Here’s a quick current events quiz. Does anyone remember why the president of the United States happened to find himself in Alabama Friday night? And let’s face it, there is never a good reason to be in Alabama on any day of the week.
If you are Alabama’s appointed U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, who is running for the job on a more full-time basis against frequently defrocked state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, you might be wishing Donald Trump hadn’t bothered to stump for his campaign. After all, the president’s rambling speech made Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” sound like Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” speech.
The president could have taken to the stage, praised Strange’s seven months of service in Washington as the greatest statesman since Benjamin Franklin last dined alone and been back on Air Force One for his Saturday tee time. Instead, Trump fretted about Strange’s lagging poll numbers, raising the possibility the senator might lose before promising to return to Alabama to campaign for Moore should he win the primary run-off election. Gee, thanks for all the help.
Trump also opted to declare war on the National Football League. Stay tuned for next week when the commander-in-chief goes mano-a-mano with USA Table Tennis, the World Chess Foundation and the American Birding Association.
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Trump’s ire towards the NFL was sparked by the decision by some players to take a knee during the pre-game rendition of the national anthem, first practiced last year by former (accent on the word “former”) San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is now playing the position of blacklisted cause celebre.
The kneeling began as a protest by players to call attention to the deaths of several black men at the hands of police officers.
Everybody loves the concept of free speech, until they get offended. And then to kneel or not to kneel morphs into a patriotic litmus test.
The president conveniently forgot that when he was sworn into office in January before the biggest crowd in the history of crowds, he promised to defend and protect the U.S. Constitution, which includes First Amendment protections for the citizenry to freely express themselves even if it annoys people.
Instead Trump labeled any NFL player who dared to kneel during the playing of the anthem a SOB, who should be fired for their “… total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect for everything we stand for.”
Since about two-thirds of all NFL players are black, Donald Trump holding himself up as a champion of “heritage” and respecting “everything we stand for” while pontificating in the middle of Alabama was more than a racial dog-whistle. It was a symphony of demagoguery.
By Sunday, legions of NFL players - white and black - were kneeling out of solidarity with the targets of the president. Of course Trump’s sense of patriotic outrage might have carried more resonance had he not been so wishy-washy in decrying the anti-Semitic/racist hate speech of hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who has assembled in Charlottesville, Va.
Then again one’s SOB can be merely another’s “very fine people.”
It is noteworthy NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and many team owners, including the New England Patriots’ Robert Kraft, a long-time Trump ally, opted to stand in support of the players.
For in the end, the protests have begun to be less about police brutality than to standing up to an opportunistic president’s assault on freedom of expression.
Think of it as the NFL’s ultimate Statue of Liberty play.
The writer is a Tampa Bay times columnist.