The Corner

Politics & Policy

Judging Trump’s Response to Kneeling Controversy

In response to And…

If I may offer my own respectful dissent from Rich’s post below, headlined “If Donald Trump Said Don’t Jump Off a F****** Bridge, Would You Do the Opposite?”

I’ll let Jay and David speak for themselves, but I think Rich sails past the most salient point: Donald Trump’s intervention in the kneeling controversy simply made things worse.

I agree entirely with Rich on the basic point that disrespecting the anthem and the flag is inappropriate and a poor way to gain support for your cause. Which is also to say I agree with Trump for the most part on the issue.

But Rich and the president alike know that Donald Trump is a polarizing figure and his intervention was intended to enflame a fizzling controversy — as Jay notes when he describes Trump as a political arsonist.

Surely, we can think of a thousand opinions that we believe to be correct. We, after all, are in the opinion business. To paraphrase Paul Newman in the Road to Perdition, “There are only opiners in this room!” But I bet we could go through that list of correct opinions and identify a very large number of them that it would be best for the president to stay quiet about.

This was the point that both Jay and David were making, and Rich waves it away by saying that support for kneeling shouldn’t be “situational.” But almost everything in politics is situational, whether we like it or not. I’m still with Rich that they shouldn’t have taken a knee. But, like David, I think the decision was understandable.

In fact, I’d bet I could come up with a scenario where even Rich would sympathize, or even support, players taking a knee — or offering some other kind of protest — in response to something Trump said. Since Rich opened the door to argumento ad absurdum with the jumping-off-a-bridge scenario, what if Trump said that immigrant players should be banned from the NFL because foreigners shouldn’t take jobs from Americans? What if he demanded that his face be on all the Jumbotrons during the national anthem (an idea that would probably stop the kneeling, but would probably get players to turn their back)?

Again, it would be better, even in such cases, if protest didn’t take the form of disrespecting the anthem or the flag as a way to oppose Trump, but politics is about symbolism and symbolism tends to be situational. Colin Kaepernick started the politicization of football (or at least he started this chapter), but Trump made the problem worse and I don’t see why it’s wrong to take that into account.

But it seems to me that Rich’s position is that Trump deserves support because he’s right on the issue itself. And he would certainly get mine in a private conversation. But that’s not the situation we are in. The notion that Trump made this a national controversy without any regard to his political self-interest or his addiction to being the center of every conversation is just farcical to me because it is contrary to almost every other needless uproar he has started. In other words, the issues involved are situational whether we like it or not.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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