The President’s recent comments on NFL players protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem – specifically that those “sons of bitches” ought to be fired – have been extremely well-publicized and controversial. Many Americans who agree with the President have decided to boycott the NFL as long as players are protesting in that manner, while numerous others support the protests.
Unfortunately, I think the media on all parts of the political spectrum have done a great job burying the lead for this story. Left-leaning media outlets, in my view, seem to be building up these comments as being indicative of Trump’s personal convictions, particularly that he seems to have more of a problem with uppity black athletes taking a knee than he did with white supremacists running people over with cars. And they have a point – Trump’s condemnation of the NFL protests was both stronger and swifter than his response to the violence in Charlottesville, which seemed a bit too tepid and measured given the circumstances.
Conservative-leaning media, on the other hand, has made a point of creating as much confusion as possible over these protests, signifying to me that they have a strong interest in putting these down and making sure these players’ message doesn’t successfully reach the people, or at least the people who regularly consume right-leaning media. This campaign of misinformation centers around the anthem and the flag as symbols of the US military. The logic is simple enough: the flag and the anthem represent the military, so disrespecting these symbols in any way must be a stark condemnation of the military, veterans, and the American way of life.
This may seem like a stretch to many of you, but symbols and images resonate strongly with many of the simple folk that watch Fox and Friends and the like. This line of thinking makes it really easy to convince people that NFL players mean to spit in the face of the people that died for our freedom, especially since no one who watches any mainstream media (and that includes Fox News) is going to get the chance to listen to more than a 5 second sound-byte of an NFL player explaining himself.
So, instead of creating a “national dialogue” about racial injustice and police brutality, which are both major problems facing this country, half the country believes NFL players are desecrating the flag and the troops and, since this is apparently so reprehensible, will refuse to acknowledge any truth behind what the other half of America is saying. Great job, media.
Exhuming A Lead From Six Feet Under
The real motivation behind Trump’s comments is actually something that the President now wants you to forget about. His off-the-cuff condemnation came at a campaign rally for “Big” Luther Strange, former Alabama Attorney General and soon-to-be former interim senator for Alabama. He was the establishment Senate candidate for the seat vacated by US Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, backed by the President, Mitch McConnell, and McConnell’s Super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund.
Securing this seat with an ally was a major goal for McConnell, who is fighting off anti-establishment primary challenges left and right. Unfortunately, McConnell is also the most hated man in Alabama for his perceived poor leadership in the Senate, particularly his inability to pass the ACA repeal-and-replace bill that’s been promised for so long. Judge Roy Moore rode the wave of anti-establishment fervor in Alabama to victory last night in the GOP primary (which is typically more competitive than the general election in a strong red state like Alabama).
Which brings me to my main point: the anti-NFL remarks were meant to drum up support for Luther Strange, the election of whom was critical to Trump and McConnell’s goals. Interestingly, Roy Moore aligns somewhat well with Trump’s politics in that they’re both anti-establishment and down with social conservatism (news flash, Trump, the womanizing New Yorker on his third wife, isn’t actually a social conservative but he pretends to be to get votes). So you might think that Trump would actually be pretty OK with Moore becoming the next senator from Alabama.
Wrong! While Moore would have supported Trump’s candidacy during the election, he does the President no favors in terms of former an actual governing coalition in the Senate. Luther Strange is a good ol’ boy who knows how establishment politics work; that is, from the top down. He likely would have been a faithful ally of GOP congressional leadership, especially since he was using their money to get elected, and that would have helped the White House and congressional Republicans enact their legislative agenda.
Moore, on the other hand, will behave much more like Steve King and Mark Meadows of the House Freedom Caucus, and they will happily sabotage GOP legislation if they don’t think it’s conservative enough. And legislation that appeases these maverick legislators risks being too conservative for moderate Republicans, let alone moderate Democrats. In other words, Moore and the anti-establishment wave of which he is the harbinger, will make the math of any future legislate that much more complicated for Republican leadership who already can’t pass anything.
All The President’s Base Are Belong To…?
I love when people talk about the President’s “base” because they only get brought up when Trump says something stupid or racist. The “base” refers to the 15-20% of people who supported Trump from the outset of the GOP presidential primaries, and it is generally comprised of less educated, working-class, anti-establishment whites. Possibly the story of the election was that many of these “deplorables” didn’t vote a whole lot in past elections and that Trump was able to snake-charm them out of their dilapidated houses.
These are also the biggest supporters of Roy Moore in Alabama, Danny Tarkanian in Nevada, and Kelli Ward in Arizona (all anti-establishment candidates). I think Trump’s biggest concern about this Alabama election wasn’t that he’d have more trouble enacting legislation (he may not have even considered that, as he often doesn’t appear to fully grasp the minutiae of congressional politics) but that he is losing his mantle of “voice of the anti-establishment voter.”
And that, my friends, is why he went after the NFL players. He doesn’t care one way or the other, and I doubt he’s really watched more than 5 minutes of an NFL game in the past 20 years (sure, he’ll schmooze in owner’s boxes but I honestly doubt he even knows the rules of the game). But he does know that people in Alabama, especially those he views as “his” guys, love football, love America, love the troops, and don’t love rich black guys telling them to feel bad. I don’t think he underestimated the people in his base with that assessment, but he appears to have been quite short-sighted in his anti-NFL campaign.
The Alabama Senate GOP primary is over and, for Trump, lost. But now the NFL protests are front page news. Trump has effectively given the protesters a bigger platform, and he’s forced the NFL to come out in support of the protests. He’s also succeeded in bringing the identity politics of the left and right back to the forefront, and that might not be such a great idea when part of the reason he won was that black voters didn’t turn out in 2016 like they did in 2008 and 2012. By making it a lot easier for his opponent to portray him as a racist (hard to believe it’s gotten even easier) he’s likely to be looking at higher minority turnout against, if he’s lucky, the same turnout of disgruntled working-class whites.
Finally, the worst mistake Trump made was taking on the NFL. The NFL is still the most popular sports league in the country, they still have billions of tax-free dollars, and, frankly, football is too good for any sort of boycott to work. Sure, people will burn their team gear and take a few Sundays off, but anyone who can truly stomach not watching football ever again is a sniveling nerd who the NFL doesn’t want as a fan anyhow. And someone may have wanted to mention to Trump that he called for an NFL boycott in the heart of college football country where NFL support was already quite low. Either way, people are stupid and habitual, so NFL “fans” will likely forget what they’re boycotting in be tuning in regularly in a week or two.