BreakPoint: Trump, the NFL, and Us

America’s Descent into Triviality

Could it be that our fascination with the story is more important than the story itself? President Trump, the NFL, and us.

Last week was a week full of headlines. On Wednesday, the president, speaking before the United Nations, said that if the U.S. “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Later that day, Hurricane Maria crossed Puerto Rico from southeast to northwest, dropping upwards of forty inches of rain, including fourteen inches in a two-hour period, which may be a world record nobody wants to own. More than three million American citizens were left without power or water, and face a humanitarian crisis.

Oh, and somewhere in there was another failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But by the weekend, the story that most Americans seemed to care about was a feud between the president and professional athletes.

By now, you undoubtedly know more than you need to know about that feud—I mean that literally—and I don’t want to contribute to a problem I’m about to decry. So for details, I’ll direct your attention to a fine piece by David French in the National Review.

But we’re still left with the question about why this discussion is consuming so much of our national attention when there are issues far more deserving that we are increasingly disinclined to care about.

I suggest the reason was the subject of a 1985 book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” by the late Neil Postman. Postman, the founder of New York University’s Media Ecology program, wrote about our culture’s “vast descent into triviality.”

Comparing George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Postman concluded that Huxley had proved to be more prophetic. Whereas “Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information, Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.”

Whereas “Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us, Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”

The consequences of becoming the sort of culture Huxley predicted was on full display this weekend. Namely, as Postman warned, by caring about things that aren’t important, while being distracted from things that truly are important.

We live in an age where the phrase “Instagram celebrity” can be said with a straight face. Historian Daniel Boorstin’s definition of a celebrity—“someone who is well-known for his well-knownness”—is now truer than ever. In such a culture, as Postman forewarned, being popular is confused with being important.

As Bill Brown, Senior Fellow for Worldview and Culture at the Colson Center has long said, “In other times and places, heroes made history. In our time and place, they make CD’s and touchdowns.” And yet, we are the people who know their lyrics and stats better than our own national history or Constitution. We can name the judges of “The Voice,” but not those on the Supreme Court.

Postman also worried that our desire for entertainment and distraction would rob us of our ability to think critically or to even think for ourselves at all.

Here’s a case in point: David French rightly asked how many people yelling ‘free speech’ for athletes are only too happy to sic the government on the tiny few bakers or florists who don’t want to use their artistic talents to celebrate events they find offensive?”

It is amazing just how prophetic Postman has proven to be, even though he was writing years before Internet or social media, and only a few years after cable television. He knew we were embracing self-destructive habits of the soul, and he tried to warn us.

But listening is not nearly as amusing as a Twitter war, and requires much more sustained attention than watching a football game.

Lord, have mercy on us all!

 

 

Trump, the NFL, and Us: America’s Descent into Triviality

Postman’s insight on our culture’s ability to idolize the trivial and gloss over the important is a wake-up call that reverberates even in the Body of Christ.  Pray that we recognize the difference between the insignificant and the significant, between the temporary and the eternal.


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  • Harold

    It would seem that we have arrived, just as he predicted.

    • Gene Dullen

      It is quite interesting how my fellow Christians talk about this issue as if it were really a matter as simple as sitting or standing for the flag. Clearly, the issue is the abuse toward and the infringement of the rights of a selective group of citizens as stated by the, now, notorious Colin Kapernick on several occasions. Subsequently, he has denied any intention of offending the military by his actions. However, that continues to be spun in the “fake news” media outlets for propaganda.
      Moving forward, my major concern relates to the Christian response in these matters. In following, I wonder how idols and idolatry has failed to make honorable mention as it seems to be what has governed much of the response toward those that are taking a knee. I don’t hear significant conversation about blessing and doing good to their enemies or those that are in opposition to their points of view (Luke 6:27-36). It appears we are standing as if we’re not soldiers for Christ as much as we appear to be controlled by civilian affairs and seeking to please country rather than Christ Jesus (Ref. 2 Tim. 2:3-4). There are no calsl for prayer and understanding on either side of this issue. If so, they’re whispering…Moreover, some Christians have offered what appears to be little more than politically correct dissentions from President Trump’s profanity laced attacks while honoring the foundation of his sentiments. It appears that the things that are so abhorrent in the sanctuary on Sundays and Wedsnesdays are acceptable in the political arena or in expressions for “God and Country.” I can only imagine how double-minded the church appears to the lost. Additionally, it appears, to me, that God could be revealing just how much we as American-Christians are tossed by the waves if the sea because we refuse to be Christian-Americans as we blow off opportunities to love our neighbors incarnationally….When it comes to social-injustice issues, areas where we can be intentional and empathetic while showing the love of Christ that transcends culture, race, economic status, and every other ideology – we are walking past like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” Parenthetically, it’s interesting that Jesus is speaking to a lawyer regarding matters of law to illustrate life principles of eternal life that (salvation) extend to identifying those that require help and mercy as his neighbors. Consequently, through the parable, Jesus identified the battered and bruised as those that were his neighbors while commissioning the lawyer to move pst legal justifications (patriotism) and do as the lowly, outcast Samaritan did – be a neighbor and show mercy! The Samaritan’s mercy had tangible costs associated with it (Ref.Luke 10:25-37)..
      #beaneighborandpatriotismwillfollow

  • MLipenk

    I actually much prefer John Hawkins’ essay in response to David French’s: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451816/nfl-protests-trump-right

    I don’t always care for what Trump says (however, Trump also has the right to say it). Furthermore, what John Hawkins says in his essay is TRUE. Breakpoint, Colson, and others constantly beat the drum of how Christians should and need to get involved in their local community and state governments and school boards to enact change. This in direct contrast to those who call for Christians to do nothing but quietly preach the Gospel , turn cheeks, and affirm sins like homosexuality and abortion out of “love” for neighbors… or in other words: stay out of politics. The time for “whimsical” civility has passed. Running to the safety of Christian enclaves is not the answer. The Left doesn’t understand anything but riots, protests, name-calling, bullying and… actual firings… to keep people IN LINE with their ideology. The silent majority, needs to stop being silent or we will lose both freedom of speech and freedom of belief. David French’s, is the safe, whimsical, civil approach… which isn’t working to change anyone’s mind.

    • Mark T Kennedy

      A great piece by Hawkins! Thanks for the link.

  • Jane Elizabeth Shu

    Thanks for this return to common sense post. I agree and wish now I had not gotten so upset with all those who were taking the knee…so trivial!!!

  • Paul

    Perhaps the point of much of the fascination has less to do with people’s preoccupation with sports over natural disasters, and more to do with our deeply divided cultural identity. There is a significant percentage of America that deeply agrees with those who take a knee to raise awareness. Yet again, there are many who deeply resent what they are doing and are happy to hear a powerful voice speak out plainly against it. I believe the heightened attention merely reflects our cultural interests. Sadly, the two sides have entrenched in their positions rather than try to effectively reach solutions via shared interests. Better yet, it would be great to have a discussion on the assumptions and beliefs that drive the interests in the first place.

    • Jack Green

      You comment is the centric ideology of mutual cooperation of all viewpoints and I applaud you for taking the side of resolution rather than resentment, I’m a melanated American and if people are not taking the time to listen to protestors then why comment, why react, they say stop the police brutality so our people can live without fear, and the opposition narrative is that is disrespectful to the flag, what is a flag to a human life, which is more important, #progressivethought

      • Scott

        What do you mean by “I’m a melanated American?”

        I like your post… I have not watched the NFL this year and haven’t paid any attention to Trump’s tweets. Was the player protest about police brutality?… and if so, why wasn’t that made more clear? To many Americans the protest just looked like “a bunch of rich athletes disrespecting the very country that gave them the opportunity to become a rich athlete.” The quotes are because that argument is not mine, someone stated to me. I couldn’t really say much because I was not informed about the specific nature of the protest.

        I would agree that a human life is more important than a flag… but we have to remember that the red in the American flag represents the blood shed in our revolutionary war (and many lives lost). Those lives were lost so that we could get out from under the English monarchy.

        Police brutality is reprehensible and just shouldn’t happen. To make things worse, racial hate is at the root of some of it (not all though). I do think much of it is out of frustration as well. Police have a difficult job making the streets safe for those who are peaceful.

  • John Vincent

    Rome must be entertained…

    • Scott

      I really like this post. : – )

  • Steve

    It is trivial, and it is not.
    Giving attention to “taking a knee” is what perpetuates it. Ignore it and it likely goes away.
    I think it was important that President Trump point out how unpatriotic it is; I don’t always agree with his mode of delivering the point, but I often agree with the point.
    If we are to fundamentally change hearts in this country I think it is important to call out those things that undermine our collective values. Rather than saying it is ok to be disrespectful to the country that has given these players so much, maybe we should say enough is enough.
    This goes for many other things–Hollywood as it feeds our kids smut and violence, musicians with atrocious lyrics, the lack of resect for life etc.
    Sometimes a “trivial” thing is a symbol of something much greater.

  • Barry Widman

    I disagree that the NFL issue is trivial and/or entertainment. The issue goes the very heart of who we are as a people and is of the first importance. The real blame lies with the commissioner, owners and coaches who cowardly decided to not enforce their own rules regarding respectful behavior during the playing of our national anthem, while aggressively enforcing them in all other areas. This is akin to allowing the inmates to run the asylum.

  • Tamra

    Does anybody care why they are taking a knee? Racial injustice by the people who are supposed to protect us. What about that?

  • Stephen R. Nelson

    Amen! Two things stand out from the above … “truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance”, and “Lord, have mercy on us all!”

  • Steven Harris

    Clever take. Certainly, we revert, perhaps regress to something less desirable or trivial in ourselves or that we find in each other, maybe even reduce each other to in our need for five minutes of fame, much ado about nothing, etc. My take is the author is observing something quite true, but his lack of curiosity about this matter that occurs on such a large scale strikes me as dismissive.

  • Melchizedek

    I’m disappointed in you John, which rarely happens.

    French’s first point, that Trump wants to thwart the free speech of the NFL players, is mistaken, and casts aspersions on the rest of his points. Trump has stated time and again that he is all for free speech in the right context. The Supreme Court has put limits on free speech based on the context of the speech. While not exactly like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, an NFL game is not the right context. One of the things that has bound us together in this country in times of war and strife (reasons to continue to honor and respect the secular flag… this is NOT worship,) is this very idea of unity around a concept unique to the USA, honoring all the freedoms we have in this county.

    A succeeding point French tries to make is that Trump somehow started this NFL mess because the platform he has is so significant. Trump wasn’t even in office last year when Kaepernick started it… Obama was!. It could be argued with the same logic that Obama started it by not responding to it initially.

    Now let’s examine the angst that this has caused with a large segment of potential Christ-followers. Granted, they may be weak in their faith or have no faith at all. But they care about something. I’m learning in the Colson Fellows Program to look for opportunities to share a Christian worldview with all people and not cut them off out of hand. This article seems to suggest exactly this by misstating the facts.

  • el’toroPooPoo Presidente

    Its true the obsession with trivial matters is a concern. Having the oval office occupied by a person that speaks and acts without discerning thought to the impact beyond his immediate self gratification is not a trivial matter.

  • Joel Stucki

    I am forced to wonder: are people’s reactions to the protest itself a barometer on how they feel about the issue being protested? I am inclined to say yes, but it can be hard to tell.