Commentary: Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism

George Washington said we must “guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” Criticizing NFL players for exercising their right to peacefully protest, attacking the judicial branch of government and implementing policies that go against the core values of a nation built by immigrants are not signs of patriotism. All of these are signs of faux patriotism because they go against the principles that this country was built upon.

Let’s start by thinking about faux patriotism in terms of football. Football is the quintessential American sport and is an important aspect of social identity for many Americans. President Trump has called the NFL players who kneel during the national anthem “disrespectful.” He even went so far as to call for a boycott on Sept. 24, 2017, when he tweeted, “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”

Let’s set the record straight: Trump’s criticism of NFL players for exercising their First Amendment rights is not patriotic. NFL players are taking a knee to protest excessive police brutality against the black community, which they absolutely have a right to do. Freedom of speech is one of the many rights that men and women in the United States have fought and died to protect. The current administration’s attitude towards freedom of speech with NFL players who protest during the national anthem shows that they do not understand, nor do they respect, our rights to freedom of speech and expression.

Faux patriots point out that it is disrespectful to the flag to kneel during the national anthem, however, as former player Eric Reid pointed out, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture … our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.” The protest led by these NFL players is a peaceful protest to show respect to the black community, not to disrespect the American flag.

Trump has not only attacked our country’s core principles, such as freedom of speech, but also our country’s institutions. Specifically, when Trump tweets about America’s “so-called judges,” he is undermining the very systems that are put in place to check his very own power and to improve and ensure the lives and safety of Americans.

Our nation was built on a system of checks and balances. The judicial branch of the United States government serves to prevent the abuse of executive or legislative power and, as such, the power of the courts was one of the most important concepts put forth by our founding fathers. Attacking the judicial branch means threatening our system of checks and balances.

Another proud tradition that is currently under attack is immigration. Immigrants have played a central role in contributing to many of the achievements and institutions that make this country great. However, the Trump administration has been opposing virtually all forms of immigration to the U.S., using discriminatory policies such as the travel ban and child detention centers at the border. This is directly contrary to the principles laid out by our founding fathers, which explicitly state that our country was founded on the belief that all men are created equal and we are all endowed with inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Additionally, many provisions in the Constitution use “people,” or, “person” instead of “citizen,” so the Constitution legally applies to all immigrants. Infringing on those rights violates the rule of law in accordance with one of our country’s most important legal documents. These rights applied to the immigrants who founded this country, and still apply to new immigrants today.

Last month we celebrated our nation’s 242nd birthday, and the rights and freedoms that it stands for. Recently, there has been an attack on our nation’s core values and institutions in the name of patriotism. However, I would consider this faux patriotism. True patriots should recognize our rights to freedom of speech, the importance of our government’s system of checks and balances, our national identity as a nation of immigrants, and our promise that all people are endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Beau Bown is a communications intern at Alliance for a Better Utah and a student at Utah State University. He is set to graduate next spring with a major in history and a minor in leadership and management. 
This commentary originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here
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