Politics & Policy

Blame the NFL, Not Trump

Denver Broncos players kneel during the national anthem at New Era Field, September 24, 2017. (Photo: Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports/via Reuters)
The league allowed the false premise of a despicable protest to be accepted unquestioningly; Trump just brought attention to its error.

I do not believe Trump made matters worse. Regarding the exhibition of contempt by NFL players during the playing of the national anthem, this puts me, quite unusually, at odds with a number of my friends and colleagues at National Review (Jonah Goldberg and David French, for example).

To my mind, to say that the president made things worse is to understate how bad things were — i.e., how appalling the fraud behind the kneeling protest has been. More damaging than anything Trump has said, moreover, is the indulgent reaction to the protest: The received wisdom that even if we find the tactic of the protesters objectionable, we owe them respectful attention because their cause — which they claim is racial equality — is an urgent and honorable one.

To the contrary, the protest promotes a false narrative. And we are not required to take at face value the protesters’ representation that they seek racial equality in the name of justice. Patently, what they are seeking is a perversion of justice based on racial inequality.

Furthermore, there is no First Amendment right to political speech in the workplace. Since the NFL is under no obligation to make its private platform a soapbox for promoting a false narrative — and particularly given that the NFL does not hesitate to suppress expression to which it objects — its decision to allow the exhibition of contempt for symbols of nationhood is a free choice, an implicit endorsement.

If the commissioner and the owners are now made uncomfortable because President Trump pointed out that they need not tolerate the exploitation of their forum by athletes who insult the nation and slander its police, good.

It is beyond cavil that the president’s impetuous remarks, his at times reckless and even offensive blathering, often make things worse, including for the president himself. To take just one example (there are numerous we could cite), his tweets accusing President Obama of tapping his Trump Tower phone lines were not just ill-informed and indecorous; they detracted from what may be a real political-spying scandal. They gave the media a rationale for focusing on Trump’s misstatements to the exclusion of indications that the Obama administration abused its foreign-intelligence collection power in order to monitor the opposition party’s presidential campaign.

But the spiteful public debate over the NFL’s kneeling protesters? He didn’t make that worse. He drew attention to its fraudulent underpinnings.

Was that his intention? I doubt it. Trump is not adept at governing, but he is a master culture warrior. He is president because he knows his Middle American, working-class supporters, what angers and energizes them. He also seems to get, in a way his Beltway betters do not, the chasms between elite opinion and grassroots sensibility. His antennae detect when the former is woefully out of touch.

I don’t think Trump has given much thought to what the kneeling exhibition has been about. I believe he saw and exploited an opportunity to put himself on the side of America, the flag, the anthem, and the police and soldiers putting their lives on the line. In other words, to put himself on the right side of a debate against millionaire left-wing athlete–activists, the left-wing media (including its sports-journalism cohort) that is driving its audience away in droves, and Democrats — especially in the mold of New York City Council crackpots. Last seen demanding the release from prison of FALN terrorist Oscar López Rivera (later honored at the city’s Puerto Rican Day parade), the Council reacted to Trump’s comments by, of course, protesting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Still, regardless of whether Trump grasped the full meaning of what he was doing, his riveting of attention to the controversy, and the provocateurs’ response to his provocation, elucidated the phoniness of the protest. After all, if the protest was against something real, it would not, on a dime, have been turned into just another reason to go after Trump.

The protest is now about Trump because what it was originally about is too indefensible to explain forthrightly.

The protest is now about Trump because what it was originally about is too indefensible to explain forthrightly. Or haven’t you heard the protesters and their ESPN pom-pom squad so earnestly explain that a protest directed at and occurring only during the national anthem and display of the American flag had nothing at all to do with the national anthem and the American flag? (Compare Colin Kaepernick in 2016: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”)

The notion that Trump made things worse is rooted in the belief that he has energized the movement behind an offensive gesture that was petering out before he got involved. Thus, the thinking goes, what was a fading nuisance is now a hot societal divide.

I beg to differ. What is most offensive about the kneeling gesture is not the projection of disrespect for the symbols of nationhood. The brief ceremony in which the anthem is observed at public gatherings is a celebration of American ideals: liberty, equality, and the willingness to fight to defend them. If it were true that American society was still persecuting a racial minority, that America was an imperialist monster, and that police were hunting down young black men, the celebration of those ideals would be a fraud. A contemptuous protest demonstration under such circumstances would be not only defensible; it would be obligatory.

Yet, the fact is: It is not true. It is a monstrous lie.

At the start, the protest was explicitly directed at purportedly institutional racism in the nation’s police departments, which had supposedly led to an epidemic of police violence against black men. (More Kaepernick: “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”) It is a specious, defamatory claim.

Police killings, as the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley notes, are at historic lows. As I have detailed, far more whites than blacks are killed in confrontations with law-enforcement — twice as many in 2015, for example. Police departments are more integrated than they have ever been — often overseen by African-American commissioners and political officials. Yet, observe the numbers crunched by Heather Mac Donald at City Journal: Though they make up only six percent of the population, black males account for 42 percent of police killings; police officers are 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than are unarmed black males to be killed by a police officer.

As for the justice system, it is run by elite graduates of America’s law schools, members of the most politically progressive (and activist) profession in the country. The thought that they would abide institutional racism in the system they control is laughable. As anyone who has practiced in that system can tell you, extraordinary efforts are made to avoid even the appearance of racism. Indeed, fact-pleading — agreement to a narrative of the offense that defies the evidence of the offense — has become a commonplace in order to avoid lawful sentencing enhancements . . . because the disparate-impact crowd insists that many severe sentences must be rooted in racism. Meanwhile, violent crime is ticking up again, as prison-inmate populations have fallen.

There is no place for race-consciousness — a rationalization for racial discrimination — in a system of equal justice under the law.

The protest is a perversion of the ideal of equality.

The higher incarceration rate of blacks (particularly, young black males) versus other groups is a straightforward function of their higher crime rate — which also explains why black populations are inordinately victimized by crime and need active police protection. Though just 13 percent of the population, African-Americans committed 52 percent of homicides between 1980 and 2008; they are responsible for well over 90 percent of the homicides committed against other black people. In 2015, nationwide, 258 black people were killed by police gunfire (the number of white people killed in police shootings was 494). By contrast, according to the Daily Wire’s Aaron Bandler, nearly 6,000 black people were killed by other black people.

The fact that a police officer who kills a black person in a confrontation is not convicted of murder, while a black person who kills another person is, has nothing to do with race. It is a straightforward function of the criminal-law requirements for proving murder. They hinge decisively on matters of intent, malice, depravity, and the concomitant commission of other felonies when lethal force has been used. When a civilian kills a civilian, there is a high likelihood that the act is murder; when a police officer kills a civilian, there is a high likelihood that the act is not murder. The reasons for this are obvious.

Yet, the kneeling protesters, without addressing the salient issue of crime rates, demand that black incarceration rates be reduced to reflect African-Americans’ proportionate share of the general population (again, about 6 percent for men), not their much higher proportionate share of the felon population. Without accounting for the race-neutral proof requirements of criminal law, the kneeling protesters also want the police officer convicted and the black criminal acquitted of murder. The only way it would be possible to achieve these outcomes would be to subvert the American principle of equality under the law.

And what do the protesters purport to be protesting for? Equality.

Right. We are supposed to accept, without inquiry or criticism, what they claim to be seeking. We are supposed to ignore, as if it were not plain as day, that what the protesters are actually seeking — a racially skewed justice system, one that would endanger law-abiding black people by paralyzing the police — is the antithesis of what they claim to be seeking.

If you think Trump made this controversy worse, we’ll have to disagree. What made it worse, much worse, happened long before Trump’s bull-in-a-china-shop routine. It was this: Even people who disagreed intensely with the gesture’s disrespect for symbols of our nationhood were expected to grant the good intentions — the desire for equality and justice — behind the protests.

No. They don’t want equality and justice. There is no place for race-consciousness — a rationalization for racial discrimination — in a system of equal justice under the law.

The NFL well knew what the kneeling protest was about. It was a claim that police were hunting down black men and other people of color. As we’ve seen, Colin Kaepernick could not have been clearer about that. That same year, after five Dallas cops were slain by a sniper, the Dallas Cowboys requested permission to wear small “Arm in Arm” decals on their helmets, in honor of police killed while serving and protecting their community. The NFL said no, that message would not be permitted.

Free speech, right?

If we’re going to make a list of people who made this controversy worse, there will be a lot of names on it before Donald Trump’s.


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