On Monday night, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee took a bended knee on the House floor to show her solidarity with NFL players who had done the same.
I kneel in honor of them! I kneel in front of the flag and on this floor!
I kneel in honor of the First Amendment! I kneel because the flag is a symbol for freedom! I kneel because I’m going to stand against racism! I kneel because I will stand with those young men and I’ll stand with our soldiers! And I’ll stand with America because I kneel!
Listening to her rhetorically passionate and intellectually vapid nonsense, one might actually be persuaded of the converse to the point she was making, and felt instead that kneeling football players are the greatest threat facing the United States in these troubled times.
It’s easy to forget that the president is using Twitter to declare war on North Korea, that Puerto Rico is in ruins after Hurricane Maria, or that Republicans have once again crashed and burned in their attempt to repeal Obamacare.
No, what matters is that every “son of a bitch” that “disrespects our flag” should be fired, tarred, and feathered.
Well, President Trump didn’t include those last two terms, but from the tone of his remarks, it sounded like he would have if he’d thought of it.
Trump’s NFL tweets aren’t a distraction, it’s identity politics
Most observers are dismissing Trump’s latest tirade is just one more example of a president with no filter who spouts off without any rhyme or reason.
But far from being just another temper tantrum, Trump’s unprovoked attack on the NFL is very likely a deliberate strategy to accomplish two specific goals.
First, with Obamacare still standing, Trump is pointing to kneeling football players to distract attention from his obvious failures. With Republicans being unable to deliver on their core campaign promise of the last seven years, it’s easier to ask, “Shouldn’t that tight end over there be standing up?”
What’s remarkable is that this grade-school diversion tactic is actually working. And that means Trump’s second goal is likely to succeed, too.
Put simply, Trump’s overriding political drive behind his actions here is, in substance, to make the Republican Party appear more patriotic than the opposition.
Notice, for instance, that Sheila Jackson Lee is championing people who refuse to stand for the national anthem. Notice, also, that she is a Democrat, and the loudest voices attacking Trump for this latest sleight of hand are also Democrats.
Through this kerfuffle, Trump has managed to explicitly associate patriotism with the Republican Party. This is not a coincidence. Trump is exploiting the NFL in a deliberate attempt to leverage identity politics in the GOP’s favor. And it’s working! If voters continue to believe the Republicans are the party of patriots, then that makes Trump 2020 a more likely prospect.
(Photo of Donald Trump speaking at the Iowa Republican Party’s 2015 Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa by Gage Skidmore.)