Sometimes, even the reddest meat goes rancid. Sometimes, even the cheapest political ploy can blow up in your hands.
So it was with Donald Trump’s racially coded pandering this weekend against black professional athletes who chose to take a knee as the national anthem was played.
Trump launched his latest vulgar tirade in northern Alabama on Friday night: “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. He’s fired.’” The athletes’ silent protests, the president roared, are a “total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
“Our” heritage? Everything that “we” stand for? At a Republican rally in Alabama! If that’s not racially divisive language, I don’t know what is.
Trump followed up with a weekend-long Twitter storm. After disinviting the NBA’s Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry from the White House, the president doubled-down against the football league: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
“Privilege … disrespect … not be allowed … our flag.” Yes, this was definitely the same president who blamed “many sides” for the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. Just because a player earns a lot of money means he forfeits his right to think, speak or kneel?
But here’s the cheery part, the part that clearly caught the president by surprise: All Trump’s hostility backfired on him. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called the president “divisive.” Trump’s good pal, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the president. The 32 team owners all stood firmly by their guys.
Even people who hated pro football were suddenly tuning in on Sunday, wondering how many other players would take a knee before the game. A bunch of “privileged” and “disrespectful” athletes had just shown the president what America actually means.
Metro columnist Ellis Henican is the best-selling author of a dozen books including the upcoming “Trumpitude: The Secret Confessions of Donald's Brain.” He is on Twitter @henican.