The NFL’s national anthem kneelers have fallen into liberalism’s biggest trap, and finding Colin Kaepernick on the cover of GQ despite not having played a game in 324 days will not get them out.
The Left is inherently inclined to self-indulgent subjectivity that often alienates the majority they need to win over. Oblivious to this, NFL protestors have taken a knee on liberals’ most dangerous pitfall: Boring instead of persuading.
For an eleventh week, NFL players took to their knees during the national anthem. Although protests were down on Veterans Day weekend and have been decreasing, Thanksgiving offers a chance to reach a new and broader audience and perhaps reinvigorate an effort trending to rigor mortis. Perhaps the kneelers’ attention has followed America’s in wandering away. If so, they too have fallen victim to liberal activism’s existential threat: Boredom.
Saul Alinsky was the godfather of American leftist activism. In his protest primer, “Rules for Radicals,” he describes the Left’s ultimate peril. “I cannot repeat too often that a conflict that drags on too long becomes a drag…After a period of time it becomes monotonous, repetitive, an emotional treadmill, and worse than anything else a bore.” Forty years and 40 yard-lines later, the NFL kneelers have become a case study in Alinsky’s prescient warning.
Why Boredom Is Inherent to Liberal Activism
The risk of boredom is inherent to liberal activism because of its subjective, self-centered approach. It is the Left’s nature to proclaim a problem, but never an endpoint for a solution. Liberals simply take it as given that the vast majority of America must accept the Left’s premise and wait patiently.
The conundrum manifests itself throughout liberals’ agenda. How do we know when the planet will have been saved? When will affirmative-action programs have fulfilled their mission? What exactly constitutes a “living wage?”
Liberals’ amorphous agenda-to-infinity often leads to a muddle of one protest morphing into another with none ever really ending. Any of the Left’s protests can supply evidence of this, inevitably attracting aggrieved comrades until it resembles a Woodstock of Woe. The resulting common perception is that the Left are only happy when they protest. For the majority of America, such constancy quickly appears as futility and then becomes boredom.
Why Are We Doing This Again?
The NFL kneelers have captured—or rather, been captured by—this leftist predicament. Their muddle began at the beginning: Over what kneeling actually means. Kneelers currently say their action is not disrespectful. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated recently the action is not intended to be “disrespectful to the flag.” As he explained, the kneelers “will state to you, and they have stated to everyone publicly, they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag.”
Goodell went on to say: “But they also understand how it’s being interpreted.” No unbiased observer, Goodell would love nothing more than to get his league out of the box kneelers have created for themselves and the league. So he parrots the kneelers’ line while ignoring the problem: It runs counter to the protest’s origins and common sense.
As every NFL fan knows, the kneeling protest began with Kaepernick. When asked last summer why he was kneeling, he was crystal clear. Speaking to NFL Media: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick was explicitly not standing because that he thought that equated to showing “pride in a flag.”
Kaepernick kneeled, then, to show the opposite. However, Kaepernick took it further than just a lack of pride in the flag, to also (and more importantly) a lack of pride in the country it represents. People do not respect what they do not have pride in. So his action intended to express that and visibly differentiate him from those tens of thousands standing around him showing pride in—and respect to—the flag, and thereby America.
So the rest of us are left to ponder the protest’s diametrically opposed contradictions. Are there different factions within it? Despite its originator plainly stating its intent and other kneelers copying him, does it mean different things to different kneelers?
Of Course They’re Protesting the Flag
Of course, the “no disrespect” excuse runs counter to common sense too. The flag is a symbol, as Kaepernick points out and all the kneelers know. This is precisely why they kneel during the national anthem. They could easily have knelt at any other juncture and at any other venue, just as any person could. However, using these countless other opportunities would have lacked the impact that their deliberate ignoring of common treatment of the flag intends to create.
Even Goodell acknowledges that the kneelers “also understand how it’s being interpreted.” Of course they do, because that’s precisely why they are doing it. They could have chosen any other approach and not been “misinterpreted,” and stopped when it was (something the Left immediately demands when its sensibilities are offended).
So how do the kneelers get up? Like liberal protests in general, they have painted themselves into a corner. Having created a cause so amorphous and pursuing it in so self-contradictory a way, there can be no real resolution. There is no objective way to say what it even means, let alone that it has been resolved. They have created a social version of a perpetual motion machine. So there they kneel.
America has moved on from the self-contradiction and repetition. If ever there was a definition for being bored, that is it. And if ever there was a demonstration of it being the Left’s greatest potential pitfall, this it. You do not need to read Saul Alinsky to understand it. Billy Joel summed up the contrast between the kneelers’ self-view and the public’s perception in “The Angry Young Man”: “And there’s always a place for the angry young man / With his fist in the air and his head in the sand… / But his honor is pure and his courage as well / And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell.”