Nike and Betsy Ross' Flag: The Left Salutes Tribalism

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One of the primary drivers of America’s success as a country involves our steadfast refusal to fall into the tribalism that afflicts much of the world. America, unlike so many nations, finds its identity not in “blood and soil” but instead in broad agreement on a set of core principles. Those shared beliefs formed the core of our founding. Tenets of our common creed include individual liberty, free-enterprise economics, tolerance, and the inalienable rights elucidated in our Constitution. Also deeply embedded in our national psyche is a reverence for our great flag, to a unique degree among modern nations.

Sadly, elites of entertainment, big business, and politics look askance at this reverence and view our common respect for such a symbol as a hindrance to the balkanized America they promote.  Rather than hundreds of millions of individuals united in principles, they seek a society demarcated by factions that share outward physical characteristics, especially race.

This contentious crusade toward tribalism reared its ugly head again with Nike acquiescing to the demands of the politically correct mob: Ahead of July 4th, it recalled a new line of athletic shoes commemorating the original Betsy Ross flag that was delivered to Gen. Washington during the American Revolution. Nike endorser Colin Kaepernick objected that the founding flag of our country represents racism because America then allowed slavery.

Without remotely excusing the inhuman evil of slavery in our land, it is important to acknowledge that slavery was quite literally a global norm until about 200 years ago. Thus, such thinking would condemn any flags or symbols older than a couple of centuries as intrinsically racist in meaning.

Moreover, our country paid an incredible price later to right the historic wrong of slavery. Though the Founders clearly punted on the issue at the birth of our republic, seven decades later our Union spilled rivers of blood to achieve emancipation. On the low end, historians estimate 360,000 Union troops died in the Civil War. Adjusted for population growth, that number is equivalent to present-day America losing over 5 million people in battle.

This staggering sacrifice represented the first foundational step on a long, and often bumpy, road toward racial justice. But in 2019 America, race is becoming increasingly insignificant as our country increasingly lives out our principles and focuses on the mind and character of our fellow citizens, rather than externalities.  For example, interracial relationships have become totally unremarkable. This country, which once viewed blacks as property, elected a black man to the Oval Office -- twice, in fact. The most admired woman in America, per Gallup polling, is his wife, and No. 2 is the self-made African American mogul Oprah Winfrey.

None of these advancements suggest the eradication of racism, a disease of the heart that will always exist in our imperfect world. But the legal and cultural reality of our country today totally belies the incendiary scare tactics of race hucksters among Democratic politicians and their media allies who utterly invent a society beset by virulent racism.

In this world of woke projection, even the original Old Glory transforms somehow into a symbol of oppression. Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro declared that he was “glad to see” Nike’s recall, adding, “There are a lot of things in our history that are still very painful.”  What exactly, Mr. Castro, is “painful” about the flag that represents our upstart nation rebelling for freedom from the tyranny of a dictatorial king across the ocean? On MSNBC, Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson actually compared the Betsy Ross flag to such symbols of venomous hate as the Nazi swastika and burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan.  During my Tuesday night appearance on Chris Cuomo’s show, my CNN colleague Bakari Sellers defended Nike with the preposterous smear that “this country was built on white supremacy.”  In response I pointed out that present-day America is actually an amazing place to be a minority. In fact, people of color (like me) embrace many distinct advantages today, particularly in key areas such as advanced education, government contracting, and corporate vendor programs.

But why does such heated and misbegotten rhetoric emanate from the left?  Why must they falsely insist that 2019 America somehow reflects Jim Crow Mississippi in 1950? The answer lies in politics and a callous determination to electorally divide and conquer. Rather than debate policy and try to persuade voters to adopt the failed ideologies of statism, the Democratic Party now seeks to foment racial division, to stir up resentment, and to concoct a grievance ethos that will scare minorities and shame whites into voting for the left.

This pernicious blueprint explains, for example, the fixation of liberal elites to constantly deride President Trump as a racist, without evidence. Moreover, simply slandering the president as bigoted entails a far easier lift than the actual hard work of expanding opportunity for Americans of color, as Trump continues to do.

The duplicity of the radical left is personified by the initiator of this present flag imbroglio, Colin Kaepernick. He first claimed that prejudice and political bias prevented NFL teams from hiring him, conveniently ignoring the 1-11 win/loss record he compiled as a starter in his last season in 2016.  Similarly, Kaepernick and his sympathizers insincerely claimed that his national anthem protests objected not to the U.S. flag but rather to police brutality. Well, this aversion to our Revolutionary War ensign proves otherwise.

In point of fact, Kaepernick should stand proudly to salute our founding flag. The banner sewn by Betsy Ross spurred soldiers then and now to fight for an experiment in liberty and opportunity. The nation it represents, though highly imperfect, still embodies the exceptionalism of the American experience. To remain exceptional, we must not fall prey to the seductive group-think of tribalism that the left seeks to inflict.  Instead, in the afterglow of another glorious birthday celebration for America, we must believe anew, because there is no DNA test for American nationalism; it is, rather, a commonality of beliefs. 

Steve Cortes is a contributor to RealClearPolitics and a CNN  political commentator. His Twitter handle is @CortesSteve.

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