Editor’s Note: Carrie Sheffield, a conservative commentator, is the founder of Bold, a digital news network committed to bipartisan dialogue. She is also national editor for Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog organization, and a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum. The views expressed here are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.
With his reported objections to the “Betsy Ross” flag design on a pair of special-edition Nike sneakers, former NFL star Colin Kaepernick is likely helping President Trump win reelection by reminding swing voters in middle America just how narrow-minded so many elite tastemakers have become.
Kaepernick, a Nike endorser who famously kneeled during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality, told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol he and others consider offensive, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Nike had already delivered the shoe to retailers, but asked stores to return them to the company. In a statement to CNN Business, the company said, “Nike made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”
It’s clear Kaepernick and many progressives have learned nothing from 2016 about divisive, left-wing rhetoric and the alienating effects of hurling insults and labels at anyone who doesn’t buy into a politically correct groupthink that ignores broader truths.
Former President Barack Obama himself warned against a “certain kind of rigidity” among progressives. And two Betsy Ross flags, which feature 13 stars arranged in a circle, were prominently draped behind Obama on the US Capitol during his 2013 inauguration.
Why would the first black president allow the same imagery that Kaepernick and others find offensive since it dates to a time when prominent Americans held slaves? Because that flag stands for something astonishingly wonderful and revolutionary – a nascent country that allowed commoners (not all at first, as it would take many years for universal suffrage to become a reality) to vote and participate in their government rather than remaining subservient under a monarchy.
That was a dazzling concept for its time, despite Kaepernick’s efforts to dim it through his culture of shame and anger directed at our Founders — flawed human beings who were, for their day, bold innovators paving the way for a nation that empowers and protects women, people of color, the disabled and other marginalized groups toward inspiring heights.
Critics of the Betsy Ross flag point to occasional use by fringe racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, for example. But by rejecting the flag, Kaepernick is conceding the symbol’s far deeper and more meaningful history to those whose ideologies belong in the garbage bin.
And yes, Kaepernick is right that America’s “original sin” of slavery was an evil stain in our history. After his objections to Nike’s sneaker design, Kaepernick marked the holiday by sharing a July 4 video on Twitter that included images of slavery alongside more recent footage of police shootings to suggest that social injustice and racial oppression are still major problems. Kaepernick also included a quote from abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?
When analyzing the very problems Kaepernick is concerned about, it’s important to note that President Trump ushered in landmark criminal justice reforms and continues to make this a key priority for his administration. Critics claim that Trump’s staunch opposition to a crime-ridden New York City in the 1980s makes him a hypocrite today. But Trump wasn’t the only person calling for tougher policing and harsh sentences — many black leaders did as well, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus who supported efforts to crack down on drugs and violent crime. As black conservative writer Jason Riley points out in his book, “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed,” black leaders demanded stricter policing to protect urban areas, and many supported the Bill Clinton-backed 1994 crime bill.
Now that the violent crime rate has fallen since it peaked in the early 1990s, leaders from both parties are working to correct a pendulum that swung too far in some areas. Kaepernick’s inflammatory messaging ignores all this nuance and context.
And by taking Frederick Douglass’ powerful speech out of context, Kaepernick does a disservice to a young audience that might be unaware that Douglass gave the speech when slavery was still legal, or that the abolitionist ended his speech not with the dystopian nihilism seen in Kaepernick’s video, but with optimism.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) reminded the former NFL player that Douglass said, “I do not despair of this country … I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”
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Many Trump voters who are proud of America’s heritage and acknowledge its deep imperfections won’t be persuaded by Kaepernick’s rejection of a patriotic symbol like the Betsy Ross flag. In fact, similar controversies will likely push them to continue support for the President in 2020. If Kaepernick wants to reform our criminal justice system and address racial injustices, there are far more substantive actions he can take to achieve real policy results, including working with the White House, where he has reportedly been invited to attend a summit on race, according to Pastor Darrell Scott, who told me he never heard back from the former NFL player.