It’s been a rough couple of days for President Trump, with excerpts from a highly critical new book painting his White House and his intellect in a highly negative light. So on Thursday morning, he once again took to Twitter to jab, for the first time in weeks, one of his low-risk, high-return targets: NFL protesters.
So beautiful….Show this picture to the NFL players who still kneel! https://t.co/tJLM1tvbvb
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
“So beautiful,” Trump said in retweeting a months-old meme. “Show this picture to the NFL players who still kneel!” The meme reads “This is why we stand” around a picture of what appears to be a young widow and infant lying at the grave of a fallen soldier. Here’s the original tweet:
— CoreyJones (@CoreyLMJones) September 16, 2017
The NFL protests began in the 2016 preseason, when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem as a means of protesting police brutality. Kaepernick has followed his stance with action, donating nearly a million dollars to charitable causes. But as he’s been unable to land a job in the NFL since last year, for whatever reason, other players have joined in the protests in his wake. The protests exploded on the national scene in Week 3, when Trump, at an Alabama rally, decried both Kaepernick and the NFL. That following Sunday, more than 200 players from almost every team joined in the protests in defiance of the president.
Leaving aside the question of whether it’s appropriate to use a military widow’s grief purely for scoring political points, Trump’s tweet continues to push the narrative that the protests are disrespectful to the military. Indeed, the chief complaint of most protest opponents was that they believe kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to the men and women who have served and, in many cases, given their lives for their country. (The second complaint is that the protesters are making their stance at an inconvenient time for viewers … which is kind of the entire idea of a protest.)
Protesting players have spoken at length about how their protests aren’t meant to dishonor the military, but rather to raise awareness of systemic racial inequality and police brutality. Many veterans have indicated that they fought to defend not a flag or an anthem, but the freedoms that flag and anthem represent, including, of course, the freedom to protest.
The protests dragged the NFL, like so many other unwitting entities and individuals, into the midst of the political strife that dominates our national conversation in the Age of Trump. And while the protests have largely stopped—only a handful of players on about a half-dozen teams still remain seated, remain in the locker room, raise a fist, or kneel during the anthems at this point—even invoking the idea of the protests remains an easy way to fire up the president’s populist base. It’s a near-certainty we haven’t seen the last of Trump’s Twitter musings on the NFL.