate level of passion from the sides of the debate, where there is the potential for conservatives who value sanctity highly being very impassioned, but where the liberal side would care to a lesser degree. The liberal issue is the freedom to protest, and, more specifically, the freedom to protest by kneeling during the anthem.
Three factors further complicate the issue and point to it being a good issue for conservatives.

      1. The sanctity of the anthem is a constant, while protest can be done in an array of different ways. This means that anyone is bothered by the act of kneeling during the anthem will be motivated to be angry at the act, yet the right to protest is not the same. The right to protest isn’t universally in question, which means that some people, likely people who value sanctity highly, will face the conflict of supporting the right to protest, but preferring that it was performed in some other way. This fractures the group that would be in support of the act of kneeling in an act of protest during the national anthem.
      2. Kneeling during the anthem is able to be conflated with meaning many different things unconnected to the act or anthem. Take for instance an awful article written in the National Catholic Register, which equates the act of kneeling during the anthem to represent, “[a] show contempt for their country”, “…a slap in the face to people who risked their lives for our country or lost loved ones doing so.”, which, “Corrupts the usually fun and patriotic atmosphere before a football game.” And quotes a Facebook post stating, “They dishonor the real MEN who fought for our country and Died so these boys could act like the babies they are.” This deeper meaning, unconnected, but attributed to the act further broadens the group of people who would be morally troubled by the kneeling during the anthem and how egregious the act is viewed.

      3. It isn’t clear if this is the case or not, but the degree in which people are bothered by the perceived disrespect of kneeling during the anthem seems to be disproportionate to the support to protest in that specific way. If there is the large difference that seems to be apparent than it would amount to people being very angry about the act vs. people being mildly or moderately in support of the act.  The result is that people who disagree would say something like. “It’s his right to make a peaceful protest and I support his ability to do so” vs how those disagreeing might say, “That guy is a son of a bitch who is disrespecting our country, the people that died for America and the heritage of the United States.”  

      It is for those three reasons that I think this is a great issue for Trump as long as he sticks to the act being disrespectful and keeps the opposition fractured by not making it about the overall right to protest. This approach keeps the opposition both at the lowest level of motivation and keeps that opposition group to its smallest population. This is the type of issue that seems great for one side in partisan politics and the type of issue that Trump should take advantage of…conversely, I think the NFL players should stop kneeling for those reasons and find a different avenue for their protests, not because I think the act is wrong (I agree with and have no problem with their actions), but simply because it is an approach that minimizes the positives of their protest.

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