Opening Our Ears, Eyes and Mouths

flat,800x800,070,fThere is a video of four little babies loving and hugging one another that has gone viral. It is a precious demonstration of the innocence that is in our human natures that sometimes becomes twisted and ugly in some of our fellow humans as they grow into adults. I suspect that the clip is popular because it reminds us of how we dream for the world to be, devoid of bigotry and hatefulness. Sadly we know that no matter how hard we wish for such a reality, it will probably never completely occur, but what if we did indeed have a way of extending the goodness that lies in our hearts just a bit more? Would we do our best to make such a thing happen or would we choose instead to take an easier path in life?

We have seen instances of people throughout history who have decided to be the change they desired to see in the world. They did not turn away from challenges to demonstrate love and justice, and often they were ridiculed and even persecuted for their courage. Jesus showed us the way and the truth about how we should all live, and for his efforts he was nailed to a cross and killed as though he was a common criminal. Abraham Lincoln held fast to a belief in the dignity of all men and was murdered. So too did Gandhi die because of his determination to speak for those without a voice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead his people to their rights as humans and citizens of this country all the while understanding how dangerous it was to do so. The greatest individuals of all time have overcome their fears to stand up for goodness, but there have also been instances when those unknown to us have been unafraid to be noble. Every single day someone somewhere is facing down evil and moving the dial just a bit closer to the kind of loving perfection that we all wish to see.

I find it heartbreaking when we witness hurtful behaviors and we simply allow them to happen. We turn our backs, close our doors, draw the blinds, pretend that we did not see or hear the transgressions. We do not wish to invoke the ire of the people around us. We don’t want to make waves, and so we remain quiet, making excuses for those who embarrass or hurt others with their actions. These days we even invoke the premise that the end justifies the means, even as those means are truly vile. We advocate strength in numbers and informally join groups even when those groups do things that we know are wrong. We don’t wish to be shunned, so we allow the infractions to occur, pretending that they really aren’t so bad even when we know that they are.

It is when the vast majority of us close our eyes and put our fingers in our ears in the face of a wrong that evil takes root among us. The leap from being a highly educated and cultured society to gassing innocents for simply being of a certain kind is not all that great, and when it happens we realize that we have lost control of a situation that might have been stopped if only we had been forthright in the beginning. History has taught us time and again that the line between civilization and anarchy is often very fine, and bullies will take advantage of our failure to enforce it.

I have tried to give the president of our country the benefit of the doubt. I have wanted to believe that perhaps his comments have been sensationalized by a press that does not like him, but far too often he gives me little reason to support him in his baseless tirades against certain groups of people. I’ve thought that perhaps he does not know how to properly voice his ideas properly because his vocabulary and knowledge seems so limited, but now I simply think that he is in truth a very mean spirited person, a bully, and a bigot. What bothers me even more than the horrible things that he says is that there are actually those who applaud his ugly ideas, and sadly some who dislike what he says but are unwilling to say so.

The most recent example of this came from a discussion of how to deal with immigration, a topic that has brought out some of the most egregious comments from the president. The fact that he used a guttural term like “shithole” to describe certain countries was not as horrible as the inference that it would be preferable to limit immigration to those who come from so called better places. The meaning behind such statements is appalling knowing that there was once a time when my own grandparents and mother were thought to be unworthy of citizenship in this country by prejudiced individuals who called them dirty and ignorant. They came from a part of eastern Europe that has historically been thought to be home to lazy people not worthy of admiration or respect. My mother never fully forgot the sting of the insults and rocks hurled at her for no reason other than her heritage. It is painful to me to consider that the leader of our country would still be categorizing people based on their nation of origin, economic state, or educational opportunities rather than seeing each of us as equal in the eyes of God. I had thought and hoped that such thinking was a thing of the past, but I have learned that I was wrong.

What truly worries me is that so few of the men and women in the Republican party have remembered the model of Abraham Lincoln and risked their careers to say and do what is right. Some who have no trouble standing up to the wrongful thinking of Democrats seem to have become sheep with regard to President Trump. If they actually agree with his sentiments, then they are a very cold hearted group that has forgotten what this country was supposed to represent to the oppressed peoples of the world. The message that they are sending is not one about protecting the American people and our way of life, but one of exclusion and prejudice. No matter how the president’s remarks are parsed or what exact words he used it comes back to the idea that we don’t want to provide opportunities and safety for citizens who do not fit a certain profile, and I have to strongly disagree with that kind of thinking.

I have written my two Senators and urged them to step forward and demand that the president cease and desist his campaign of disgusting pronouncements, but I have little faith that they will even read my comments much less act on them. In the meantime we are hurting and demeaning individuals who like my grandparents only want a chance at a fair shake.

This country was not founded by the squires and noblemen of Europe, but by the second sons, the downtrodden, the persecuted, those who realized that their home countries held little promise for them. Over time they came to our shores one by one eager to make something of themselves, and many did just that Their resumes would not have been likely to enchant someone based on merit, but they proved themselves when given a chance. This has been the exceptional story of our nation. This is what has made us great to this very day, not some imagined vision of isolation and unwillingness to learn from one another.

We cannot build walls around ourselves and expect to thrive and find happiness. It didn’t work when kings built moats and stone structures and it won’t work now. The world is a vibrant place with ideas pulsing in every corner. A truly visionary leader understands that we have a place in the larger community, not if we hold sway over everyone else, but by becoming part of the conversations about what each of us has to offer. We were at our best when we saw ourselves as helpers rather than dominators. We changed the world with our goodness, not our brute strength. Every time we have become confused about our role it has gone badly, and right now our president seems to think that a he alone knows how to keep our country safe. History shows us the folly of such thinking, We can’t keep looking away. It’s time for all good men and women to come to the aid of our country. We have to open our eyes, our ears, and our mouths.


What Would Jesus Do?

15245699_GHer name is Rosa Maria. She is ten years old and has cerebral palsy. She’s just had gallbladder surgery and is being released from the hospital with her aunt by her side. She wears a pair of pink fuzzy slippers and a balloon waves over the hospital bed on which she is being transported. She is confused and frightened because an armed man walks behind her. He is a member of ICE and is taking the little girl to a detention center because she is an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States when she was only three months old. Her mother brought her across the border so that she might get the medical care that she will need for all of her life. Her grandfather and her aunt are legal and they take her to her appointments just as she was brought to San Antonio for her recent surgery. She will go to the detention center without her aunt or her mom. She will be kept there, alone and wondering what is happening. It can’t be easy for her. She is young and innocent but she is being treated like a criminal.

Maritza lives in northeast Houston. She attends Furr High School and is one of the top students. Her modest home flooded when hurricane Harvey dumped fifty one inches of rain on Houston. The rooms are now empty and life is difficult for her family, but Maritza’s mom urges her to make the most of each day in spite of the family’s problems. Maritza is also an undocumented immigrant. She was planning to enroll with the government to extend her grace period for being here. Because of the rains Maritza was unable to meet the deadline for submitting the paperwork. She had been waiting for information from her school, but it was so damaged that it did not open in time for her request to be honored. Now Maritza worries that she will be deported and all of her hopes and dreams will evaporate. She had been on track to attend a Texas university and earn a degree, the first in her family to do so. She is a good girl who had nothing to do with her illegal entry into the country. She has studied hard and worked to be a model citizen even though that distinction is not offered to her. She had hoped that Congress would offer an extension to the young undocumented students of Houston, but they have refused.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that it is not compassionate to offer amnesty to those who have broken the immigration laws. He and the President and many members of Congress concur that those who flaunted the rules must pay for their crimes. So Rosa Maria and Maritza and others who have known no other home than the United States presently live in fear of being sent to countries of which they have little or no familiarity. Their lives have been upended and they continually live in fear of the moment when someone will knock on their doors and take them to a detention center just as was done with Rosa Maria. Their ultimate fates are uncertain, dependent on a Congress that has shown little inclination to work together to accomplish anything, much less pass a permanent law that will protect them. They worry that they will become victims of the current anti-immigrant ardor that has taken hold of so many citizens, most of whom care little about the personal stories of those affected.

There is a kind of coldness of heart, a meanness that is sweeping the land in a so-called effort to make America great again. Many citizens view the immigrant situation through a narrow lens that does not allow for exceptions. Surprisingly a fair number of those who are so adamant that the undocumented should be sent to their original homes have never even met any so called illegals. They have little idea of the human cost of decisions that do not consider the unexpected consequences of their thinking. They suggest that they might be willing to offer a DACA like law for the young people, but only if it includes the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico and if there are strict penalties for those who came here without documentation as adults. Sadly it appears that none of those things will garner enough votes to pass, and so the fates of Maritza and Rosa Maria and others like them hang in the political balance.

I live in the Houston, Texas metropolitan area. It is estimated that that ten percent of the students in the Houston Independent School District are undocumented and were brought here by their parents at a time when they wee too young to have any idea of what was happening. They have lived here for the entirety of their lives and know no other ways. They speak English and have adopted many of our customs in addition to those of their parents. They cheer for the Astros, the Texans, the Rockets and the Dynamos. They wear western gear when the rodeo comes to town. They enjoy going to movies and shopping at the mall. They have friends at school and teachers who care deeply about them. They like to eat Whataburgers and buy groceries at HEB. They feel as American as any of their peers and yet they hide the secrets of their situations. For a time after President Obama signed DACA through an executive order they felt safe. They began to dream. Many of them went to college and earned degrees. They have been working and living decent and productive lives. Now a shadow hovers over them. They have no idea what they will become of them. President Trump gave Congress six months to pass legislation to fix the problem. The clock is ticking and no solution appears to be on the horizon. Nobody seems willing to budge from their ideologies to help them. They can only wait and hope but their fears grow with each passing day.

Rosa Maria still sits alone in a detention center without her mother or the love and protection of her family. It is heartbreaking to attempt to imagine what a nightmare this all must be for her. It is difficult to understand how uncaring the adults who have done this to her appear to be. Sometimes we need to remember that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. One of the last acts of Jesus before He died on the cross was to forgive the thief who expressed his sorrow. I have always believed that this was a very purposeful act designed to show us that how we also should behave and to help us understand that nobody should be forever doomed for actions done in the past, particularly when they had no control over what happened. If we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” I have little doubt that the answer is couched in mercy.

It’s past time for all of us to demonstrate enough compassion and trust in our fellow man to grant people like Rosa Maria and Maritza the peace of mind that they so need. We must urge our Congresspersons to think beyond their own prejudices and find it in their hearts to model kindness for all of us. I have grown weary of the fighting and ugliness that so permeates our world. It’s time for a change and this is a good place to start.

Sticks and Stones


The English language has the power of being beautifully expressive, poetic. At the same time it can be curt, crass, hurtful. Changing the order of words or punctuation sometimes drastically alters the meaning of a sentence. When phrases are uttered nuances in intonation transform them into vocal images. Throughout history there have been individuals with astonishing capabilities for using words to clarify, inspire, affect. These have been the authors, poets, teachers, speakers who have used their facility with language as art, education, and political persuasion. The best among them leave legacies that are studied and revered from age to age. The variety and elegance of language makes it an instrument of profound possibilities. Unfortunately when words are in the hands of someone who does not know how to use them as they were intended they become vehicles of confusion and even hurt.

I have a major in English, but became a mathematics teacher. I believe that my adequate abilities in connection with my native language helped me to explain and demystify concepts using words that my students were able to understand. I consider my facility with expression to be well suited for most of the tasks in which we must convey our thoughts. Nonetheless there have been multiple occasions in which what I was attempting to communicate was totally misunderstood. This generally happened when I was addressing a large group or in those moments when I chose to write down my ideas. Without body language, facial expressions, and opportunities for clarification it is more likely than not that confusion will occur. Because I realize that such possibilities exist I try to carefully analyze and measure my words before making them public so that I will not damage feelings or foment anger. In spite of my efforts I am almost certain that the sentences that I craft may not always be taken in the ways that I intended, and so I do not ever feel personally attacked if a reader or listener finds fault.

A source of great pride for my mother was that she was masterful with the English language. I suppose that it stemmed from the fact that her parents were immigrants whose facility with English was either lacking or nonexistent. Her father demanded that she and her siblings speak in the national tongue and develop comfort with it. By the time she was in high school she was lauded by her teachers for having an imposing command of vocabulary, grammar, usage and punctuation. She had the eye of an editor and the ear of a college professor when it came to finding mistakes in sentence construction, spelling and pronunciation. I suppose that she passed this affinity for language down to me and my brothers because I never found it difficult to write and speak properly. I’d already had one of the best instructors at home.

We are accustomed to witnessing a certain level of refinement in both the orations and essays of our presidents. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is remarkable in its brilliance and the brevity with which it illuminates the rights of mankind. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is both moving and inspiring. We still quote John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan’s speech to the nation after the Challenger explosion was exactly the message that we needed to hear.  So it is with a certain level of consternation that we realize that President Donald Trump struggles with expressing himself in a coherent and intelligent manner. As long as he is reading a prepared document he is fine, but as soon as he is speaking off the cuff his deficiencies become all to apparent.

If I were attempting to help President Trump to improve his writing and speaking abilities I would first address his lack of an extensive vocabulary. We all overuse certain words and phrases but his limited stable of words is dramatic. He struggles to move beyond descriptors such as “big, biggly, huge, fantastic, really good, the best” and so on. His statements lose impact because he is so often at a loss for more edifying vocabulary.

The other problem that is perhaps the president’s major flaw is that he does not elaborate enough to clarify his remarks. He leaves so many ideas to be inferred that the imagination goes to notions that he probably never intended. Because of my background as a teacher I often find myself filling in the blanks of his utterances. I translate what he has actually said into what I believe that he has said. I suspect that I’m rather good at doing that because even when he is misunderstood and has to back track to explain himself I have usually been correct in my original assessment. The trouble is that not everyone takes the time to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt by attempting to discern what he may have meant, and so he finds himself causing a stir again and again. Usually he becomes so frustrated that he eventually hurls insults at those who have questioned him and his good intentions blow up in his face.

Another terrible habit that the president has is exaggeration. It goes to those favorite words of his and speaks loudly of his personality. He has to win, be the best, come out on top. Every oration becomes a power play reminding me of the child in the classroom who needs constant attention and adulation. Because President Trump demands to be the center of the universe he will even resort to lies at times just to appear to be more grandiose. I don’t understand how he thinks that we won’t recall what he has said in the heat of the moment. Like a child boasting on the playground he will resort to insult  if necessary just to be in control of the discussion. He uses words like weapons rather than healing agents. His art of the deal always seems to come down to an insistence on a “my way or the highway” kind of negotiation.

While some may find his ways of expressing himself refreshingly honest I see his mauling of language as an embarrassment. He is in such a powerful position that every word matters, and as of now he appears to be making far more enemies than friends. It may take years for the nation to recover from the trauma that he dispenses on a daily basis. Most of the damage he is inflicting need not happen if only he were to develop a more diplomatic tone, especially when attempting to comfort a Gold Star widow or when dealing with an allied nation.  He really does need to forget the chip on his shoulder and remember that none of what he does is about him. It should instead be about addressing all of us in a more honorable and selfless tone.

I wasn’t born yesterday. I know when someone is pressuring me to accept his/her point of view. Sadly each time President Trump speaks I feel as though I am in the presence of someone who is desperately attempting to sell me a bill of goods. My brain almost instantly turns off when he becomes abusive or combative. What he says does not touch either my heart or my head and yet I have suspected for some time that somewhere inside the mangled thoughts that he professes there is actually a very good heart. I have seen flashes of his compassion and desire to please us, but until he sets aside his own needs for those of the country he will continue to stir controversy over utterances and tweets rather than actually getting things done. He somehow doesn’t realize or just doesn’t care that some of us want him to be successful, but simply can’t abide by the vindictive sound of his interactions with those with whom he does not agree.

I know that my advice to our president will fall on deaf ears. He is who he is, but I think he might be better. Other men and women have risen to the challenges of their moments in history and guided people with eloquence. Winston Churchill comes to mind when I think of someone who changed himself and saved a nation. His words became a buttress against tyrants. He momentarily set aside his own needs to become the voice of freedom and steadiness in a world gone mad. How I wish that President Trump would take a page from Churchill’s life and use his words to inspire rather than hurt. I don’t suppose that I will ever see that, but I can wish.


How Do We Talk To The Children?

landscape-1445910041-g-talk-555173815We turn on the television to watch a couple of football teams duke it out on the gridiron and before the first play begins we see many of our heroes kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. It angers some of us, and others appreciate that every citizen enjoys the freedom to protest. We begin a national discussion that sometimes devolves into an argument about how we should react to this development. Our president insinuates himself into the commentary using a pejorative to address the athletes that he finds offensive and suggesting that those who dare to insult the country should be fired. We line up to take sides. Some turn off their televisions and vow to never watch the NFL again. Others celebrate the rights of Americans to exercise their freedom of speech regardless of whether or not we agree with their sentiments. Many simply shake their heads and attempt to ignore the whole thing. In the midst of all the brouhaha we wonder what we should tell our children. How should we explain to them what is happening?

We live in a country that was founded with a rebellion against the perceived tyranny of a government that had lost touch with the needs of the people. At first there were merely demonstrations of dissatisfaction with the ever growing demands and limitations being placed on the colonists in America by a king and parliament too removed from the realities of daily living in the strange faraway place that seemed so rough and wild. Eventually the whispers and grumbles took on a more daring turn with rebels pouring tea into the Boston Harbor and concerns becoming more and more vocal and strident. Then came the shot heard round the world, the volley that began a war for liberty. It was a treasonous time when the leaders of the revolution risked death by hanging to create a nation far different from anything the world had ever before seen.

Perhaps it was a fluke that the ragtag band of revolutionaries somehow managed to defeat the most powerful nation in the world at that time. Whatever the case they found themselves freed from the dictates of a government that had often ruled without consideration of the people, ordinary citizens who had insisted that they it was their birth right to have a voice in how they were to be treated. The new nation needed a Constitution, a set of rules to guide the decision making and management of a disparate group of people. The document that they created was at once both brilliant and imperfect, but it held the seeds for eventually moving toward a more inclusive and more perfect union. More than two hundred years later we still have work to do. We have had to face the hypocrisy of having been a democracy that allowed humans to be held as slaves and denied that women had the same rights as men. It took us perhaps to bit too long to remedy those situations, but we eventually managed to become more inclusive. In the meantime the residue of problems not adequately addressed from our government’s beginnings continue to demand attention, and so we have protests from some of our star athletes. Just what is it that they want?

If we begin with the individual who first remained seated during the playing of the national anthem we find that he was concerned that there is still racism in our country. He believed that in spite of a civil war, a civil rights movement, and civil rights legislation there are still too many people in our country who do not receive the same level of equality as those who have held the privileges of liberty from the beginning days of our nation. He worried that many whose ancestors were once slaves are more likely to be brutalized or even murdered by law enforcement officers. He wanted to bring attention to these issues and so he remained seated. After a discussion with a member of the army after his first demonstration he changed his tactic to going down on one knee out of deference to those who have served our country in the military. His point was not to show a lack of respect for our flag, our national anthem or our veterans, but to shine a light on issues that he felt we need to address as a nation.

This athlete’s cause had lost its energy to a large extent until President Trump made remarks at a political rally in Alabama that some felt were out of line and threatening. He called out any athletes who demonstrate their dissatisfaction by taking a knee and referred to them as “sons of bitches” who should be fired from their jobs. His remarks were well received by some citizens and abhorred by others. A national disagreement has ensued resulting in ever more professional athletes joining in the revolt by kneeling in solidarity with teammates who had been quietly protesting. So what is really going on here? Who is being patriotic and who is treasonous? How should we respond?

Let us start with a bit of the history of our national anthem and our pledge of allegiance. First it must be noted that we did not have a national anthem until March 3, 1931, when Herbert Hoover signed a law deeming The Star Spangled Banner to be our national song to be sung at official gatherings. Several other tunes had been in the running and the winner was selected by a rather narrow margin. We might just as well have been singing America the Beautiful, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Yankee Doodle, Hail Columbia, or My Country Tis of Thee all of which were finalists in a contest that began with a cartoon from Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not fame. It seems that on November 3, 1929, Mr. Ripley registered his amazement that the United States was one of the few countries in the world that did not have an official anthem. He urged his readers to write Congress asking the lawmakers to rectify this omission. More than five million people sent letters and the search for a fitting song ensued. Even after the decision was finalized there were many who were gravely disappointed by the ultimate choice and others who felt that if the Founding Fathers had wanted to formalize an anthem with all of its ritualistic insinuations they would have done so. Since that had not happened many took it to be a sign that the founders did not approve of such things. Nonetheless we had an official anthem and slowly but surely it became a fixture of American life.

The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag did not happen until 1942, when some citizens began to worry that the large numbers of immigrants who had come to this country might not understand the true nature of our nation. It was used mainly as an educational tool for children rather than a symbol of patriotism. The original version was written by a socialist newspaper editor and did not contain the words “under God.” That phrase was added in the nineteen fifties, so the history of pledges and anthems is a rather recent cultural phenomenon. Many religious groups exempted themselves from participating in such rituals because they felt that they should only swear their loyalty to God and not to a country.

So here we are today taking sides or ignoring the dust up altogether when the truth is that we can’t be certain that those who wrote our Constitution ever intended for our country to enshrine such symbols as indicators of patriotism or a lack of it. The protestors themselves insist that their intention was never to be disrespectful but to take advantage of their rights of freedom of speech as it was written in the First Amendment. Perhaps when discussing all of this with our children we would do well to attempt to determine how our leaders have interpreted that right over the history of the United States. So forthwith are a few quotes of merit. I will let the words of the individuals speak for themselves.

If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. —-George Washington

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech. —-Benjamin Franklin

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we stand by the President right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people. —-Theodore Roosevelt

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear. —-Harry Truman

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. —-Elie Wiesel

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. —-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Read to your children. Look up ideas together. Discuss issues from both sides. Dialogue with them without rhetoric or preconceived notions. Teach your children to open their minds to new possibilities. That is what they need. That is how to talk with them about what they see happening.


In the Course of Human Events


Back when I was teaching in South Houston I had unusually large numbers of students who were Seventh Day Adventists. They were particularly sweet, hardworking and respectful pupils who made my job so much easier. I always appreciated that their parents had taught them values that included being thoughtful and compliant with regard to my classroom rules and routines. Mixed in with them were a number of hardcore gang members who seemed ready by their very natures to challenge me and thus divert my time and attention from the task of conveying and facilitating knowledge to all of my young charges. The gang members stood out with their swagger and their stealth ways of showing their allegiances. The children devoted to their particular religious tenets made themselves known in another way that we teachers accepted not as defiance but as their right with regard to certain features of the Bill of Rights. Namely, they sat quietly in their seats each morning while the rest of us stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

It was a given that their unobtrusive gesture of belief was something to be respected and perhaps even admired, and so nobody ever questioned their right or even their intent. There were no discussions, nor judgements. Instead we simply did our thing each morning and they did theirs. For me there was something quite beautiful about the freedom of it all, and the fact that we honored their freedom without making a big deal out of it. None of those kids had to have any form of proof of their religious belief on file. They might just as well have simply been frauds who took advantage of our largesse. We understood that it was really none of our business to question their views one way or another. It simply was what it was and it all passed quickly and without incident every single morning.

Over time I worked in many different schools and there was always the accepted actuality that we would not force our own religious or political or social beliefs on our students. We were to be respectful of individual thinking one way or another, and for the most part all of my colleagues defended the freedoms of the students, mostly without fanfare or drawing embarrassing attention to students who required special dispensations. We understood the importance of being fair and impartial.

Now a huge brouhaha has been dusted up over some rather inappropriate comments from the President of the United States of all people regarding players in the NFL and other sports who choose to take a knee rather than stand for the National Anthem. It is unfortunate that our leader appears to have neglected to thoroughly read and understand the full contents of the Bill of Rights, for it is rather clear that those athletes have as much right to make a political point by refusing to stand as my students did. The President may not agree with them or even like what they are doing, but to call them “sons of bitches” and suggest that they be fired is way out of line, and all Americans should call him out for doing so, regardless of their feelings about the players’ methods or intent. The fact is that the athletes have a right as Americans to express their discontent, and instead of mocking them our leaders should be proud that the Constitution with its Bill of Rights is still working as it was intended to do.

Of course the owners of the teams also retain the ability to employ whomever they wish. Players are regularly sent packing for a host of reasons, most of which deal with their abilities to perform their duties well. In truth if one of the owners wished to require their employees to stand during the opening ceremonies of each game he/she would be well within the guidelines of employment, but they need not respond to the whims of the President in making such determinations. It was wrong of President Trump to intimidate the owners with his remarks and his tweets which were undoubtedly made to garner political capital.

The question of how best to define patriotism has been argued since the very beginnings of the United States of America. There are those whose ideas are more narrow and confining. They insist that we will work best as a republic if we all agree to always honor our country and our leaders. Others feel that what is best about America is the ability to voice concerns without retribution. They see symbolic resistance as the highest form of patriotism, for it harks back to the Founding Father’s insistence that no authoritarian government has the right to tread on the rights of the individual. Our country began with revolution against a tyrannical government. The writers of the Constitution were determined to make certain that no one individual or group would have the power to insist that we think in lockstep. In this regard President Trump has overstepped his bounds. While he too has the right to disagree with the athletes who are mounting a protest, he surely is wrong when he disparages them for exercising their rights as citizens. Furthermore, his bullying tactics with regard to the team owners are both embarrassing and questionable. He would do well to retake a Civics course before mouthing off so publicly. He might also consider reacting the way we did when I was teaching whenever we encountered individuals whose beliefs were different from ours. We always understood that it was their right to question conventional thinking, and that our duty was to provide them with a safe space for doing so.

We will each react a bit differently to the protests among our professional athletes. The Constitution provides us with the protections to do so. We may turn off the games if we feel strongly enough. We may join them in taking a knee. We may even just choose to quietly ignore the whole incident and celebrate the wondrous idea that we have the power to make our own choices regarding such things in this country. It does not defile our national honor whenever any citizen exercises his or her rights. In fact it dramatically demonstrates that we are a truly free people.

Our military has fought for liberty from the time that those first shots were fired at Lexington and Concorde. We haven’t always created a perfect form of government, but we have worked hard to make it better. We haven’t always chosen the right sides, but we have somehow been able to recover from our mistakes and improve our ways of doing things. We will never reach the goals of a more perfect union if we are unwilling to pause now and again to question the way we do things and to discuss methods for being certain that every man, woman and child has a voice and a sense of security.

Our Founding Fathers were radicals in the world in which they lived. Their ideas were audacious for the time. I suspect that if they were around to comment they would insist that the players be allowed to have their moment to shed a light on issues that worry them. They would also encourage President Trump to be less domineering and pejorative, and far more willing to stop his tirades long enough to find out why these men feel so strongly about their concerns that they are willing to endure the wrath of their fans and the leader of the nation. It’s time for all Americans to insist that our president work for the good of all, not just the few that form his base of voters. That is what our founders intended, and that is the way it should work.

Frankly I am weary and I know that most of my fellow Americans are as well. I agree with Senator John McCain that it is well past time to dispense with all of the quibbling and attempt to remember what this country is supposed to be about. It’s a watershed moment in which we must set aside our hatefulness and invective and begin again to consider the diversity of needs that we have. Most of all it should be the duty of all to protect our First Amendment rights regardless of our own beliefs, for they are far more important than pledges or anthems or routines. Sometimes in the course of human events it becomes necessary to speak out.