The need to refuse any identification with the increasingly fascistic character of the anti-immigrant far right is particularly important for US soccer fans, given the political and social diversity of its community of players and fans. The sport has long been identified as an immigrant sport (which masks the very high profile of immigrant families in other sports, like baseball), it is played and watched by women (and this is a distinctive aspect of soccer culture in the US), and it is the one major sport in the US that is not isolationist - our participation in football culture expresses a desire for a relationship with the rest of the world, and we enter into that playing field not as a powerhouse, but as a respected, and hard-working side. (This is slightly different for the women, but more and more, the women's team is one good team among other good teams - a fact that fans celebrate.)
Before looking more closely at what that word "Indivisible" represents, let's consider the emblem the USSF has put to bed. As most readers well know, that emblem has a long and rich history - which is exactly why the Tea Party is drawn to it.
There are two separate aspects to the core image for this emblem - the image of the rattlesnake, and the motto. The conjunction of the two in a flag dates to 1775: the "Gadsden Flag" was flown on the flagship for the newly formed "Continental Navy" and found on revolutionary Marine corp drums - this image in fact still functions as an emblem for the U.S. Marine Corp.
|Gadsden Flag, as we know it today.|
|Benjamin Franklin's 1751 political cartoo|
In 1751, however, he used the same snake in an entirely different kind of polemic. Responding the practice of shipping felons to the New England colonies, Franklin suggested sending rattlesnakes across the Atlantic as a fair exchange: "this exporting of felons to the colonies, may be considered as a trade, as well as in the light of a favor. Now all commerce implies returns: justice requires them: there can be no trade without them. And rattle-snakes seem the most suitable returns for the human serpents sent us by out mother country." He goes on to say that England gets the better half of the trade, for at least the snake gives a warning before it strikes. Here the rattlesnake does not represent the colonists - it represents in fact a toxic element that endangers colonial health. Unfortunately, today we see Franklin's polemic cited by anti-immigrant groups - who are always on the hunt for bits of American history which they might re-purpose in order to legitimize reactionary politics.
Complicating this story is another national emblem involving a snake:
In any case, the rattlesnake is not much of a team player, it has a shady history, and it appears on the Mexico's flag, caught in Huitzilopochtli's beak. Not a place the USSF wants to be, really. But I digress: By losing the snake, the USSF is disassociating itself from Tea Party politics, and in choosing this word "Indivisible," it is also trying to disentangle itself from the generally hateful nature of nationalist rhetoric.
"Indivisible" is not an uncomplicated choice, however. The word is a clear reference to the pledge of allegiance - written in the 1890s by Francis Bellamy, a Socialist minister. (Yes, you read that right.) The original pledge went roughly like this:
"I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."It was first read to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage, and it was written - of course - in a wave of nationalist panic, formed in reaction to immigration patterns and the changing demographics of the U.S. That pledge was used in schools until the 1920s, when it was revised slightly to read:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."The phrase "one nation under God" was inserted in 1954. Incredibly, given the name for Nike's campaign (Red All Over), this was during the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, and was done as a way to distinguish the U.S. from "godless communists."
Adding to yet another layer of complexity and ambivalence to this story: the word "indivisible" is a clear reference to the Civil War: It is an assertion of the triumph of "union" over secession - but, as is the way of such things, in asserting the indivisibility of the nation, the pledge of allegiance raises the specter of disunion as a latent possibility.
Which brings us back around to the current state of affairs. The assertion of "Indivisible" as the national team's motto could not be more apt, for, in signaling the team's unity as its strength, the USSF is doing so precisely in reaction against the culture of hate and fear propagated by the far right, in a campaign provoked by that movement's theft of the team's motto.
"Indivisible" is quite literally the least divisive (or do I mean divisible?) of the proposed slogans entertained seriously by Nike and the US Soccer Federation. That said, no slogan or motto for a national team will ever banish the sinister shadow of nationalism's enterprise.
|Barbara Kruger, Untitled (1989-90)|