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Oh, Say Can You Read?

September 29, 2017

I have a friend, a native-born U.S. citizen, an honest, smart and ardent communist, who voted for Donald Trump because he thought Trump would bring about the destruction of our political system. I’ve got to say he called it.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

I have a friend, a native-born U.S. citizen, an honest, smart and ardent communist, who voted for Donald Trump because he thought Trump would bring about the destruction of our political system. I’ve got to say he called it.

As my favorite Republican columnist David Brooks wrote this week for The New York Times, Trump “has a nose for every wound in the body politic and day after day he sticks a red-hot poker in one wound or another and rips it open. Day by day Trump is turning us into a nation of different planets. Each planet feels more righteous about itself and is more isolated from and offended by the other planets.”

Outside of outright collusion with a foreign enemy, what better policy is there than that to weaken and subvert a country?

And for what?

Let’s look at the latest controversy, about professional football players kneeling as the national anthem is played before NFL games.

This is not disrespect. Kneeling is a symbol of submission.

Let’s look at the issue, rather than stomp on people involved in it.

Francis Scott Key wrote a poem, the “Star-Spangled Banner,” in 1814, after seeing the British attack Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

It was set to a tune which John Stafford Smith, an Englishman, had written for his men’s social club in London. Originally, the tune was known as the Anacreontic Song, named for Anacreon, a Greek poet of the fifth century B.C., who was famous for his drinking songs.

Smith’s tune was known, then and now, for being hard to sing, because of its range of an octave and a half. Smith, by the way, was an early collector of the works of J.S. Bach, with whose country England had been, and would continue to be, at war.

The “Star Spangled Banner” did not become our national anthem until 1931, under President Herbert Hoover. Its glorification was a way to give the country some pride, and bring us together during the worst days of the Great Depression.

Before then, our unofficial national anthem was “America the Beautiful,” whose melody is identical to “God Save the Queen.”

The history of how the anthem has been used in the United States is a history of political opportunism. It was not played regularly at baseball games until 1918, during the Great War, at the 7th inning stretch, then eventually at the beginning of games.

When the war ended, the song fell out of use at baseball games until 1942, during World War II.

No one remembers, or dare point out today, the racist words of the song’s third stanza: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / from the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave.” This was an overt attack upon the black slaves who had fled their owners to become “hirelings” to the British.

Today’s bogus, manufactured controversy over black football players kneeling during the national anthem calls to mind similar phony controversies about schoolchildren who prefer not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

The pledge was written for schoolchildren by a Baptist minister in 1892, for the 400th year of Columbus’ arrival in the Bahamas, which is still a member of the British Commonwealth.

The phrase “under God” was added under President Eisenhower in 1954, to distinguish us from the godless Soviet Union — more political opportunism.

The first constitutional challenge to making schoolchildren stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance was resolved — Hah! — by the Supreme Court in 1942, in West Virginia v. Barnette, in which Justice Robert Jackson wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

A number of Supreme Court rulings have addressed “enforced speech,” generally siding against it.

If standing for the national anthem is not enforced speech, I don’t know what is.

And if the president of the United States demanding that employees of private corporations be fired for their speech is not interference with interstate commerce, then I don’t know what that is, either.

I’m not a communist, like my friend, but he’s right on this one. Donald Trump is destroying the United States government, and tens of millions of our fellow citizens seem to like it.

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