This Saturday I will be approaching the Gettysburg battlefield and preparing to visit for a couple days. Following Gettysburg, I will continue to West Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia to view other battlefields and historical sites in this region — a region that serves as our country’s cradle of history. While viewing these places, you cannot help but wonder at how we have moved and grown as a country — figuratively and literally — so much since 1776. The people of the American Revolutionary period secured for us our independence and our Bill of Rights. The American Civil War era saw over 700,000 men perish in order to preserve the Union and to abolish slavery. We have seen women granted the right to vote and we have seen Civil Rights transform for the better during the mid-20th century. There have been so many more inspiring stories, too numerous to mention here. To me, it is clear: the United States is simply an exceptional country.
Some people do not find the country as exceptional, however, and one of the most visible is former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In 2016, Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem because he was, “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Since then, kneeling for the national anthem has been a point of contention in the hyper-visible arena of professional sports.
Earlier this month, Kaepernick re-emerged again in the news by influencing Nike to remove the sale of their Betsy Ross flag inspired shoe for its “association to slavery.” Nike announced that it removed the shoe to prevent “offending” and “detracting” the 4th of July holiday. The actions and decisions such as those of Nike and Kaepernick fall short of addressing problems and applying valid solutions. Indeed, some "problems" like that of the Betsy Ross Flag, are not problems at all. Instead, there seems to be a general, but fundamental disdain, for not only this country's history and what it was, but also what this country has become in our time.
While I vehemently disagree with Kaepernick, Nike and others on their reasoning and conclusions about the U.S., it is certainly their right to express their thoughts and feelings. And that is the thing; people do have the right to express, criticize and protest up to the highest levels in this country — a right is certainly not afforded in all locations across the globe.
I will acknowledge that our exceptional country does have dark periods of history to contend with. Slavery and race relations are the most obvious, but certainly looking at the positives I listed in the opening, there were flip sides to everything mentioned. However, those flip sides are the point; this country has grown and advanced. Ultimately, our country has faced and triumphed through the toughest questions and periods of history that limited the extension of rights to all.
I will acknowledge that there are imperfect aspects to this country today. Our government is not perfect; decisions at the local, state and federal level can be good as they can be bad, and there can also be a disagreement between what is considered good and bad. As a country, a perfect utopia will never happen, or at least be agreed upon what standard that “utopia” is. The foundation of our country, however, is exceptional, and is worth continuing to defend. There is much to be proud about in the United States.