Our country once again
finds itself in the middle of a heated debate drawn largely along racial
lines. President Trump, calling any NFL player who protests during the
national anthem a “son of a bitch” met with widespread opposition over
the weekend from professional athletes across the country, many of whom
demonstrated their opposition by kneeling, joining hands or staying in
the locker room while the national anthem was played before Sunday's
But in the midst of the crossfire, there exists a middle ground. It’s
possible to oppose both Trump’s rhetoric and demonstrations of
disrespect to our national anthem, just as it’s possible to acknowledge
a constitutional right to disrespect the anthem while criticizing the
exercise of that right. They are two separate issues.
In many ways, the kneeling protest is emblematic of a dark shift in
protest politics. Black Americans have a long history of speaking out
against injustice, but our indignation with specific issues in America
never shook our love of country. In his most famous speeches, Martin
Luther King always had hope in the fundamental good of America — even
during times when our nation fell short of guaranteeing equality for
all. In fact, in 1964, 87 percent of blacks said America was worth
fighting for. Now things have changed.
The conversation is no longer about making America truer to its creed.
It’s about whether racism is built into the fabric of America. And if it
is, shouldn’t we all kneel during the national anthem and discard our
American flags? And shouldn’t I resign my commission as an Army officer
and quit serving a country that is unequivocally dedicated to white
As is the case with most contemporary questions, an honest review of
history illuminates an answer.
If Frederick Douglass, born into slavery, could sharply criticize the
sins of America while still believing in her fundamental goodness, how
much more should we do so today?
In a few months, America will celebrate the bicentennial of Frederick
Douglass’ birth. As a young free black, having recently escaped the
bondage of slavery, Douglass joined the ranks of other New England
abolitionists of his day who, following the lead of the abolitionist
journalist William Lloyd Garrison, believed that the Constitution was
inherently a pro-slavery document that undergirded a fundamentally evil
nation worth dissolving.
Douglass wrote in his autobiography, “The Life and Times of Frederick
Douglass”: “Brought directly, when I escaped from slavery, into contact
with abolitionists who regarded the Constitution as a slaveholding
instrument, and finding their views supported by the united and entire
history of every department of the government, it is not strange that I
assumed the Constitution to be just what these friends made it seem to
But after bravely deciding to write his own periodical — a first for
blacks at the time — Douglass’ views changed:
“My new circumstances compelled me to re-think the whole subject … By
such a course of thought and reading I was conducted to the conclusion
that the Constitution of the United States … could not well have been
designed at the same time to maintain and perpetuate a system of rapine
and murder like slavery, especially as not one word can be found in the
Constitution to authorize such a belief.”
It’s not easy to miss the extraordinary irony of the situation. An
educated free black disagreed with the great white abolitionists of the
day and made a point that America’s founding document was not inherently
racist — even at a time when millions of blacks were still in chains. He
believed in America. If Frederick Douglass, born into slavery, could
sharply criticize the sins of America while still believing in her
fundamental goodness, how much more should we do so today?
Martin Luther King Jr. followed suit, often citing the Constitution and
the Bible to condemn segregation. Like Douglass, King essentially
exhorted America to be more American by truly living up to its creed
that “all men are created equal.” But if a call to American values freed
the slaves and ended segregation, it can lead to positive outcomes for
It’s for that reason that I proudly put on my uniform every morning in
service to our great nation. It’s also why #takeaknee is not only
disrespectful to the men and women who died for our freedom, but
antithetical to black history. If the past is any indication, it will
take a higher degree of patriotism and more celebration of American
values to truly ensure equality for all Americans.
Jeremy C. Hunt is an active duty U.S. Army officer and Leadership
Strategist for the Douglass Leadership Institute. His articles have
appeared in the Washington Post, the Hill, and Fox News. Follow him on
Twitter @jeremy_c_hunt1. The views expressed in this article are those
of Jeremy C. Hunt only and not those of the Department of Defense.