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.




  1. Harry September 26, 2017 at 10:54 am

    What do you say to people who see these protests as showing disrespect for the flag? You can say that they are justified, but average Americans probably see them as unpatriotic and divisive, so don’t they play into Trump’s hands?

  2. tonygreco September 26, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Again, I would say that these are relatively restrained physical gestures, and not inherently disrespectful. As to whether they play into Trump’s hands, I would guess that we will see a public opinion poll or two any time now that will answer your questions. My guess is that a majority of whites will, indeed, say they disapprove of the protests, but that a majority will also disapprove of Trump’s response to them. In terms of net political gains and losses, I think the affair will roughy be a wash for Trump. But I’m just guessing.

  3. Janet September 26, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    The test will come with future ticket sales. If they indeed drop off, then Trump will have won something. But I don’t think that will happen. I also think the united show of support on Sunday, including several owners, is a huge win for blacks fighting racist treatment by police.

    Another point: don’t you think the whole story was mainly a way for Trump to distract everyone from N Korea (and also health care and tax breaks)? Attacking black football players was a great way to excite his base and not call attention to the mess he’s making everywhere else.

    • tonygreco September 26, 2017 at 7:41 pm

      On distraction as a strategy: as I said, you never know with Trump, but it’s quite possible that distraction is part of the motive for this Trumpstorm. I think Trump is very good at the art of distraction, and he employs it often.

  4. Donald Campbell September 26, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Patriotism is based on a set of assumptions that are accepted without any questions. This makes it similar to a religion where the assumptions are believed based on faith. You cannot argue with someone who will believe a set of assumptions based on faith. Secular society must be conducted based upon evidence and judgement based upon the evidence. A society cannot function if it based on faith which contradicts evidence. What the political calculations are is irrelevant.

    It’s not just Trump, but the over 60 million people who voted for him. Can American society survive the onslaught of faith over evidence?

    • tonygreco September 26, 2017 at 8:00 pm

      Yes, patriotism is very much like religion in its reliance on faith as opposed to evidence. I think what most bothers me about patriotism is that it tends to immunize a nation’s leaders from really critical scrutiny in the conduct of foreign policy. The default patriotic assumption is that “we” are in the right and those who oppose us are wrong.

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