The NFL preseason is upon us, and again we have seen NFL players choosing to protest during the playing of the United States National Anthem. This continues a movement started in 2016 by then NFL Quarterback Colin Kapernick, to use his public profile as a means to protest against what he saw as social injustice in the American community.
Anyone familiar with this issue will be equally familiar with Donald Trump’s vocal opposition to the player’s protests. Following the opening of the NFL preseason last weekend, the President again spoke out on the issue with the following tweets;
The NFL players are at it again – taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love……
…Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!
In a presidency often criticised for volatility and unpredictability, Trump’s intractable opposition to the player’s actions has been a constant. At various times he has proposed that players who protest should be ejected from games, fined, suspended and even banned from the NFL.
This has been a winning strategy for Trump, with a CBS poll showing that just 11% of Republican voters say they support kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest. In a White House that struggles with consistent messaging, this is one issue that has consistently allowed Trump to appear tough on an issue that speaks to base.
While the players at the centre of the protest frame their actions as a response to issues of social injustice and police brutality, their opponents consistently claim that kneeling during the anthem is unpatriotic and disrespectful, most specifically disrespectful to veterans.
Speaking earlier this year on the issue, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated of the President that:
“He thinks it’s about respecting the men and women of our military. It’s about respecting our national anthem and it’s about standing out of pride for that.”
The problem is that Trump’s record of showing respect for his nation’s military is chequered at best.
Trump was notoriously issued with five deferments to eligibility for the draft during the Vietnam war. This is a contentious issue, as Trump is not the first American politician to avoid service in Vietnam. President’s George W Bush and Bill Clinton both received deferments, as did Vice President Joe Biden.
Even without treading on the potentially controversial ground of the President’s eligibility for the draft however, it’s difficult to reconcile his passionate defence of his nation’s veterans with his actions.
President Trump has notoriously belittled the service of fellow Republican, Senator John McCain, who spent five years as P.O.W. during the Vietnam war. The personal feud between the two men dates back over 3 years, with Trump repeatedly making disparaging remarks about McCain’s service.
Trump originally called McCain’s service into question on the basis of his capture by North Vietnamese forces with the now infamous quote
I like people that weren’t captured, OK?
This was followed in May this year by a Trump staffer making statements to the effect that McCain’s opinion on a Trump nominee for CIA Director was unimportant because he was “dying anyway.”
The verbal stoush continued as recently as this morning when Trump signed into law a piece of legislation named in McCain’s honour, without actually paying tribute to, or even mentioning the man himself.
Trump’s feud with McCain could be passed off as more about political differences than veteran’s issues, but unfortunately Trump’s chequered history with veterans doesn’t stop there. Trump has repeatedly attacked the families of deceased American veteran’s, known as Gold Star families.
The most famous of these incidents occurred on the campaign trail in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election when Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, chose to publicly criticise the parents of a deceased American Serviceman who had spoken at the Democratic National Convention.
For a man who has agitated so vigorously for the importance of honouring his nation’s veterans, it is difficult to reconcile Trump’s words with his actions. In truth, it is difficult to see these comments as anything other than political point scoring on an issue that the President knows will score points with his supporters. He has even admitted as much himself, in comments reported by Jerry Jones, a Trump supporter and owner of the Dallas Cowboys NFL Franchise.
According to Jones, the President stated that he believed that the subject was ;
a very winning, strong issue for me
The issue at the heart of all this, black athletes choosing to protest social injustice by kneeling during the playing the national anthem, remains controversial. It is an issue that deeply divides communities on a very personal level. When forming an opinion on this issue however, Presidents Trump’s statements should be seen as nothing more than what they are. Cheap stunts to score easy political points. His duplicity on this issue is on the public record.
There is an old adage that actions speak louder words. If the President spent more time actually honouring his nation’s veterans, and less time talking about the Anthem protests, then his opinion on this issue may gain some credibility.