This past weekend “The Great Divider,” a.k.a. Donald Trump, condemned sports stars who “disrespect” the flag. Most people recognize his attacks as just another attempt to divert attention from his failed campaign promises, such as repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
However, his selective condemnation of African-Americans while wrapping himself in the flag is clearly more than just a diversion. It may also be a pre-emptive attempt to defend a potential impeachment trial by instigating a culture war (or worse) and aligning himself with “patriotism.” Sounds conspiratorial I know, but let’s assume for a moment that his rantings are not the simple ditherings of a dotard, but are calculated to serve his purpose. Why consistently act to divide Americans, especially along racial lines? Is this just a continuation of the racism of the leader of the Birther Movement, or something even more malignant?
The current apoplectic Tweets were apparently precipitated by Stephan Curry refusing to attend a White House ceremony. Trump “disinvited” the team after the refusal to attend and criticized Curry by suggesting the slight was of the presidency and not the president (“… it is considered an honor to be invited …”). Notable in this regard is that Trump never criticized Tom Brady or disinvited the Patriots when Brady refused to attend. Speaking of double standards and quarterbacks … Trump suggests that Kaepernick is a “son of a bitch” for taking a knee while recently stating that people who marched with Nazis/Alt. Right in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Race is clearly the target issue, but so is a dangerous appeal to faux patriotism. Defending racist policies as patriotism may have gone out of vogue after Jim Crow, but Trump is casting that same curse in different words. It began with the usual “law and order” stance in response to Charlottesville by morally equating the overwhelmingly peaceful counter-demonstrators with the Alt. Right/Nazis, and then suggesting that police violate the law by roughing up suspects being arrested (a suggestion apparently taken by the St. Louis City Police Department).
Most Trumpanzees will ignore the fact that the same man who invokes the sacrifices of soldiers who have died defending the country as somehow being offended by the protests was the same man who cowardly refused to serve the country during the Vietnam War. They will see Trump wrapped in a flag and articulating the same resentments they share about “entitled athletes” dishonoring the flag. The cult of Trump will follow where he leads, and that is to a superficial and very dangerous definition of patriotism. It isn’t even a conservative vision of patriotism. Antonin Scalia was no bleeding heart liberal, but he affirmed the right of protesters to desecrate the flag, writing that the flag only stands for ideals, such as the right to exercise free speech, especially as it relates to criticizing the government.
True patriotism may be a concept beyond Trump’s reach, but not so populism. If, and when, the Mueller investigation results in criminal indictments and an impeachment trial, Trump wants to be seen as the defender of the flag, the victim of America haters. He will suggest that the impeachment is a conspiracy of some shadow government intended to undo the election. He will imply that his attackers are Muslims, blacks, liberals hiding in the shadows of government and — most ironically — the lawless. He will try to position the charges of his criminality (or even treason) as an attack on America and not on him, just as he suggested Currey’s slight was to the Presidency. If that happens, then the possibility of violence will become real.