Trump Disrespects the Flag More than Kaepernick

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Trump has criticized NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem. But Trump’s actions dishonor the anthem and American flag more than Kaepernick ever will.

He’s at it again.

Despite the crises of North Korea’s nuclear program, massive devastation from hurricanes in the southern United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and a moribund legislative agenda, Donald Trump chose to spend his afternoon doing what he does best – ranting on Twitter:

Trump’s tweets refer to a long-running controversy over the choice by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other pro-athletes to kneel during the national anthem to protest the mistreatment of people of color. Although I don’t agree with Kaepernick’s tactics and believe there are better ways to fight for racial justice in this country, I will say one thing: Trump has done more to “disrespect our Great American Flag” than Kaepernick ever will.

Trump has abandoned or degraded the values that America stands for. In his first interview as President, he told ABC’s David Muir that torture “absolutely works”; earlier, during his campaign, Trump bragged that, “I would bring back waterboarding. And I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” In a December 2015 interview, he proposed making U.S. troops “take out [the] families” of terrorists, a war crime. Closer to home, Trump encouraged a gathering of police officers to brutalize suspected criminals by slamming their heads against cars. And just this week, he threatened to “totally destroy” an entire country, an act that would constitute genocide.

Trump has engaged in unprecedented attacks upon the freedom of the press; during the campaign, he promised to “open up libel laws” so he could sue media sources he didn’t like, and during his presidency he has labeled the media “the enemy of the American People” [sic] and “a great danger to our country.” When The Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, published stories critical of the President, Trump appeared to threaten Amazon with anti-trust action. Perhaps most menacing, he suggested to then-FBI Director James Comey that he jail journalists.

Despots and tyrants, the very people that America was founded to escape from, have found a friend in the Donald. He never has a bad word to say about Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite his interference in our elections, killing of political opponents, and constant violations of human rights. In fact, when asked about Putin’s opponents dying in mysterious “accidents,” Trump seemed to put the U.S. on the same level as the Kremlin’s murderous regime, equivocating that “you think our country’s so innocent?” Trump has also praised the North Korean madman Kim Jong Un, lauding his leadership skills, and has embraced Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite the increasingly autocratic nature of his rule.

Trump has thumbed his nose at constitutional norms, the very thing that the American flag is supposed to embody. Since his first day in office, he has been in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits executive branch officials from receiving money or gifts from foreign governments. He seems to have no respect for the independence of the judiciary, constantly deriding decisions he dislikes and undermining the authority of federal judges. And don’t forget his disdain for the rule of law, which has been blatantly evident in his machinations around the Trump-Russia investigation and the firing of Comey.

Finally, the very words that Trump utters are scarlet stains on the banner of our democracy. Trump regularly engages in the kind of schoolyard taunts and inanity that are characteristic of a five-year-old bully, not the 71-year-old leader of the free world. Further, his speeches are laden with the words of a sailor, not a statesman. Just yesterday, he said that an NFL player who kneels during the national anthem is a “son of a b**ch” and in July he tweeted out a misogynistic screed against MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski. When I was eight, my parents took me and my brothers to see President Clinton speak in Macon, GA, with no worry that their children would be inundated with profanity. Can modern-day parents say the same when they take their kids to a Trump rally?

Again, I don’t believe that kneeling during the national anthem is the best way to protest injustice, and I think Kaepernick would get his point across much better if he employed a less polarizing tactic. But Trump has no right to lecture people on disrespecting the flag or the anthem – his very presence in the Oval Office is an ugly insult to our national dignity.

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