In the last two weeks, America has learned that a bevy of heretofore relatively uncontroversial objects and ideas are, in fact, extraordinarily controversial. We have learned that the Betsy Ross American flag is irredeemably racist. We have learned that Disney casting a black woman as Ariel in the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” is supposedly supremely disquieting for a racist America. We have learned that opposing federally mandated forced busing means that you are a secret bigot, so long as you are named Joe Biden.
Or perhaps we haven’t learned any of those things. Perhaps all of this is nonsense, and we’ve merely learned that Americans are angry, that they’re channeling that anger in increasingly bizarre directions, and that opportunists of every stripe are willing to take advantage of that anger for their own benefit.
Take, for example, the Betsy Ross flag. Not only was Ross an abolitionist Quaker; the flag has flown for centuries as a symbol of a country that fought the single bloodiest war in its history to abolish slavery. The flag flew at Barack Obama’s inauguration. Not until the last five minutes was someone cloddish enough to suggest that the flag represents slavery and racism — until Nike announced that it had canceled the manufacture of a Ross-inspired shoe at the behest of failed NFL quarterback and national anthem kneeler Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick, whose knowledge of politics is approximately as accurate as his downfield passing game, apparently taught Nike some tough lessons about American history (not about sweatshop labor, however). Thus, the sneakers were withdrawn, and a weeklong controversy ensued about the supposed evils of the Ross flag.