When President Trump took time out of his rally on Friday to address Colin Kaepernick and his peaceful protests, he knew exactly what he was doing. Trump chose to stoke the racial tensions that play so well with his base. He had a chance to choose leadership but instead chose division. He chose to drive a wedge between NFL fans all across the country. The president’s actions should come as a surprise to no one.
Trump rarely thinks before he speaks and rarely speaks with any semblance of decency or respect for the office that he holds. Rather than positively contribute to an already difficult conversation, the president chose divisiveness. Rather than focus on a packed agenda filled with issues like North Korea, the Dream Act and the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the midst of a national disaster, the president chose to go after the very people actually attempting to “make America great again.”
All indications appear that like everything else Trump touches, his plan to use sports as a tool for political division failed. Athletes, owners, and sports commentators of all race and political affiliation spoke out against the president. His plan failed because nothing about what the athletes who knelt before the national anthem on Sunday did is wrong. In fact, Kaepernick’s silent protest has been helpful. It has created a much-needed dialogue around issues like over-policing in minority communities and unequal treatment in our justice system.
The same cannot be said about the president’s actions. The president maliciously attacked the character of Americans merely attempting to draw attention to issues often pushed into the shadows. The president maliciously attacked the character of athletes like Kaepernick, Michael Bennett and Malcolm Jenkins, calling them “sons of b-----s” and calling for their firing. These men not only risked their career and reputation for a higher purpose but also donated their time and money to create a better community around them. What has Trump done besides try and divide us?
The president said nothing of the constitutional protections that afforded the numerous football players the constitutional right to kneel down in protest. Trump said nothing of the civil rights pioneers like Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali or Rosa Parks, whose silent protest led to the same gains that Kaepernick and his fellow protesters intend to expound upon. Instead, Trump used our soldiers, who have bravely given their lives and had their caskets draped with the American flag, as a political prop.
The sacrifice of our brave men and women should be respected and should be honored. But we should also be clear about what they died for. Our soldiers don’t go to battle for the American flag. That may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. A flag is just fabric woven together in a pattern. Our soldiers go to battle for what it represents. The American flag represents liberty, freedom and hope. When millions of Americans don’t feel like our country is living up to the ideals that our flag represents, they have every right to say so. In fact, they are obligated to do so. That’s exactly why the framers preserved our First Amendment rights in the Constitution. It’s part of who we are.
This is so much bigger than politics. We can debate what rate businesses should be taxed. We can debate whether our border needs a wall. We can even debate whether we should repeal and replace ObamaCare. What we can’t debate is what kind of country we want to be. That’s already been decided. We’ve fought that battle before. Too many lives have been given and too many tears have been shed to fight that battle again.
We are a country built on our differences. We are a country made up of all races, all religions, all colors and all creeds. Our differences make us stronger. Our differences make us wiser. Our differences make us who we are. Some see our differences as subtracting from the American experience, rather than adding to it. Those people are wrong. Those people conveniently forget that this country was founded by protesters. This country was founded by people demanding that the government treat them fairly. This country was founded by people fed up with the status quo. People like the ones kneeling in protest today.
Trump defends keeping confederate statues on public land but thinks that athletes kneeling to draw attention to our nation’s racial injustices is wrong. Trump is part of the problem. Many of his supporters are offended by Americans peacefully protesting injustice, but not offended when our president condones violence against people who disagree with him. His supporters are part of the problem.
Trump’s supporters think that pointing out the mistreatment of African Americans by bad cops is divisive, but defended him when he questioned the citizenship and religion of President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEmanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Public officials are under physical and digital siege We must protect and support our health care safety net MORE. That’s a problem. Trump’s supporters make excuses for his disgusting language and tone but criticized Obama for humanizing a dead child when he said, “If I had a child, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” That’s a problem. Trump and his supporters can be part of the problem or part of the solution, but they can’t be both.
It’s time for this nonsense to end. It’s time for the adults to take back the conversation. We have some very complicated problems to solve, and those problems are being exacerbated by people who don’t have America’s best interests at heart. Trump doesn’t want peace or cohesion. Trump wants chaos and division. For once, there are good people on both sides, but the president just isn’t one of them.
Michael Starr Hopkins is an attorney and former member of the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump defends indicted GOP congressman GOP lawmaker says he expects to be indicted over FBI investigation Why it's time for conservatives to accept the 2020 election results and move on MORE. He regularly appears on Fox News and CNN to talk about national politics. You can follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.