Each time I think of Donald Trump’s remarks about black professional football players kneeling in protest during the National Anthem, I vacillate between anger and sadness.
Not just because Trump reduced a protest involving the value of black lives to a political publicity stunt. I am angry because Trump may have manufactured this tiff to distract attention from a healthcare bill that could leave millions uninsured, or the threat of North Korea detonating a Hydrogen bomb, or the investigation of Trump’s campaign colluding with Russians.
I am sad because, of all the things that should earn the president’s attention, he focuses his ire on the actions of black athletes who dared to protest silently during the National Anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired,” Trump told an Alabama crowd while stumping for Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange this weekend. “Total disrespect of our heritage. A total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
The NFL, from owners and players to fans and coaches, quickly denounced the president’s statement. As the anthem played prior to Sunday’s games, many locked arms in protest, or knelt together in defiance, or sat in the locker room in rebellion. But for me, the president’s words reflect a stunning disregard for the rights of Americans—one that warrants so much more than a single day of protest.
His racial pandering angers me. His lack of dignity saddens me. But more than anything, I am enraged that Donald Trump, like every president, swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Then he called for the punishment of Americans who peaceably protest, and in doing so he disrespected everything our nation claims to stand for.
Our nation’s heritage—forged in the cauldron of race and class, love and hatred, struggle and betrayal—is defined by the Constitution that Donald Trump swore to defend. Not a flag or a song. Not a game or a statue. The Constitution.
It is the Constitution that gives Donald Trump the right to speak in vile terms about NFL players who protest the mistreatment of African Americans. It protects the ugly and sexist implications that accompany the term, son of a bitch. It even gives Trump the right to refer to those who march with white supremacists as “very fine people.”
But the Constitution gives no one—including the President—the right to squelch peaceful protest. It gives no one the right to stop an American from petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. In fact, the Constitution gives every American the right to protest peacefully.
There is nothing more peaceful than kneeling silently, or raising a clenched fist in protest, or sitting along a bench while others stand. There is no grievance more pressing than the loss of life at the hands of government agents.
When black people are 2.5 times more likely than their white counterparts to be shot and killed by the police whose salaries our taxes pay, African Americans have a grievance. When black men comprise 40 percent of unarmed people who are shot and killed by police, even though we are only 6 percent of the population, African Americans have a grievance. When officers who engage in this behavior are rarely charged and almost convicted, African Americans have a grievance.
As president of this country, Donald Trump should be encouraging Americans to protest peacefully. He should be keeping his pledge to preserve and defend the Constitution. He should be working to provide a redress for American grievances.
If Mr. Trump cannot do that for every American, then yes, someone should be fired.
We should start with Donald Trump.
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