My next newspaper column:
“Thinking NFL players are protesting the flag is like thinking Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation."
That’s from Facebook, source of all wisdom. But it’s true. Same with saying they’re disrespecting veterans. Being one myself, I understand why some vets believe it; but they’re missing the point, wide right. Worse, they’re being used by a president with less standing to define patriotism than any president, ever.
Our justifiable wars (which excludes Vietnam and all that followed except, maybe, Afghanistan until Bush abandoned it) were fought in the name of freedom. Founded by people resisting unjust governance, America began with protests. The action we’ve seen on NFL fields is as American as football, embodying a most fundamental Americanism: belief that wrongs can be righted by rallying support. Peacefully challenging inequality honors the flag, those who fought under it, and the promise of justice for all. For which it stands.
Oh, but our country has been good to them, say the Foxolimjonesified. Yes. Which makes their activism more significant: it’s for those who haven’t voice or means, who live with inequity daily. Thus, the source of this cynically fomented outrage: the Republican party denies racial inequality exists. To get what those athletes are about, one must acknowledge imperfection, including racism and unequal justice. Denying them is deliberate blindness. Fixing them requires loving America enough to believe it can improve, and willingness to help it happen.
NFL owners didn’t have to support their players. They did. Instead of men attending to equality, Trump could have called for firing people honoring Nazi flags, hailing inequality. He didn’t.
I served in Vietnam because I was drafted. Unlike Donald Trump, who undoubtedly used family wealth and influence to get five phony deferments for “bone spurs” which mysteriously didn’t prevent him from playing varsity sports, I hadn’t tried to get out of it. Unlike Trump, I figured if I did, someone worth no less than me would be going in my place.
While I was dodging rockets in Danang (successfully but for one), my wife was working for anti-war candidates and participating in war protests. As I was there involuntarily, her bravery and patriotism were greater than mine. Risking reprisal from Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, believing America could be better, she exercised rights I was told I was fighting for. Candidate Trump literally wrapped himself around a flag in a laughably phony tableau of patriotism. Unlike him, my wife and millions then, and star athletes and millions now, know patriotism is more real, difficult, and committed than that.
Dining with a thrombus of right-wing leaders recently, Trump bragged that his “NFL thing” was “really taking off,” that he was “winning” on it. Winning what? A war of propaganda and deception? Distraction from the latest failure of a pre-failed campaign promise, repeal and replacement of The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act; or the just-revealed White House private email accounts? Or, despite his bragging about it, a disorganized, ineffective relief effort in Puerto Rico? Or possibly his imaginary secret plan to defeat ISIS in thirty days. (Maybe he meant thirty days from tomorrow.) “Winning,” he called his NFL demagoguery. Such are the priorities of a losing narcissist.
Except as a word to manipulate supporters, Donald Trump knows nothing of patriotism. Calling white supremacists “very fine people” but men protesting inequality “sons of bitches” is the opposite of patriotism. Hoping to wrench health coverage from millions of Americans, including low-income veterans, isn’t patriotism, nor is promoting a tax plan that experts say will add two trillion in debt while enriching his fellow plutocrats at the expense of Americans struggling to succeed. Patriotism isn’t running scam businesses and hiding tax returns. Neither is a “I know you are but what am I” contest with the world’s second most immature leader. And it absolutely isn’t receiving election assistance from a foreign enemy (who’s now helpfully pushing NFL outrage online).
His list of transgressions makes Donald Trump particularly unqualified to define patriotism for us. With phony outrage, the man who got rich avoiding taxes and bilking Americans wants us to ignore the inequality those NFL players are identifying. In claiming they disrespect our flag, Trump stands truth on its head, which, it’s clear, is right where his remaining supporters prefer it to be.[Image source]