You can never be sure with Trump. His attacks on African-American athletes certainly look like a calculated appeal to his base, who undoubtedly delight in seeing the President of the United States putting down uppity blacks. Or, they could simply be the sincere and spontaneous expression of Trump’s own visceral racism. Very likely, it’s some of both. Does it matter? It may well be that the most effective demagogue is one who himself shares the popular prejudices that he seeks to arouse and exploit.
The ostensible target of Trump’s wrath is the athletes’ alleged lack of respect for the flag. But to a sympathetic onlooker, the physical gestures of protest of recent days haven’t been disrespectful; the athletes have used a symbolic occasion—the playing of the national anthem or the recitation of the pledge—to make a symbolic statement of protest. We can’t know what’s going on in an individual athlete’s head, but disrespect isn’t necessarily the intent.
But what if some of the protesters are consciously withholding respect for the flag? Clearly, this was Colin Kaepernick’s intent: “I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Can you really blame him? I’ve never been a believer in patriotism, but even if you believe that patriotism is a virtue, in fairness you should be able to acknowledge that a people that has historically been oppressed has every right not to feel pride or reverence or love for the country that has oppressed them. Of course, you wouldn’t expect Donald Trump to understand that.
Breaking news! As expected, a poll has just come out and the results pretty much validate my predictions in my response to Harry. Asked specifically about Kaepernick, respondents disapproved 51-40%. But asked about Trump’s handling of the matter, they disapproved 53-35%. By an even larger margin, they said the NFL should not fire protesters.