Boiling down the current debate over kneeling and respect for the national anthem to a matter of one’s constitutional right does neither the topic, nor the inspiration for the act, justice. Colin Kaepernick, and all others, have the right to demonstrate or protest during the anthem in whichever way they choose. Of course, with the NFL being a private corporation, whether they then decide to sanction him or others for such actions is another story. Despite this, President Trump’s attacks have managed to unite what is essentially the entire league—something unthinkable only two weeks ago.
At a time of international chaos, President Trump is getting into petty Twitter battles with sports players and journalists.
A popular talking point from conservatives and other Trump supporters has been to remind people that the president has the right to speak his mind too. Not only is this faulty logic—affording the right to speak or act one’s mind to one citizen while seemingly arguing the opposite for another—but it is also representative of the petty, divisive, and partisan politics society as a whole has adopted since the 2016 election.
The most powerful man in the world is explicitly attacking young, African-American football players taking a stand for what they believe is a society that systematically disadvantages people of colour. The hypocrisy comes in hearing predominantly white, conservative outlets lambasting a particular portion of society, while attacking said portion of society for “disrespecting” the anthem and flag, something which has been vehemently stated to not be the target of their demonstrations. Donald Trump is the President of the entire United States, not starring in The Apprentice. He must start acting like it if the United States is ever going to begin bridging its political divides.
The causes these athletes kneel for—such as police brutality and racial inequality—are what Trump should either acknowledge or debate. But this is not what he has decided to do. Rather, he is harping on the actual act of kneeling. Instead of taking this galvanizing moment as an opportunity to start a discourse on the issues these players are kneeling for—something that would surely be considered a good and productive use of the president’s time—President Trump, in what is now a familiar tactic of his, attacks them on a superficial issue.
At a time of international chaos, President Trump is getting into petty Twitter battles with sports players and journalists. Rather than dedicating his undivided attention to, say, the North Korean or Iranian nuclear situations, the still ongoing civil war in Syria, dealing with the recovery of Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, or doing anything to try and pass long-sought after healthcare reform, the President of the United States is brazenly attempting to divide the country, rather than acting in the best interests of all Americans, and frankly himself, by trying to salvage this fledgling presidency. It seems clear to me that President Trump’s tactics are meant to achieve two things: to distract from the struggles of his administration, and to stoke racial and partisan divides.
The first is relatively simple to wrap one’s head around. With approval ratings under 40 percent, the Trump Administration has not gotten off to the start they surely would have liked. Be it rocky relationships with foreign allies, seemingly constant international threats, or the failure to pass a single piece of major legislation, the president has certainly succeeded in changing the narrative from one of an unproductive administration to one concerned for the state of nationalism and patriotism in the country.
Distract. Divide. Rinse, wash, and repeat. This seems to be the modus operandi for the Trump administration anytime they need a distraction from their shortcomings.
The second is far more cynical. In his tweets, Trump explicitly uses words such as “privilege” as to why NFL players should not be demonstrating during the anthem. Owners, in the world of Trump, are giving these players the privilege to earn millions of dollars by playing football, through seemingly no effort or hard work of their own. This issue is only exacerbated by the fact that the vast majority of NFL players are African-American, yet only one owner in the entire league is a person of colour. Football players earn the millions of dollars they get paid, often putting their bodily integrity on the line, and are the sole product keeping the cash flowing in for a league bringing in over 10 billion dollars of revenue annually. Playing in the NFL is not a privilege “gifted” to young players by owners. It is earned solely through the hard work of their own. The president has done this to double-down on support from his base at a time when many loyalists feel Trump is losing touch with his “America First” agenda. Of course, there’s nothing like a racially-imbued cultural controversy to get the base back on the “Trump Train”! German Lopez of Vox has reported that the NFL’s net favorability has dropped thirteen percent since September 21. What better distraction from the administrations failing agenda than attacking and directing the attention onto what is the most discussed and popular sport in the nation.
Distract. Divide. Rinse, wash, and repeat. This seems to be the modus operandi for the Trump administration anytime they need a distraction from their shortcomings. Trump has managed to consistently insert himself into cultural and societal debates that have absolutely nothing to do with governing the country. Any president should feel free to wade into topics of public importance. Athlete demonstrations should have sparked an important debate in the United States over police brutality against African-American’s and what many people feel is systemic racial inequality. Instead, it has divided the country and turned the public discourse into a joke. If anything, the president ought to be concerned with why these men are protesting, rather than what they are doing in order to protest. The presidency is an important and serious job that holds with it an unimaginable amount of responsibility. It’s time Trump starts treating it as such.