Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, protesting what he – and others – perceive as unaddressed racial inequity in this country is refusing to stand during the national anthem before football games.
Kaepernick’s behavior is permitted by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, protecting free speech – defining certain “actions”, for example burning the American flag, as included elements of free speech.
What does it mean that certain behavior is “protected”?
It means you cannot be arrested for engaging in it.
Beyond that, it is “Katie, bar the door!”
Ask Natalie Maines, lead singer of “The Dixie Chicks” who proclaimed onstage that she was ashamed that (then) president George W. Bush was from Texas and her career suffered irreversible battering.
Ask Eugene V. Debs, an early unionist (Oy!) and eventual Socialist (double Oy!), jailed for protesting America’s entry into World War I. (Although he’s dead, and you’ll have to wait until later if death works that way and people are hanging around somewhere so you can talk to him. Assuming Mr. Debs is still interested. I mean, “I’m dead. Do we really have to go into that?” While you’re at it – because you are not all that busy when you’re dead… I imagine – ask the convicted felons of the “Alien and Sedition Acts” of 1798, which forbade, under punishment of imprisonment, well… free speech, a mere ten years after they passed a constitutional amendment saying it was protected. (Maybe they had simply “moved on.” “‘Free Speech.’ That is so 1780’s.”)
The Early Americans were statistically shorter than us. I did not realize they had shorter memories as well.
Allow me, before I begin writing in my own words again, to quote Mark Twain, tackling the “downside” of free speech, published – by deliberate design – posthumously:
“In this Autobiography I shall keep in mind the fact that I am speaking from the grave. I am literally speaking from the grave, because I shall be dead when the book issues from the press… I speak from the grave rather than from my living tongue, for a good reason: I can speak thence freely…. It had seemed to me that I could be as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter if I knew that what I was writing would be exposed to no eye until I was dead, and unaware, and indifferent.”
Twain’s Cautionary Warning: In the matter of free speech while you are alive? As they say in California,
So there’s that documented impediment – you speak freely and things change for you and your loved ones in a distinctly negative direction.
Americans are by nature and temperament a reasonable people, not oblivious to core intentions fitting uncomfortably together. “You are free to say whatever you want.” And “We are free to make you pay for it for the rest of your life.” A smart chipmunk can see the practical difficulty in that.
Though apparently not the sitting members of the House Un-American Activities Committee of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.
To name just one group of constitutional amnesiacs.
There is, however, a more subtle strategy for shutting people up, one leaving no embarrassing “giveaway signs” of blatant hypocrisy or the traditional tar and feathers.
The alternate strategy which I call, because I can’t think of what else to call it:
“The Closer Downer.”
You invalidate the utterer of unpopular – or at least unwelcome – pronouncements with labels indicating a deficiency not in their pronouncements – because that takes wisdom and work, and besides, people are free to say whatever they want to – but because of their political, cultural or temperamental affiliations, disqualifying their opinions because, based on the labeling, “What else were they going to say?”
(Note: I am not talking about pejorative characterizations – like “idiot” or “nincompoop” – but ones that are discernably trickier to dispute.)
Consider this (admittedly incomplete) list of characterizations capable of stopping a contrarian conversationalist’s momentum dead in its tracks. (“Contrarians” in both directions, positive and negative. Oh, and in the “muddled middle”, of course, as well.)
Somebody makes an assertion you diametrically disagree with.
You immediately call them:
An irredeemable optimist
A dispiriting pessimist
An insufferable “numbers cruncher.”
An equivocating fence sitter.
A killjoy (Or, more colorfully, “Captain Bring-Down”)
Out of touch with reality
A “bleeding heart” liberal
An uncaring conservative
Painfully out of touch
To name just eighteen of them.
How do you successfully counter these critiques?
“No, I’m not!”
They’d just append another word to the opprobrium:
You may fight back, proudly and persuasively, but for all intents and purposes, the conversation is over. If you’re smart, you heave a surrendering sigh and you look for your coat.
The “free speech ”exterminator.
And there is nobody to blame.
Except the speaker themselves.
For foolishly opening their mouths in the first place.
Before they were dead.