As a professed Golden State Warriors fan since the early ’70s, I am enjoying immensely the discussion that has them under consideration as an NBA dynasty. But with all the Warriors recent success, there is a legitimate criticism suggesting their biggest adversary is their self-induced complacency.
Complacency is a natural byproduct of unbridled success. One is less likely to see where they can improve, tempted to gloss over any weaknesses and ignore valid critiques.
Is America going through a democratic complacency? Have we been a democratic dynasty for so long that we take the constitutional values that have been grandfathered to us for granted?
We freely toss around free speech as if it were a catch phrase or shibboleth to justify the position we hold without any appreciation of its value or meaning.
For roughly a week, the public chattering class was consumed with NFL owners passing a rule that players must stand during the playing of the national anthem or remain in the locker room until it was completed. This was the shining object that mesmerized our attention until Roseanne Barr had her hit TV show canceled by ABC for sending out racist tweets.
I find the actions of the NFL owners to exemplify tone-deafness of the highest order. In my view, they transmuted the original reason for kneeling into something it wasn’t in order to pacify their comfort zone and economic interests.
One of the myriad arguments against players kneeling was that it was an unhealthy exhibition that comingled politics and sports. Isn’t playing the national anthem, however one feels about it, already comingling sports and politics?
The playing of the national anthem, which coincidently celebrates its centennial anniversary this September, began with the 1918 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. It was played in Chicago during the seventh-inning stretch to assuage fans that questioned why these young men were playing baseball rather than serving their country embroiled in the First World War.
Not to be outdone, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, the same Harry Frazee who had the brilliant idea to sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, decided to play the national anthem before the game.
One could therefore posit the origins of the national anthem were the result of politics and public relation. But none of this history makes current NFL owners guilty of constitutional usurpation.
Many supporters of players kneeling were having none of it, when I had the temerity to offer on social media the ban was not a free speech issue.
One individual responded with the following:
“I’ve never known that constitutional privileges were limited to certain locales … institutions … or circumstances. Where do I learn more about your assertion?”
To learn more about my unique assertion, one need only read the first five words of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law…” Applying constitutionally protected free speech in the workplace would be akin to my demanding free speech rights growing up in my parents’ home.
This is increasingly a common phenomenon in American public discourse, climbing the greasy poll of constitutional misappropriation to justify one’s position.
This is also reflective of a collective complacency, where strident opinions rooted in our myopic suppositions are preferred over judicious discourse, dominated by warring factions that only agree as to the illegitimacy of the opposition.
Arrogantly seeing ourselves in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln, we justify temporarily tearing down the existing democratic guardrails in order to preserve them for the long term.
We rest in naïve confidence that because America is not threatened by violent overthrow its democratic values are secure. But America is threatened by a more insidious adversary, created by our own complacency, assuming this radical enterprise will live in perpetuity void of ongoing and active cultivation.
For all the aspects that make America unique from other democracies, it is not immune from implosion. I don’t fear some imminent authoritarian takeover, but I am concerned that arrogance in the form of our increased willingness to stand beyond the guardrails as democratic centurions utilizing a single narrative to protect America from itself.
America is the most difficult and complex project on the planet. Eschewing homogenization, it has placed its fortunes on a concept not duplicated in human history. It is when we seek to truncate that concept into the limited contours of our finite understanding is when problems arise.
If there is not a single origin, ethnicity or social location, how can there be a single narrative? There should be organic discomfort emerging from varying perspectives. Difference is not deficient. But complacency is the corrosive agent that can turn dynasties into yesterday’s memories.
Rev. Byron Williams is one of the leading public theologians in the nation. He is a columnist, author, and adjunct professor at Wake Forest University. He is also host of the NPR-affiliated broadcast The Public Morality. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism, 1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility, and the forthcoming The Radical Declaration: An Enlightened Ideal Learn more >