NYT’s Stephens: U.S. Flag Isn’t ‘A Totem’ to Worship; Conservatives Should Get Behind Kneelers

On Tuesday’s Hardball, New York Times columnist and Never Trump diehard Bret Stephens pigeon-holed conservatives opposed to the NFL protests, declaring that the American flag isn’t a monumental “totem like it's the obelisk that descends on planet Earth in 2001: A Space Odysseywhile demanding conservatives get in line behind National Anthem protesters.

Host Chris Matthews also made an appearance in the bias department, touting a Reuters/Ipsos poll showing opposition to President Trump commenting on NFL protests but ignored how the same poll revealed a majority of Americans oppose the protests and believe players should stand.

“Listen to this, 53 percent of adults, according to a new Reuters poll just out tonight, think it's inappropriate for Trump to comment — even comment on how NFL players observe National Anthem. Even comment on it. Unfortunately, we know Trump doesn't go gunning for 53 percent, he likes that smaller percent, in the 30s that's loyal to him,” Matthews argued.

Turns out, 58 percent of Americans stated that they disagree with what the players did and think that they should stand for the Anthem, which is partially in line with the President. Facts can be such stubborn things.

As for Stephens, Matthews teed up Stephens with an introduction opining that Trump (and, by extension, his supporters) were being racist for oppising NFL players kneeling for the Anthem. 

“President Trump has clearly decided that his political livelihood depends on widening this country's racial divide. While he certainly didn't create it, he just as certainly wants to perpetuate and aggravate it. He cheers for division even in the one area besides the military where the most bitter Americans have long honored a racial truce, the world of sports. Why, do we have to ask, does this man keep picking at the scab of ethnic anger,” Matthews screeched.

This led to Stephens oozing self-righteousness toward those he claimed were fellow conservatives while demanding support for the players: “It’s amusing to hear conservatives, I think, rightfully complain about excessive campus orthodoxies and then go berserk over Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players trying to break this other taboo and be iconoclast and champions of freedom in their own right.”

Stephens then offered his take on the American flag’s place in the country:

We don't worship the flag as a totem like it's the obelisk that descends on planet Earth in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We — we admire the flag because of what it represents and the chief thing that it represents, is freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to think unpopular thoughts, despite the booing of crowds or the views of a President intent on rabble rousing.

What’s so absurd about Stephens’s arguments is that he assumes those against the players are onboard with the President calling for their firing. A slogan seen on Twitter (particularly by Ben Shapiro) has been that those against the protests “oppose, but tolerate” them. For Stephens, The Times’s new David Brooks doesn’t seem willingly to accept this.

For Never Trumpers like Stephens, you’re either with the President or against him. No matter the policy, that’s the choice for him and others. Sadly, their bitterness and fallacies don’t match reality.

Stephens later doubled down on his smugness, sarcastically noting how the late Antonin Scalia was in the majority for the flag burning case Texas v. Johnson and thus conservatives should be cool it.

He observed that the anger espoused by the President and his supporters against the NFL players was “quasi-fascism.” How classy. Anyway, here’s Stephens:

[A]nd, so, Republicans or conservatives who think of themselves as constitutionalists who think they have a grip of what this country is about ought to be the first to support this form of protest and to oppose the President instead of going along with the — his whole line about anger is something out of a Peronis or a playbook from the 1930s of populism and a kind of a quasi-fascism. It's unbelievable to hear the President like this and, by the way, the language he used about Colin Kaepernick and I guess, by extension, his mother was stunning and concerning. It would behoove conservatives to wash his mouth with soap.

To show how badly Stephens has been afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome, Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins was far more sober in her assessments. Jenkins is a staple at a large liberal newspaper, so hence why her comments were so refreshing: 

So I think there's two groups of people talking past each other instead of to each other. Both sides are offended. Both sides keep saying but that's not what I meant. So people who defend standing for the Anthem say I'm not a racist, we're not racists to demand you stand for this flag. And then the kneelers in the NFL are saying we are not disrespecting the flag, we are simply asking for this country to be better. And so it seems like both sides could do a little more talking to each other instead of around or about each other. And the President didn't help that happen. 

MSNBC political analyst and former RNC chair Michael Steele placed himself in the same camp as Stephens, cheering the protesters and Kapernick while denouncing Republicans.

“Colin Kaepernick never said, oh, I don't like the flag....It was not anti-flag, it was about the symbol that he could create around this issue and that symbol was one of a prayerful symbol,” Steele claimed.

Prior to Matthews invoking the Reuters/Ipsos poll, Jenkins chimed in:

This bothers fans, there's no question and you can have a perfectly legitimate argument about whether Colin Kaepernick and Kenny Britt and those other guys have closed more ears than they have opened by choosing to do this during the Anthem. That's a very interesting debate that we could have, but, you know, having that debate is more difficult when you have the President basically telling a bunch of young black men shut up and sing.

Here’s the relevant transcript from MSNBC’s Hardball on September 26:

MSNBC’s Hardball
September 26, 2017
7:00 p.m. Eastern

CHRIS MATTHEWS: President Trump has clearly decided that his political livelihood depends on widening this country's racial divide. While he certainly didn't create it, he just as certainly wants to perpetuate and aggravate it. He cheers for division even in the one area besides the military where the most bitter Americans have long honored a racial truce, the world of sports. Why, do we have to ask, does this man keep picking at the scab of ethnic anger? President Trump stirred it up all last Friday, criticizing NFL players who kneeled during the National Anthem. He's double down again and again since then. NBC News reports he told dinner guests at the White House just last night he won't back down and is confident he's on the winning side of this issue.

(....)

BRET STEPHENS: Look, it's amusing to hear conservatives, I think, rightfully complain about excessive campus orthodoxies and then go berserk over Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players trying to break this other taboo and be iconoclast and champions of freedom in their own right. We don't worship the flag as a totem like it's the obelisk that descends on planet Earth in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We — we admire the flag because of what it represents and the chief thing that it represents, is freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to think unpopular thoughts, despite the booing of crowds or the views of a President intent on rabble rousing. 

MATTHEWS: Do you think people on the right or on the left, I’ll ask the same question — do you think they see each other in the same way when they see somebody that's an alt-rightist come to Berkeley to stir up trouble, but that's part of free speech too to stir up trouble, and somebody in a football stadium taking a knee because they don't like the way police have been handling African-Americans over the years, in fact too long. Do they see the polar reality of what the situation they're confronting, which is the need to allow public expression of even unpopular views? 

STEPHENS: You know, conservatives should see it most of all. This is a point that I've been trying to make to some of my fellow conservatives. Texas v. Johnson, 1989 Supreme Court decision on flag burning. Who is the Justice who makes the case that a fundamental right is also the right to burn the flag? It's that well-known, left-wing, progressive crazy Antonin Scalia voting with the majority in that case and, so, Republicans or conservatives who think of themselves as constitutionalists who think they have a grip of what this country is about ought to be the first to support this form of protest and to oppose the President instead of going along with the — his whole line about anger is something out of a Peronis or a playbook from the 1930s of populism and a kind of a quasi-fascism. It's unbelievable to hear the President like this and, by the way, the language he used about Colin Kaepernick and I guess, by extension, his mother was stunning and concerning. It would behoove conservatives to wash his mouth with soap.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, son of a bitch is a great phrase coming out of the mouth of our president. Anyway, I think — I hate flag burning. Bret, I don't know you well and I guess that's why it works because so many of us do hate it. But that's why people burn the flag, because they know we hate it. 

(....)

SALLY JENKINS: So I think there's two groups of people talking past each other instead of to each other. Both sides are offended. Both sides keep saying but that's not what I meant. So people who defend standing for the Anthem say I'm not a racist, we're not racists to demand you stand for this flag. And then the kneelers in the NFL are saying we are not disrespecting the flag, we are simply asking for this country to be better. And so it seems like both sides could do a little more talking to each other instead of around or about each other. And the President didn't help that happen. 

(....)

MICHAEL STEELE: This is not a protest about the flag and never has been. Colin Kaepernick when he first raised the subject raised it around a particular issue. Colin Kaepernick never said, oh, I don't like the flag. What he said was I'm concerned about the violence that's occurring in the black community, the tension between police and the black community, and his only way to really bring that to the nation's attention was to do something symbolic. It was not anti-flag, it was about the symbol that he could create around this issue and that symbol was one of a prayerful symbol. I mean of all things, if you want to be disrespectful to the flag, the last thing you do is take a knee, to take a genuflection a sort of reverent posture. You would be much more militant. 

MATTHEWS: Well, this isn’t militant.

STEELE: Thank you. We've seen militantcy toward the flag in the past. 

MATTHEWS: Oh, raising your fist in the air. 

STEELE: Exactly. 

MATTHEWS: How do you defend your Republican Party on this here?

STEELE: I don't. 

(....)

JENKINS: This bothers fans, there's no question and you can have a perfectly legitimate argument about whether Colin Kaepernick and Kenny Britt and those other guys have closed more ears than they have opened by choosing to do this during the Anthem. That's a very interesting debate that we could have, but, you know, having that debate is more difficult when you have the President basically telling a bunch of young black men shut up and sing. 

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, 53 percent of the American people don't like what you just said. That he's telling people to shut up and sing. Listen to this, 53 percent of adults, according to a new Reuters poll just out tonight, think it's inappropriate for Trump to comment — even comment on how NFL players observe National Anthem. Even comment on it. Unfortunately, we know Trump doesn't go gunning for 53 percent, he likes that smaller percent, in the 30s that's loyal to him and they're probably on the opposite side of this particular poll. It's great having this diverse group on. 

NB Daily Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats Protesters Sports MSNBC Hardball Video Sports Sally Jenkins NFL Bret Stephens Chris Matthews Michael Steele Donald Trump
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