The US Women’s National Soccer Team has once again refused to honour the national anthem of the country they claim to represent. This is a deeply divisive action that will further stoke the fury of many who believe this disrespects America, and in turn encourage their defenders. Behind this back-and-forth, however, there is a very real danger in these sorts of stunts. Far from merely being embarrassing distractions, they tear at the heart of the United States in a way most of the participants likely don’t begin to understand.
The greatest strength of the United States lies in our name: We are united. Aside from that, what makes a country a country; a people a people? For much of the short, four-hundred-year history of the modern state, countries have been tied together by a shared border and language, yes, but also a shared history, shared mores and values and laws, shared myths and legends, national heroes and religious identity.
In contrast with most of Europe’s states, the United States has been home to different languages, religions, ethnicities (and their disparate cultural traditions) essentially since its founding. With this we’ve built a civic religion around a very recent and concrete founding, uniting the people under its heroes, a Constitution, a once-seemingly-omnipresent flag, and an anthem.
These symbols are essential because they unite us, rich and poor, black and white, immigrant and framer, Catholic and Baptist. These are existentially important because despite the insistence of a mindlessly popular modern mantra, diversity is not a strength. Far from it: diversity is a great weakness.
This sort of thing might seem to hard to understand under the New Zealand sun, when the latest popular cause is being amplified by social media and spearheaded by a domineering teammate. When left to fester, our differences drive us apart, manifesting in the disturbing images on display in France this summer, or the United States the summer of 2020, or England the summer of 2011. When left to fester, they weaken us to external threats as well.
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“All of us need an identity which unites us with our neighbors, our countrymen,” Common Sense Society co-founder and philosopher, the late Sir Roger Scurton, told the BBC in 2008. “Those people who are subject to the same rules and the same laws as us, those people with whom we might one day have to fight side by side to protect our inheritance, those people with whom we will suffer when attacked, those people whose destinies are in some way tied up with our own.”
Protests like these are meant to divide. They mean to turn sports – a last gasp of American unity – into a political maelstrom. They aim to undermine the few things a divided country still shares common cheer over. They mean to sully our symbols and our heroes.
The results of their divisions are clear. In 2004, for example, at the height of the Bush years, 74 per cent of white Americans, and 68 per cent of black Americans told Gallup that race relations in America were good. By 2021, those numbers stood at 43 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively. We are a nation divided, and much weakened for it.
Symbols aren’t mere distractions, and those who busily tearing them down offer no substitute because unity is not their goal. If we aim to maintain this great country, we must jealously defend our unity. In dark days, it is our greatest strength.
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