The Centre Will Not Hold

“So essentially what we can get out of this is we butchered our plan to sort of have a response for the national anthem and respect everyone’s opinions.”

-Alejandro Vllanueava

I’m sharing this as evidence in support of the proposition that “the center will not hold.” This proposition is taken from the start of Yeat’s once famous poem, The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I’m not a fan of Apocalyptic predictions, having grown up terrified of them, made solid and plausible by the reality of the Cold War and the unfolding destruction of Nature. Still, reading this transcript of Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva attempt to explain how he ended up by himself saluting the flag during the national anthem, while the rest of his team stayed out of sight, I was struck by a very particular and potent sign that the Apocalypse is nearly upon us.

Villanueva became an instant hero on the Right, alt and otherwise, as a former Army ranger who held true to the respect for country they regard as one facet of essential morality. I haven’t really looked into it, but I’m guessing he earned equally instant condemnation from at least some on the Left, for taking a stand for white supremacy. There, in a nutshell, is why I’m feeling pessimistic as regards the Centre’s prospects.

The physical geometry of Villanueva’s stand tells it all, in light of his explanation. We couldn’t see it at the time, but the rest of the Steelers were just behind him in the tunnel. Their positioning was the result of the interaction of two factors:

  1. Coach Conlin’s rule that whatever they did, they would do together as a team.

  2. The team’s inability to decide on a single response that respected everyone’s opinions.

The tiny sliver of overlap between team unity and individual conscience manifested as Villanueva positioned exactly where he was, standing just outside the tunnel, saluting the flag, with his teammates just on the other side of the divide, out of sight behind him. It strikes me that that sliver of distance between honor and protest just isn’t enough space for a proper national Centre. The Centre will not hold because it has no place to stand.

This morning I saw a shared image of a tweet, in which the tweeter warned people not to let the white supremacists make “taking a knee” a protest against America itself, because it’s really a protest against police brutality. This tweet provides a perfect example of why there’s no place for a Centre.

In psycho-social terms, the Centre is what used to be called – once famously so – Common Sense. This sense doesn’t require any particular specialized knowledge. It’s the sort of sense that is sufficiently developed just by living a life. Given the critical role played by Thomas Paine’s pamphlet in galvanizing the perspective that led to the Revolution, I think we are on quite solid ground in regarding “Common Sense” – at least ideally – as the basis of the American Centre. America, as indeed democracy, is premised on the idea that there is such a thing as Common Sense, and this is the best apprehender of political truth.

And if you take off whatever ideological commitment you have for a moment, you might see that it’s not all that obvious to Common Sense what exactly taking a knee during the national anthem is a protest of. Like a pussy hat, it takes a particular ideological education to understand the message; and even then, there’s bound to be intense disagreement of where exactly the protest ends.

My hypothesis is that ideological partisans will inevitably rationalize the failing of the Centre, the disappearance of the common ground of common sense, as the epitome of the opposing side’s propaganda. Don’t let the fascists tell you that taking a knee during the national anthem is a protest against the country that national anthem is supposed to represent. It’s actually a critique of a discrete evil within the nation, not the nation itself!

A similar criticism was leveled, en masse, against Trump, when he posed the perfectly obvious question of where the deprecation and destruction of monuments to racist founders would end. How could anyone be so dumb, millions chortled, as to not understand the difference between the slaveholding founders of the Confederacy and the slaveholding founders of America. The former – they declared with the exasperation of someone having to explain something absurdly obvious – committed treason, while the latter founded a country.


Of course the demolition of the founders of America as patriarchal, genocidal, racists has long been the established basis of the American Left. Hating the America represented by the flag is the only decent thing to do. If you want a very thorough explanation of this, I suggest Shelby Steele’s startlingly clear analysis of recent American political history in Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country.

Point being, protest against the American System in total has been imminent and immanent for well nigh 50 years, though we have been kept in a political/media bubble wherein the War in Ideological Heaven was softened into a well-developed language of dog whistles. The Apocalypse is just the manifestation below, in our daily lives, of the ideological war long raging above, on the level of ideas.

Common sense has been watching this war through the corners of its eyes for decades. So, we might understand if it doesn’t quite feel confident of and comfortable with the limits of the protest involved in “taking a knee”; particularly in a climate where the interpretation of these obscure symbols is taken as revealing whether an individual is good or evil.

Whether it’s Pepe the frog or taking a knee, it seems that the obscurity of a symbol is intimately tied to its danger and power.

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