Crowley to Trump: Intercept the NFL’s ‘unity’ message

Crowley to Trump: Intercept the NFL’s ‘unity’ message
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It’s a familiar pattern: President Trump says or does something controversial, and all of the usual suspects erupt with a new round of condemnation and indignation while he sits back, amused by the clockwork predictability of it all.

So it was with his recent comments criticizing NFL players who choose to kneel or otherwise absent themselves from the pregame national anthem, presentation of the American flag and other celebrations of country — a practice begun by former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick to protest racial injustice. Trump blasted their “disrespect” for the nation, its freedoms and those who’ve defended them and suggested team owners fire them, “Apprentice”-style.  He then called for a boycott of the NFL and praised fans who booed kneeling players.  

Recent polling shows that Trump is on sound footing, with the vast majority of Americans agreeing that the players’ behavior is “unpatriotic,” and over one-third saying the protests made them less likely to watch pro-football. Steadily sliding game-day TV ratings appear to bear that out.

But public opinion may well shift, particularly now that the original protest has morphed into a widespread NFL anti-Trump “resistance” passion play amplified by a sympathetic media.  So it’s critical for Trump to now turn the tables.


Of his many effective campaign messages, one was particularly resonant: “This isn’t about me,” he said often. “This is about all of you.”

He made a compelling case that he sought the presidency for no other reason beyond “making America great again.” Fresh to politics and beholden to no one, Trump championed the Little Guy, whose economic anxieties and social and cultural views had long been mocked and ignored by the ruling elites.

When Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton asked if she'd be Bloomberg's vice president: 'Oh no' Trump launches three-day campaign rally blitz Free Roger Stone MORE launched her self-serving and pseudo-feminist slogan, “I’m with her,” Trump turned it upside down, declaring “I’m with YOU.”

In that moment, he made the contest about something bigger than himself. He made it about America.

The NFL controversy calls for the same Trumpian script-flipping. Now that his remarks provoked the uproar he anticipated, he should move to prevent the protesters from pulling the classic leftist trick of conflating him with the country.

As Dinesh D’Souza points out in his important new book, “The Big Lie,” the fascists of the left historically equated the leader with the nation, making them interchangeable. American progressives adopted the tactic; as D’Souza puts it, it was “FDR’s own view — echoed in the progressive media — that FDR is America and America is FDR … .”

Trump is not America and America is not Trump, and he should say so. His statement should use President Obama’s maneuver of acknowledging the legitimacy of all viewpoints to create the impression of thoughtful deliberation, even when he had no intention of changing his predetermined position.

Perhaps something like this:

“I ran on a message of uniting the country and I intend to do my best to achieve that goal. I also understand that this country has serious issues about which reasonable people can and do disagree. If you want to protest me or my administration, that’s fine. Peaceful dissent and conflict resolution are part of what makes this country exceptional. But the national anthem and the American flag are bigger than me. Indeed, they are bigger than all of us, and they exist as symbols of the freedoms that unite us.

“So for all those who pay lip service to greater unity and tolerance, I ask that you demonstrate those values by respecting the flag and anthem. And for those who may disapprove of parts of our history, it is those very symbols which have guided us — and will continue to guide us — to do and be better.

“As president, I am just a temporary steward of this great — though imperfect — system. This isn’t about me. This is about ‘our sacred honor,’ without which we will lose the greatest country that history has ever produced.

By removing himself, Trump would place the challenge squarely back on the NFL to pick its battles more wisely or risk committing economic suicide and ruining a venerated game.

The president may have provided the excuse for the anti-Trump solidarity movement on the field, but he can also move the entire narrative to a higher plane. That would be leadership. And it just might also have the happy result of making the NFL great again.

Monica Crowley is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a former opinion editor for The Washington Times, and frequent guest on Fox News. She holds a Ph.D in international relations from Columbia University.