Two images stand out from the national anthem wars, and neither has anything to do with the overindulged NFL millionaires. The first is of West Virginia coal miner Josh Stowers, proudly and loudly singing the national anthem with his co-workers before a shift that would take them deep underground to do one of the most dangerous jobs. All were standing, with their helmets off, hands over their hearts.
If any group in America has the right to feel aggrieved, it is these Appalachian coal miners. For more than a century they have been exploited by profit-obsessed mineral companies and the vagaries of an economy that one minute craves their product and values their work, and the next has no use for either.
They know what it means to lose homes, to face hunger and hardship, to see their dreams for their children crushed under the weight of a pink slip and their own futures ruined by a signature on a piece of legislation in Washington. And to sacrifice their health for a paycheck.
Yet they still believe in America, and in their ability to live free and prosper under the flag the national anthem honors. So they sang it with pride on their faces and genuine love of country in their hearts.
The second image is from the Ann Arbor City Council meeting, where four democratically elected officials chose to kneel during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. These kneelers, I suppose, saw their pretentious gesture as an act of courage.
But since it’s Ann Arbor, there’s no political consequence for showing disdain for America. Elected by fellow travelers from a town dripping with privilege and smugly comfortable in its uniformity of thought, they have little first-hand experience with the injustices they’re protesting. In this academic bubble, the absurd concept of microaggressions had to be fabricated to provide pampered denizens with the requisite claim to victimhood and a reason to feel guilty.
If the council members were kneeling to support those like Stowers, who truly have been shafted by bloodless capitalism, they needn’t have bothered. Stowers and others who live in a world without scholarships, research grants, speaker fees and sabbaticals know that life isn’t fair. But they don’t take that as an indictment of the American system.
They’re still chasing the dream, convinced that if it can come true anywhere for them, it will come true here. They aren’t as naive as the elites think they are; they know America has flaws. But they also know it isn’t broken. And that its greatness lies in the goodness of a people who keep striving to get this glorious experiment right.
These miners live in hard places, far away from Ann Arbor’s salons. They also have lived through hard times. They haven’t been fooled into their patriotism, or conned into thinking that their hard work will someday deliver a better life. That’s at the core of their value system.
At the start of this national anthem foolishness, I heard a commentator warn it would lead to a normalizing of contempt for our country. That proved true at the Ann Arbor council meeting. But not in coal country, where Josh Stowers is proud to be an American.
And America should be damn proud of him.
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