Column: Dangerous buttons, and not the nuclear one

Knees, distractions, and the finger on the button; and no, not the nuclear button.

(I would scrap this column for something on Las Vegas but at this writing we know little about the shooter, and beyond advocating gun control, what can one say?)

Citizens can debate, have arguments that clarify our differences, and find where we do and don’t have common ground. We can quarrel about issues like, how much prejudice there is, just how much effect that has, or aren’t there a lot of the non-minority group having hard times, too?

But all this fuss around the national anthem, and knees, and Twitter feuds, does none of that. It has none of the value of a debate that moves a topic forward, or of a clarifying argument.

The original taking of a knee, done over a year ago, was to make a point about the prejudiced treatment of minorities. Now that many people are taking knees and linking arms specifically to defy one side of a Twitter feud, it has mostly lost its meaning. Some who take offense at the action say it’s an offense against veterans. Some, no doubt, truly feel that, and some probably just use that as a way to paint the action ugly. It has nothing to do with the message the original protesters expressed. All of this, though, of who means what, and what message is sent, becomes fuzzy and gets washed of meaning when it’s all just in response to one side or the other in a Twitter feud.

This is just a hollow, divisive, taking of sides, on both sides, that accomplishes nothing. Those for and against have been lured into an empty chest-thumping at our fellow citizens. It’s no more productive than two street gangs flashing signs at each other across the park. And how are they supposed to be civil enough to function the next time they have to work side by side? We are not two gangs. We are Americans — Americans with some differences to sort out.

Those who protest may want to send a message about minorities or about the sacred right of protest, but mostly what’s happening is they’ve been suckered into a hollow, pointless feud. A leader who feeds a feud always have some reason, something to gain. But feuds always exact a high price from those swept up in them.

I don’t expect sports players to be good at choosing the clearest, best communicated, indisputable way to make a point. Like most people, they simply blurt out their frustration in whatever way comes up at the moment. I do expect my president to have the sense to deal with national controversies in ways that aren’t senselessly destructive.

Many worry about Trump’s finger on the nuclear button. Well, he also has his finger on our buttons. That unique office, from which every word affects the nation, can push emotional buttons and get those who are easily riled into a fight.

Trump is randomly pushing our buttons to see which have effect, thinking any big reaction is good for him. Some of those buttons can create terrible damage. We’re in a time of great effort to deal with serious issues without outbreaks of violence, as in Charlottesville. Trump doesn’t seem to care which buttons tear us apart as long as they crank up his viewership one more point.

For the love of the country, people, avoid cheap distractions and focus on real issues. Debate, argue, use effective ways to highlight prejudice and other problems, but don’t take either part in this phony, craven, ploy for attention by an irresponsible politician.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments@tomcantlon.com.