45’s NFL Comments: A New Low for the American Presidency

Why 45's latest tirade is about race, when he says it's not, and is so divisive.

Posted Sep 26, 2017

This week the President stated that his comments about the NFL “have nothing to do with race.” In other words, he walked into a fight that’s about race and said it’s not about that. Why is it about race?

He attacks black athletes exercising their Constitutional right to free speech by taking a knee during our racist national anthem (Have you heard it in its entirety, in all of its verses? No? Doing your homework will make your opinion more valid and meaningful). Regarding persons who kneel to protest police brutality, and the undisciplined use of lethal force by law enforcement, during the national anthem (which should be changed to "America the Beautiful," by the way), the President tweets: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b---- off the field right now’." This hateful, ignorant tweet is not an acceptable expression coming from the Oval Office. But there's more to it than that.

The flag is a symbol that represents our core values of the right to free speech, the right to a free press, and the right to expression. That’s what it’s about. Not falling into line, not calling for persons to be fired for exercising their Constitutional rights, not telling people to "Love it or leave it." People fought and died so that citizens would have the right to free speech. They fought and died for our Bill of Rights. At a fundamental level, the current President does not understand this. He does not fully comprehend the Constitution, or what the flag means. 

Steph Curry, a respected and respectful black athlete, was also targeted by 45’s tweets this week. And, at the same time, after Charlottesville, 45 said some white supremacists, KKK members, and neo-Nazis are “very fine people.” So, who is called out and attacked on Twitter, and who is not, is about race. Even if he says it's not.

Somehow the current President thinks it’s always about him, or should be. Holding campaign-style rallies are his favorite thing to do because he craves the attention. And the uncritical adulation from the bobbleheads, puppets, and parrots in his audience, who know what to say on cue. “Build the wall!” “Lock her up!” “USA! USA!”

I worry that the staunchest 45 supporters have relinquished all reason, all critical thought, all standards for how their then-candidate, now President, should speak and behave. It’s as if people who were very traditional, conservative, and pointed to moral values and principles endlessly in the past now do not possess a moral compass at all. They do not care what 45 says. “Just grab ‘em by the p----.” This was dismissed as “locker room talk”. "Boys being boys" (He’s 72 years old, and he does express himself like a temperamental child, often, on Twitter).

Everything is discounted, minimized, and blown off. Whenever press coverage is unfavorable, it is dismissed as “fake news.” There is a point where ignorance, a lack of critical thinking, and poor reality testing moves from the realm of irresponsibility and childishness to the realm of being simply out of touch. To being fragmented, where your thoughts, beliefs, values, and actions no longer correspond. To lacking any moral authority or consistency. Where one’s words and deeds reflect a person who lacks emotional well-being, basic personal congruence, and integrity.

GOP strategist Steve Schmidt said today: “He’s literally alienated every group, from the NFL to Prisoners of War, that you could think to name in America. He’s the Great Divider. And it’s not accidental; it’s purposeful. He gets up every day—every day—premeditatively...‘How do I divide the American people? How do I inject toxins into the body politic, for the purposes for my political transactional benefit.’” 45 directs his supporters to target various fellow citizens with their ire, their rage, their hate. These are the tactics of bullies, of demagogues. Not of U.S. Presidents. 

Our leaders are supposed to set an example, to exercise moral leadership and to bring the country together as much as possible—not just think about themselves first, second, third, and last. If they aren’t able to serve as leaders, if they are not able to go beyond their own pettiness, ignorance, and immaturity, then they have no business being in office. We should expect better; until we do, the slide to lower and lower lows will continue, and the offices our elected representatives hold will be stained and delegitimized beyond recognition for future generations. Let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that. Just have some standards. Then vote appropriately, and congruently. 

Kyle D. Killian, Ph.D. is the author of Interracial Couples, Intimacy & Therapy: Crossing Racial Borders from Columbia University Press.