Last week, the president of the United States held a rally in Alabama to deliver a long, rambling endorsement of one ultraconservative Senate candidate over another, apparently on the basis of the candidate’s height, an endorsement he admitted to the crowd might be “a mistake.” During what may have been some sort of medical episode, he lashed out in rage at Colin Kaepernick and other football players who had quietly protested police violence against black men by kneeling during the national anthem, saying that anyone who did so was “a son of a bitch” who should be fired.
Later, noticing that this random snarl had won him some attention, the president fished around for another black athlete to insult and, finding one on Fox News, announced that because the star player of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry, had expressed reluctance to accept an invitation from the Trump White House, he was withdrawing a hitherto unannounced invitation to the team. The president also demanded that team owners force players to stand for the anthem or be fired, and for fans to boycott the NFL if they failed to do so.
The result of all this was to get players and coaches in numerous sports to tell the president, with varying degrees of indirection, to fuck off; many NFL players and one of the two teams in the WNBA finals abstained from standing and/or appearing for the anthem on Sunday. This display is thought by people like National Review editor Rich Lowry (in yet another in an endless series of This Is Why Trump Won posts) to have energized such elements of Trump’s base as would revel in gratuitous insults to black athletes for failing to behave as septuagenarian rage-honkies demand. (Reports vary on the size of that constituency, but the percentage of Trump support it represents is thought to be very large.)
One constituency was definitely energized: rightbloggers and other conservative pundits.
The brethren’s support for Trump was eerily reminiscent of their reaction to a similar controversy in 2009 involving Rush Limbaugh. Like Trump, Limbaugh is fond of racist characterizations, and like Trump he was embittered by an attempted business deal with the NFL (in Trump’s case, the United States Football League fiasco; in Limbaugh’s, an attempt to buy the St. Louis Rams). Conservatives supported Trump as they had Limbaugh, by raging about left-wing infiltration of the NFL and suggesting a boycott.
This was most egregious among the bottom-feeding outfits like Conservative Patriot, which screamed, “IF YOU ARE SICK AND TIRED OF NFL BS GET INVOLVED!,” provided its readers with the phone numbers of the NFL commissioner and the NFL Players Association and bade them, “TELL THEM TO GO JUMP IN THE LAKE/TELL THEM YOUR N-O-T GOING TO WATCH THEIR CIRCUS’S ANY LONGER/TELL THEM TO FIRE KAEPERNICK AND ALL THOSE LIKE HIM/TELL THEM TO MOVE TO VENEZUELA, CHINA OR NORTH KOREA THEY WILL BE WELCOMED THERE/PASS THIS ON.”
The higher-class conservatives said much the same thing but in slightly more temperate language.
At PJ Media, for example, Michael Walsh bade “Farewell to the National Football League.” He also announced he hadn’t watched the games faithfully since 1974 so who cares, but he nonetheless perorated on how “overwhelmingly leftist” sportscasters and sportswriters were betraying “the militaristic component of the sport, which was presented as akin to war” and “appealed especially to red-state dwellers.”
“Unless something is done, the conflict between the whiny snots of the #TakeAKnee movement, and their stump-broke enablers in management, and NFL fans is going to put the NFL in a death spiral,” snarled RedState. “As much as I loved to play football as a young man and enjoy watching it today, I’m not going to put up being insulted for the privilege of doing so.” That was noncommittal as far as boycott threats go, but RedState could afford to be, as no one is going to check and see if he or any other rightblogger is actually reading a good book on Sundays instead of gorging on nachos and beer and falling asleep in front of the flat-screen.
Others, God help them, tried to explain why besides their own blind rage it was wrong for players to protest the killings of black people.
On Twitter, the Federalist’s Ben Domenech asserted the players “owe the nation allegiance”; in return, he declared, “The nation owes you the protections of the Constitution. This is our birthright.” When it was pointed out to him that the protests were about the denial of that birthright through police violence, Domenech sniffed, “Demand inclusion in the great American project, not denounce it as morally bankrupt,” which is a part of Kaepernick’s silent protest I missed — maybe he was blinking out “U.S. is morally bankrupt” in Morse code.
“It is an act of mass disloyalty, it dishonours their sport and it dishonours them,” raged Melanie Phillips and yes, as those spellings suggest, she’s not even American but whatever, she soldiered on: “It’s Black Lives Matter, it’s the campus violence, it’s the intimidation of speakers with views outside the group-think box.… It’s the culture war. And it’s now coming to a football pitch near you.” I say!
When it became clear the players were not intimated by Trump, the brethren whipped out their silver linings playbook. When Alejandro Villanueva was the sole Steelers player to take the field for the anthem, columnist Kurt Schlichter jubilantly tweeted, “It’s called manhood.” “Alejandro Villanueva Is the Only Real Man on the Pittsburgh Steelers,” announced PJ Media’s Michael Van Der Galien, and I really hope he gets a chance to tell them that in person someday and that I’m around to watch.
Other rightbloggers also assailed the butchness of the athletes in question; Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff, a lawyer, commanded Steph Curry to “man up.” “Hey, Golden State Warriors, President Trump honors winners, not whiners,” yelled Fox News’ Todd Starnes from behind three locked doors miles from Oracle Arena.
Then there was the old “violence never solved anything, and neither did nonviolence either, so best to just give up” argument, most ably expressed by David Frum, a Canadian conservative whom some liberals have mistaken for Woke because he occasionally criticizes Trump.
Frum said all this protest was just a distraction from Trump’s Russian funny business (“As yet, there has been no showing of any illegality”), and suggested that Trump was by his actions “hoping to provoke a dynamic in which many of the country’s most famous and most visible African Americans appear en masse to disrespect the anthem and the flag.”
Frum wasn’t disputing that the players had the right to protest, of course, but cautioned that “people exercising their rights in spectacularly televised ways would be wise to consider their actions carefully.” If only civil rights workers from the 1960s had heeded Frum’s advice, they could have avoided the bad publicity they got from their protests and defeated Jim Crow; well, too late for them, but not for the NFL players, whom Frum counseled to stand for the anthem — but also to “put your signature to the demand that this least American of administrations be investigated down to its bottomest murk and filth.” That’s right — instead of using your considerable public platform, sign a petition! That’s the kind of thing that’ll really rattle Trump.
At Business Insider, Josh Barro called Kaepernick “Donald Trump’s best surrogate” based on a “sense I get from more impressionistic reporting on white voters. JD Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ has become a best-seller…” Ugh! I’ll spare you good people, though you should know Barro also revealed that Kaepernick was seen “wearing socks that depict police officers as pigs,” in case his concern-trolling wasn’t moving the needle. (What, his socks didn’t say, “U.S. is morally bankrupt”?)
After the games, big brains of the conservative movement like Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit talked about a culture war they were fighting, as if they were generals in old World War I movies sticking pins in a map of Europe. But those of us who’ve lived among normal people awhile know that, first, football fans are mainly interested in big plays and points on the board, not what Sunday morning talk shows and bloggers are saying; and second, everyone knows Trump will find some other reason to yell at black people in a week or two — maybe Steve Bannon will sneak into the West Wing and finally show him “Lemonade,” and then will come the enraged tweets and posts and columns about how ungrateful Beyoncé is and hip-hop is over and This Is Why Trump Won, etc. The dog whistle will be attended by the same knuckle-draggers Trump perpetually keeps baying and barking with it, and everyone else will just shrug and pray we aren’t killed in a nuclear war.