Colin Kaepernick, Roseanne, and the Libertarian Myth

Colin Kaepernick, Roseanne, and the Libertarian MythWhen I was a libertarian, the single biggest philosophical mistake I made was to think that the government was the only cause of the limitation of freedom. This was because the government had the right to jail and kill you. For a long time, I used an argument that I hear from libertarians all the time today: a private company can’t hurt you because you don’t have to work for them and you don’t have to shop with them. These people should really talk to Colin Kaepernick — a man who lost his job for making a respectful protest.

Colin Kaepernick Isn’t Free

When he first protested, he simply sat for the national anthem. But after talking to a Green Beret, Kaepernick choose to take a knee. The reason was the Green Beret told him it was something that soldiers did in front of a fallen soldier’s grave. As the Green Beret put it: “to show respect.”

So taking the knee isn’t to show disrespect to America (not that it should matter). It could just as easily be that the tradition was that we all kneel. But doing something that not everyone else was doing was the whole point of his protest. In the best tradition of the United States, Colin Kaepernick non-violently asked people to think of something during the two minutes of the national anthem.

But that isn’t good enough for a lot of people. It isn’t good enough for pretty much every conservative in this country. And it isn’t okay for a lot of other people too. This is because their idea of patriotism is “America: right or wrong.”

What they are really calling for is what I grew up thinking was all wrong about the Soviet Union: the requirement that everyone must behave the same way. The people weren’t a collection of individuals but simply a thing. Let’s call it the synchronized swimming theory of society: if everyone isn’t doing exactly what the coach wants, it’s all a catastrophe.

The Libertarian Belief in Theoretical Freedom

“Ah!” I hear the libertarians say, “But Colin Kaepernick isn’t being oppressed. He could get another job!” Yeah, he can. But he can’t get a job doing what he has been trained at, working at the level he has attained and wants to perform. And why? Because the owners shut him out. It is exactly the same thing I discussed in Property Rights. In that case, it was an out of work farmer who simply can’t work because all the land to farm is owned by someone else.

One commonly hears libertarians say, “Rights imply responsibility.” But somehow, that’s only ever applied to workers. It isn’t applied to owners. So property rights don’t imply any responsibility on the part of the property owner.

So in the libertarian utopia: you get real freedom if you’re rich, but just theoretical freedom if you aren’t. It’s much like Orwell’s parody of the Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

So Colin Kaepernick is out of a job, but he’s got another, far more important one. And history will show him to be a great man and the owners who clearly colluded to deny him a job they needed filling will be seen for what they are: soulless, immoral people for whom money is all that matters.

And, of course, in 40 years, all conservatives will honor Kaepernick as a great man, as they always do when it doesn’t matter — when there is a new status quo to honor.

(I am so ashamed to be white in this case. It took a whole season for the first white player to take a knee. Since then, there have been more, but it was never more than a small group.)

Another Libertarian Myth

Now we get to another libertarian myth (There are so many!) with the NFL forbidding players from kneeling. It turns out this is flatly illegal. And I suspect the owners know this. But this is all about appeasing President Donald J Trump.

If the courts say that they must allow the players, what can they do? Trump can’t go after them and the vile “America: right or wrong” crowd will know that this horrible two-minute distraction of the time before the most important issue of playing a game can’t be helped.

Of course, this is the opposite of the way things usually go. Normally, even really bad presidents have better things to do than stick their noses into the minutia of how exactly entertainment is managed by the producers of that entertainment. So it is normally the case of owners getting the government to do their bidding.

The “Perfect” Libertarian Courts

The truth is that it really doesn’t matter that the government has a monopoly on going to war and putting people in cages. The rich will always control that government unless safeguards are put in place by the people. But libertarians want to go the other direction. Private courts! Yeah, that will work out great, because the far greater safeguards we have today (you know, the ones that will find for the players against the NFL) won’t be there.

As a result, we see that yet again libertarianism simply turns into “might makes right.” Courts would turn into nothing more than a show to justify finding for whomever gave the bigger pile of cash (or gold — a libertarian fantasy — the same goes for bitcoin).

What About Roseanne?

The cases of Colin Kaepernick and Roseanne Barr could not be more different. Kaepernick was making a dignified protest and was simply not hired through the collusion of NFL owners. Roseanne Barr made her employer look bad and cost them money in the long term.

But that hardly matters. I don’t think Roseanne should have been fired. She is a toxic, unstable person. She was before ABC gave her the show and she is today.

After Robert Downey Jr had his half-decade of drug use and unstable behavior, he had to prove himself. He slowly worked his way back and beyond. But not Roseanne! Her career was all but over. But then she became a Trump supporter and ABC saw big money.

(Truthfully, it never made sense long-term. As I believe I discussed in the comments around here, I figured the show would last about 3 years. By next year, it would only be watched by old people. It would get great ratings, but not great advertisers. It’s like when Jay Leno was beating David Letterman in the ratings: I recall reading at the time that because Letterman had a younger audience, his show made more money. So the Roseanne reboot was just a quick money grab — typical of corporate Hollywood.)

ABC Is Not Acting Morally

ABC acting as though they are taking a moral stand is ridiculous. They knew who they were hiring. They hired exactly the same person they fired.

That wasn’t the case with the people who tentatively hired Downey shortly after he got past his self-destructive period. So ABC isn’t the “good guy” in this case. First, they foisted Roseanne on the nation, then they fired her so that conservatives can have another data point about how mean “liberals” are with all their “political correctness.”[1]

(Yes, we haven’t seen conservatives rally around her; they’re too afraid — they have no idea what she might do next; but trust me, the Republican base thinks she has been completely wronged, that it wasn’t a racist tweet, and that had it been, they would have liked it more.)

Most People Require Jobs

Obviously, Roseanne doesn’t need a job. She didn’t need the reboot of the series, except to get attention and push the false narrative that stuggling middle America just loves Donald Trump. I doubt Colin Kaepernick can go the rest of his life without a job. But none of this is about either of them.

Almost everyone has to have a job. Yet we live in a society where you literally do not have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If you can’t find a job, you can find yourself hungry on the street. Eventually, you can find yourself dead.

Libertarians Want You to Have Less Freedom

Yet for the libertarians, this situation isn’t good enough. Owners of capital should have far more power over your life. They want everyone to give up the little actual liberty they have for theoretical liberty. The only practical liberty in the libertarian utopia is for the rich — like now, but much, much worse.

Freedom is a simple concept. Let me give you a simple example from my life. I don’t have the freedom to get my teeth fixed right now. Hopefully, they will hold out long enough so that I can slowly get them repaired (my dentist is not hopeful that I have enough time). What libertarians offer is potential freedom. I could get all my teeth fixed today if I had $80 million like Roseanne Barr.

Who thinks that is real freedom other than rich people and young people who think they will be rich?

Freedom is not the freedom to maybe get a job you would have had you not taken a brave political stand. Freedom isn’t even losing your job for being exactly the person your employer knew you were when they hired you.

How Capitalism Makes Things Worse

I know how capitalism apologists will respond. “If it weren’t for our system, we wouldn’t have smartphones and we would live under authoritarian rule.” Really? Is that how limited their creativity is? The truth is, the world would be a better place if I had the freedom to do what I want. Humans want to work; they want to be productive; they want to make society better. (Obviously, not all humans, but most humans.)

But instead, they are forced into jobs where they sell crap that people don’t need or even want. If it weren’t for capitalism, there would be no opioid crisis in this country. I noted two decades ago that there would be problems with Oxycontin and MS-Contin because they relieved pain for substantially less time than advertised and would thus cause people to take more and eventually turn to the black market.

Doctors could have prescribed methadone, which works really well. But it wasn’t under patent. There wasn’t a bunch of money to be made off it. So it wasn’t pushed on doctors as the miracle drug it is. Instead, a toxic jumble of chemicals made to slowly release a short-acting opioid was. And today we have a big problem.

That’s Capitalism!

That’s what capitalism produces: not what we need but what makes certain people rich. But in the libertarian utopia, that would never happen.

I’m serious.

The libertarian utopia would quickly devolve into the Mad Max world. Then some vile warlord would become dominant, and we would all live under an authoritarian dictatorship. Good luck with that cold turkey detox white people. And thank you libertarians!


One final thought about Roseanne. This is yet another example of a racist society trying to scapegoat one person for what they say so as to ignore the much more important racism that people of color live with every day. Roseanne hurt almost no one with her tweet. And she certainly didn’t kill anyone. But our racist society kills people all the time. So the racism that most hurts us is just ignored (Colin Kaepernick) while we make a big deal about the racism of a crazy woman that doesn’t mean squat in the grand scheme of things.

Indeed, scapegoating Roseanne helps racism, because it makes tens of millions of white people think that as long as you don’t say the wrong words or imply the wrong things, America is a total meritocracy where any black kid can become president. It’s like saying we have an equal chance to win a game of Monopoly despite starting the game after every piece of property has already been purchased. It’s hogwash. Remember all the conservatives saying that Obama’s election was proof that there was no racism in America? That is the racism that never gets anyone fired; it is the racism we need to fight.

Why Roseanne Matters

The only reason Roseanne’s racism toward blacks is interesting is that she says what roughly 40 percent of the country believes. And most of the rest of us are just less racist (including roughly half of blacks — society poisons widely).

[1] I put “political correctness” in scare quotes because it is a meaningless term. What it is supposed to mean is done by everyone — and as far as I can tell, much more by conservatives. The whole “you must stand for the national anthem” is a typical case of political correctness. But it is almost never applied to conservatives.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

16 thoughts on “Colin Kaepernick, Roseanne, and the Libertarian Myth

  1. The NFL has been run by arrogant morons for years. They’ve overexposed the product, they’ve jacked up ticket prices, blackmailed cities into new stadiums, and got away with all of it because the TV ratings are so great. Now the ratings are dropping (combo platter of reasons), and they’re panicked.

    This would have been quite easy for the league to handle. Simply tell FOX, CBS, NBC, and ESPN “don’t show kneeling players on TV.” Rules like this exist in all sports broadcasts. If some streaker runs on the field, he isn’t shown. Radio & television both have shotgun mikes, they could catch players cussing on the bench. They don’t air those conversations.

    Of course that would be cowardly as hell for the networks to ignore on-field political statements … since when do TV networks have any courage? If the NFL said “do it,” they’d do it. But the owners are mad players are standing up for themselves; they need to be taught a lesson. Mark my words, you’re going to start seeing some entire team skip the anthem. Not out of solidarity with protests against police brutality, just to tell their jerk owner to go eat sand. NFL players have the weakest union in American pro sports (their contracts are not guaranteed, as contracts are in baseball, basketball, & hockey). It’s stupid to push that union even further, but the owners are rich fools.

    The Barr thing is well within current corporate power. Technically you can’t fire a worker for appearing on a picket line on their day off, yet it happens all the time. I don’t know why ABC didn’t insist as part of Barr’s contract that she run all her tweets through some company tweet-watcher. They were too foolish to think of this, they got stuck in a no-win scenario, and now they’ve lost money. I won’t shed a tear for Barr, she’s rich, yet is is unfair to be canned for something you’ve done for years and weren’t specifically warned not to do again. She’ll probably sue the network, and win; one more advantage rich workers have over poor ones.

    Sorry to hear about your teeth. A dentist told me once that most people either have really bad enamel decay or really bad gums, rarely both. It’s frightening and depressing either way. There are dental outfits (chain clinics) with more expansive hours (evenings & weekends). Your insurance won’t cover as much of their cost, but I’ve gotten good treatment at one of those places. I think I had to pay around 25% more than usual.

    • All the big sports leagues do that to cities, although I wouldn’t exactly call it blackmail. In some cases it is. But usually, cities are willing to pay for new stadiums because of all the extra economic activity it will supposedly create. (It never does. People drive to the game and then drive back home. They don’t hang around supporting the local economy.) Mostly, I think it is politicians liking all the credit for it. If you haven’t, you should read Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston. It deals with this in a couple of chapters.

      I didn’t know that about the NFL union. But regardless, I assume they are litigating it. And my bet is that it will all be dropped the moment Trump is out of office. I so want to see him be a one-term president, because it will be proof that he is a “loser.” Of course, proof means nothing to him and his cult. They will just say the election was stolen because 50 million Mexicans voted. But history will show him to be an incredible embarrassment. I just hope that history doesn’t remember him as the man who turned the US into an authoritarian nation.

      ABC would never make that requirement of Barr. That’s one of the reasons I hate the network so much and why far for getting credit for firing her, they should be criticized for giving her the show. They wanted her to do that. They just didn’t want her to tweet anything so racist that they couldn’t accept it. She’s tweeted much worse things in terms of damaging the society. But here’s a pro-tip for anyone in the public eye. Never say something like, “I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport.” Everyone knows that’s code for, “Damn! I got caught!” In Larry Craig’s case: he’s bisexual. Big deal. Science has long known that everyone is bisexual to one extent or another. I think Alfred Kinsey had a 7 point scale, but obviously in reality it is an infinite point scale. When Barr said she wasn’t racist, all I could think was, “You didn’t need to tweet that; I already knew you were a racist.” (Note: as you know, I believe everyone is racist; but there are roughly 3 categories: those who embrace it, those who accept it, and those who fight it. I believe Barr has generally been in the second category, but live by Alex Jones and die by Alex Jones.)

      Actually, I’m thrilled about my teeth. We are working on them fast. It’s costing a lot of money. But already my teeth look better. And ultimately, the constant, mild pain in my mouth will be gone. After the first appointment, I was a bit shell-shocked. But since then, I’ve been very happy. I am blessed to be able to do it: both in terms of having the money and having the bone (that is: my teeth are in bad shape, but not my roots and bone).

      • Glad to hear about the teeth. A bum knee or sore back you can adjust to carefully avoid, if your job doesn’t require aggravating the injury; you can’t avoid food.

        I suppose ABC was trying to pull with Roseanne what NBC pulled with Trump. Play it both ways; get the outrageous figure, get attention, don’t scare off advertisers selling happy family laundry soap. I remember hearing Trump was back on TV and saying “you’re fucking kidding me, right?” His act played out by 1990. Only a TV network could think “hey, famous has-been name, cheap show, we can’t lose!” And they do it over & over.

        I hope he goes down hard, too, but just out of personal hatred for his crooked business, not because I think it’ll make any difference. Authoritarian Republicans would quickly forget his failures and glom onto the next proto-dictator, they always do. Remember “freedom fries?” These people want a Mussolini so bad, they inevitably forget what a fool the last one was.

        The NFL union is litigating this. The ruling, as always, depends on the judge’s ideology, not the law, but it’s another blow to the league regardless. Info about concussion effects and the general dullness of modern NFL play (you don’t see 50-yard pass attempts anymore unless there’s no time left) have scoured TV ratings. Overexposure didn’t help, either. There used to be a noon Sunday game with your local team, and a 3:30 game for the serious Sunday drinkers, plus the hangover game on Monday after work. Now there’s a Sunday night game and Thursday ones only on subscription cable; even my friends who played football in college find it just too much. Add to it that nobody whose kids have better options will let them play football in school, and the league is in big trouble. Also, the owners are idiots, but that’s generally the case with most businesses, as you know.

        Neil DeMause, who runs the excellent Field If Schemes website, has been having a recent ongoing conversation with various economists about whether the New Stadium scam is on its way out, as the data is in over decades and stadiums are always a loss. Some of these economists think things are changing. DeMause is skeptical. But, he’s been writing on this subject for 30 years, I think he’s earned the right to be as skeptical as he wants.

  2. “Almost everyone has to have a job. Yet we live in a society where you literally do not have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” If you can’t find a job, you can find yourself hungry on the street. Eventually, you can find yourself dead.”

    Democrats are currently debating amongst themselves whether to run on a federal jobs guarantee. Any thoughts?

    • I think it’s a fabulous idea — it’s worked before. If I was running on that, though, I’d want to make absolutely clear what kind of jobs these were. People have “gummint bad” so droned into their skulls, they might assume a federal jobs program involved paying people to throw paper airplanes at each other.

      Talk about providing elderly care (this is really a problem in remote areas, where nursing homes aren’t profitable). Talk about building a green energy grid. And a serious infrastructure repair plan, not Trump’s feeble stab at it. These are all things people want done and the economic benefits would be off the charts. Would Republicans fight it tooth & nail? Of course they would. Good. Make the bastards stand in the way of a hugely popular idea. Make them hide from constituents, the way they had to when people showed up at town halls and said if the ACA was repealed, they would die. Put them on the defensive. It’s about damn time.

    • It could be great. But it won’t be. It will end up being a college grad working at a corporation loses his job when he hits 50 because he’s too expensive, so the government will offer him a do-nothing job that pays minimum wage. The WPA actually tried to get people jobs that they were trained for. So if it happens (and I find that hard to see any time in the next two decades), it will be good for poor people. And that’s good. But I fear they are going to force people who shouldn’t be working to work. And unless it goes along with free childcare, it will be even worse.

      It’s much like the UBI: it’s all in the details. Many conservatives love it because they see it as a way to screw the poor. And given our history over the last 40 years, whatever we get will be the worst version.

  3. From Karen Garcia:
    “Trump is as all-American as rancid apple pie, just another poster child for the de facto twin mottoes of the USA: Might Makes Right, and Greed Is Good.”

    I suggest we adopt a new national flag – like the “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag so beloved of Libertarians, but with the rattlesnake biting its own ass and with Garcia’s twin mottoes above and below it. The piss-yellow field is totally appropriate and speaks for itself, but maybe the central figure should be accompanied by a couple of heraldic attendants: one a bomb throwing Muslim, the other a hammer & sickle waving Russkie.

    • Interestingly, I’ve started seeing the Gadsden flag with a red background. What I so hate about it is that I know the people who fly those flags are hypocrites. It’s “Don’t treat on me” with the implication that “I’ll tread on whomever the hell I want to.” These people are not serious thinkers. And if you ask them how exactly they are being oppressed, they’ll say either “political correctness” or taxes.

  4. As usual, I mostly agree with what you say, and view your article as well-argued as well. As often, I don’t 100% agree with your premises.

    Here’s the most important one: I find it deeply implausible that 40% of American voters are unambiguously racist. In fact, I think this is a dangerous, paranoid delusion that will make it difficult to communicate with conservative voters, the majority of whom are probably not ideologically committed to Trump or to anyone else.

    There is a lot more goodwill and genuine commitment to taking people as individuals, even among conservatives, than you are giving them credit for. Certainly, the unambiguously racist crowd is louder and more powerful than they have been for a long time. But I doubt that more than 10% of conservative voters are pro-Klan. Let’s get real.

    I could be wrong. Show me.

    • RJ — a lot of the “conservatives” I’ve known are not personally racist in any serious way. However, they are convinced that our society is too “politically correct,” and hence rally behind figures like Barr or Trump because they are “not afraid to say what they think.”

      The end result of this is the strengthening of institutionalized racism, even if that isn’t the individual conservative’s conscious intent.

      One sure marker of the unconscious racist is their attitude towards murders by police. Almost without exception, conservatives will admit that killing unarmed civilians is wrong, yet defend the cops who do so in every instance. “That candy bar might have looked like a gun,” “police have the most dangerous job in America,” that sort of excuse.

      The conservative who agrees that a particular instance of police evil was unjustified and heinous, that’s a person you can talk to.

  5. You are all complete elitist that lost touch with reality when you did not get that you you wanted when you where 2. Now you expect everything to be handed to you. Wasting my time because this site will never post an apossing view.

    • How wrong you are! I allow everyone through until they thoroughly bore me. I even let people through who can’t spell.

      But your post is typical of “apossing” views: there is no argument. It’s just ad hominem attacks. We are “elitists”! What does that even mean? Most of the regulars around here are smart, but economically poor. How does that make us elitists? And maybe we’ve lost touch with your reality. But we haven’t lost touch with reality itself. From the little you’ve written, I suspect you are retrograde — a dying breed. But more important, you don’t even know about our reality, nor do you seem interested in learning.

      If you think you have me pegged because of this article, you are a fool. After you’ve read the 8,000 articles I’ve written on this site, you might start to get a clue.

      But you are welcome to comment here any time if you have something at all cogent to say.

  6. If we privatize everything, governmental power will be displaced–to even a greater degree than it already is–by corporate power.

    • Right! My stance has always been, if it’s an essential public service, don’t let the profit motive get anywhere near it. I know the libertarian fantasy is “if a company provides shitty service, a better company will take its place. Government has no incentive to improve.”

      This is harmless for satellite radio or cable TV or whatever. It’s not harmless for essential needs. The goal of every big business is to wipe out the competition and have a monopoly, so you can charge customers whatever you want, and if some new company tries to provide better cheaper service, you price war them to death. Standard business model, happens all the time.

      Once monopoly happens (or price-fixing among big companies that couldn’t wipe each other out, essentially the same thing) there’s only two ways for customers to stop it. One is for customers to just drop the service, the other is government intervention — either regulatory or by public takeover.

      I can choose whether or not to pay for cable. I can’t choose whether or not to get a nasty infection checked out. (I mean, I can, but that’s a choice nobody should ever have to make.) So letting for-profit businesses get their greedy little hands on public services is always, in the end, bad for society. But it happens far too often, as the right-wing wants to starve government so that more public services are sold for temporary budget relief. That’s entirely what Republican tax cuts are about.

      The business world sees government-provided services like public schools as money on the casino table they forgot to pick up. And, oh man, do they dream about getting Social Security. It’s been their ultimate fantasy for 80 years or so. Parents can, after all, school their kids at home if every school is private. (Although that would take time from their most productive professional years, and hurt society, but business does not Give A Fuck.) But old people? With nobody to look after them? Maybe a house they could sell out of desperation? You can smell Wall Street’s bloodlust after that cash. (It smells like excited pheromones covered in cologne.) So they’ll underfund it and underfund it until American voters are desperate enough to sell it off. That’s the plan, anyway.

      Fun story. So me and Mrs. James had to go to the Social Security office a few months back, she lost her card ages ago and was applying for a new job. (Got the job!) It was stunningly shabby. We live in Minnesota, and state offices are pretty well-funded here (Pawlenty did a number on various other services, but that’s another tale). The Social Security office was some run-down shit. Flickering overhead fluorescent lighting, faded paint, it looked like a horror movie version of a mental institution.

      Still, the employees were pretty friendly, as much as you can be in such an environment. The guy at the metal detector was an absolute gabster, cracking jokes with everyone in the waiting room.

      At one point, the mailman comes in with a thin rectangular package. And a few minutes later, two employees are putting a stepstool in front of Obama’s picture on the high wall, grousing, “gotta do it.” They’d avoided putting Trump’s picture up for a year, somebody ratted them out. That’s what the package was. (Or maybe the Trump administration was just too incompetent to send them a picture last year, I wouldn’t put it past that gang of half-wits.)

      They put up Trump’s picture, got down from the stepstool, and one of the employees wondered, “is that a little crooked?” The other said, “just leave it,” and most people in the waiting room laughed. So they just left it.

    • Right! The problem with libertarians is that they think the only source of abuse is the government. Yet that is not at all the case in the modern US.

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