In the excellent Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg reminds us of an early fascist enterprise under the Franklin Roosevelt administration, the Blue Eagle program. Craftsmen, unions, stores, and manufacturers were expected to post this symbol of compliance with the American “war on the Depression” as a unifying brand for the nation. As with every effort to “unify” the nation from the top down, it came with an ominous tone and the threat of force.
[National Recovery Administration head, Hugh] Johnson’s favorite means of promoting compliance with the Blue Eagle were military parades and Nuremberg-style rallies. On September 12, 1933, Johnson harangued an audience of ten thousand at Madison Square garden, vowing that 85 percent of America’s workers were already under the authority of the Blue Eagle. The following day New York City was nearly shut down by a Blue Eagle parade in honor of “The President’s NRA Day.” All Blue Eagle-compliant stores were ordered shut at 1:00 p.m., and the governor declared a half-day holiday for everyone else as well. Under the direction of a U.S. Army major general, the Blue Eagle parade marched from Washington Square up Fifth Avenue to the New York Public Library, where it passed a reviewing stand upon which stood Johnson, the governors from the tristate area, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
If the Blue Eagle program were alive today, Jerry Jones and Roger Gooddell would be the grand marshals in its first parade. Indeed, the Philadelphia Eagles were actually named after the program.
The NFL’s preference has long been that its players stand for the Star-Spangled Banner before its games, but now retaliation has been threatened for those who don’t, in violation of league rules. Jones, owner, general manager, and tedious puppeteer of the Dallas Cowboys, said anyone who is “disrespectful to the flag” will not play.
Never mind that kneeling is by definition a sign of respect. Never mind that national anthem kneeling began when Colin Kaepernick met with a former player and Army veteran who suggested it was a respectful way to continue his awareness campaign against racism and police brutality. Never mind that half the attendees at NFL games have their hands on their junk in the bathroom or on a beer at the concession stand while the anthem is being played. Never mind that you (yes, you) are sitting on your couch at home while the anthem is being played.
The NFL is now beginning to threaten its employees for not engaging in coerced political speech. It doesn’t matter how much you or the public at large support the Star-Spangled Banner, the military, or the flag. Those things are symbols and champions of freedom, not coercion.
Mandatory patriotism is one of the major tenets of fascism. Per Goldberg:
In 1919, at a Victory Loan pageant, a man refused to stand for the national anthem. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” ended, a furious sailor shot the “disloyal” man three times in the back. … In February 1919 a jury in Hammond, Indiana, took two minutes to acquit a man who had murdered an immigrant for yelling, “To Hell with the United States.” … Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but it has been estimated that [during the Wilson administration] some 175,000 Americans were arrested for failing to demonstrate their patriotism is one way or another. All were punished, many went to jail.
Patriotism should be encouraged, not required. Fortunately, the Supreme Court now agrees. It has been unconstitutional since 1943 to force public school students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance (itself another relic of fascism).
Privately owned football teams are governed by different rules, of course, but the principle is the same. Employers in most states have the right to fire employees for any reason they choose, work related or not. But the technically legal status quo should not be the threshold of our moral calculus.
It is wrong for the President of the United States to call for the firing of anyone who is not sufficiently patriotic. It was wrong for Wilson, it was wrong for Roosevelt, and it is wrong for Trump. It is wrong for NFL owners and the league to threaten the same. And it is actually illegal for the former to influence the latter to do so.
President Trump has been called a fascist since the day he launched his election campaign. I disagreed. Maybe his proposed military parades will finally settle the question, and the active roster of the Dallas Cowboys over the next few weeks should tell us if it’s spreading.