The furor over President Trump’s racist tweets that four liberal congresswomen should pack up and leave has inflamed U.S. culture perhaps as no other reckless rhetoric in his tumultuous tenure. But on the eve of training camps for NFL teams, it needs to be pointed out that the vile attempt to dis-Americanize his critics didn’t reveal itself just last week.
The first trial balloon in his tenure to re-start the dormant nativist trope of “love it or leave it” went up in sports, the platform upon which numerous American cultural conflicts historically have played out.
The passage of time coupled with the contemporary overload of news makes it easy to forget that in May 2018, Trump responded to the word that NFL owners and players agreed on a policy that could result in discipline if players knelt or otherwise protested during the national anthem.
The new protocol came after the 2017 season of widespread, non-disruptive protests by numerous African-American players over police shootings of unarmed black men and social injustice, which followed QB Colin Kaepernick’s lead in 2016.
After Trump earlier called protesters “sons of bitches” who should be fired, he gave an interview to Fox & Friends on Fox News.
“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe they shouldn’t be in the country,” Trump said.
Between the new NFL policy and the players’ own divisions on how to proceed in 2018, the protests dissipated, although some players took up the league’s option of staying in the locker room during the anthem.
So in the mind of Trump, he won, Few others then thought much about his suggestion of relocation.
The change in anthem protocol meant basically he got away with demonizing a nearly all-black protest by skipping over the cherished American value of dissent and conflating the protests with disloyalty. With Trump, it was easy, because loyalty is everything to him. As you may have heard, there’s no room in the Trump White House, Cabinet or Republican Congress for dissent.
So why not try to dis-Americanize again?
Since no damage resulted from cursing, insulting and marginalizing successful people in one of the nation’s highest-profile endeavors, Trump leaped at another chance to divide and demoralize when “The Squad” of four left-wing House members had a split with the Democratic Party’s mainstream.
Personally, I find some of the words and deeds of the congresswomen aggravating, sometimes as pointlessly provocative as Trump’s, especially in characterizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s disagreement with them as race-based. But differences of opinion do not invalidate the holders of the opinions — in either direction.
The Squad’s misfires opened the door for Trump to toss a distraction bomb. Despite the subsequent days of outrage, Trump shows no sign of backing off. Particularly now, when one of his preferred targets, NFL players, returns to the media mainstream, where Trump excels in creating distractions.
If players respond honestly to media questions about Trump’s racism, prepare for more invitations from him to go back where they came from, even if their ancestors go back farther in America than the First Family’s.
The attempt to divide Americans by manipulating sports figures has several remarkable antecedents. One stands out.
Seventy years ago — two years after he became MLB’s first African-American player — Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson appeared before the House Un-American Activities committee at the behest of John Wood, a Democrat from Georgia and former Ku Klux Klan member. Wood hoped to use testimony from Robinson to help smear the other great black athlete of the day, Paul Robeson, as a Communist. A fuller story is told here in The Nation magazine.
Robeson was a towering cultural figure. A two-time All-America football player at Rutgers, an honored orator, singer and actor with a law degree from Columbia who was made wealthy by his popular talents, Robeson also was a social/political activist. He was open about not wanting blacks to serve in any conflict against the Soviet Union after World War II. He had been quoted as saying communism was a better way than the imperialist capitalism of the U.S. and Great Britain.
Robinson’s testimony did criticize Robeson, but he did it in a way that made clear that disagreement over issues did not invalidate the worthiness of the person.
Robinson said that Robeson “has a right to his personal views, and if he wants to sound silly when he expresses them in public, that is his business and not mine. He’s still a famous ex-athlete and a great singer and actor.”
Robinson told the committee that blacks were loyal Americans who would “do their best to help their country stay out of war. If unsuccessful, they’d do their best to help their country win the war — against Russia or any other enemy that threatened us.”
Robinson, who did not seek the audience in front of Congress, didn’t give Wood what he wanted, yet artfully made the point that disagreement on issues did not warrant exile.
“I didn’t want to fall prey to the white man’s game and allow myself to be pitted against another black man,” he later wrote. “I knew that Robeson was striking out against racial inequality in the way that seemed best to him.
“The fact that it is a Communist who denounces injustice in the courts, police brutality, and lynching when it happens doesn’t change the truth of his charges. Just because Communists kick up a big fuss over racial discrimination when it suits their purposes, a lot of people try to pretend that the whole issue is a creation of Communist imagination.”
Robinson insisted, “Negroes were stirred up long before there was a Communist Party, and they’ll stay stirred up long after the party has disappeared — unless Jim Crow has disappeared by then as well.”
The belated explanation largely went unheard. In the 1950s, the Red Scare overwhelmed much rational thinking. Robeson was scorned by many, his music banned, his passport revoked. He died broke and alone in 1976 at 77. He didn’t “go back,” but he was cast out, which is the same thing.
Wood’s tactic of attacking via false pretense and ascribing false purpose (Communists stirring black insurrection) worked well against Robeson. The tactics were also used to great effect by Wood’s Republican colleague in the Senate, Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin.
For five years of fear and dread, McCarthy’s unfounded, relentless and scurrilous attacks in bogus pursuit of Communist infiltrators caused more than 2,000 federal employees to lose their jobs. They, too, were cast out for no reason.
McCarthy’s brutal tactics, corruption and lies eventually brought about Senate censure and an end to one of the darkest periods in American history. He was taken down in part by the courageous work of CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow. His most trenchant quote of the McCarthy saga in 1954 is having a national revival, not a minute too soon:
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
The Democrats’ “Squad” is unpopular to many right now, just as were NFL protesters who dared to make some people uncomfortable during their Sunday recreation. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe did the same during and after the Women’s World Cup.
If athletes and politicians return fire, they will remain contemptible to some, because they are deliberately miscast as disloyal. In fact they are dissenters, a concept, as Murrow said, that is part of American history and doctrine, not some self-serving mythology such as the nationalists’ claim that America was founded as a white Christian nation.
As Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institute put it in a Washington Post column, “In the Declaration of Independence, which Abraham Lincoln recognized as the quintessential statement of American nationalism, there is not a word about culture, color or Christianity.”
A nation borne of dissenters, enriched for parts of four centuries by “squads” of immigrants who were not descended from fearful men or women, now is led by a fearful man.
As Robinson did not want to be pitted against another black man, so Americans do not want to, as Murrow said, walk in fear, one of another. To demand respect for the difference between dissent and disloyalty is to enable power and disable fear.
To know the difference is so American. To stay ignorant of it is to return to the wretchedness of Wood and McCarthy.
Thanks Art, for the respectful and thoughtful reporting. Many citizens suffer confusion, frustration, fear and anger, a sense of lost control over their lifes and Trump is exploiting these emotions everyday. He must be challenged.
You are correct. Tens of millions of Americans view that “challenging” Trump is unpatriotic and un-American. They believe that Trump was sent by God to save America. “Love it or leave it” is the Dear Leader choice of either you agree with Trump– or you hate America, are brainwashed by the main stream media and the deep state, and must be eradicated. As Stephen Miller said, “and you will not question.”
Throughout human history, people who fear change have sought safety in the words of demagogues who promise everything, in exchange for surrendering their freedoms. As far back as the 1920s, H.L. Mencken forecast it would happen here
Thanks Coug. I knew there were more than lyrics coming from you. You’re right about anxiety. The Constitution’s principles have set the course for more than 230 years. The rule of law is what has set us apart and enabled prosperity. It is in serious jeopardy.
Huh. There is no furor except in the far left branch of the Democrat party. Please remember Pres. Trump kicked the Queen of Thieves to the curb in 2016 just as Pres. Obama did in 2008.
Trivia quiz. Joseph Kennedy pulled every string possible to obtain the prosecuting attorney’s job for his son Robert F. Kennedy in the McCarthy hearings. RFK served as the assistant prosecuting attorney behind Roy Cohn (died of AIDS) for a couple of weeks before resigning for the lack of spot light. He did serve as godfather to Joseph McCarthy’s children after McCarthy’s supposed disgrace.
Sue’s bird Megan Repine is the albatross that will rot around her neck and is yesterday’s cheap publicity ploy. May I suggest the Allens were and are not enamored with the public face of their players with their hate America and the Constitution ANTIFA and BSM attics?
Art where is Scoop Jackson and Warren Magnuson? Neither would be comfortable in today’s DNC.
Wait. Which players took anti-constitution and “hate America” stances? I don’t remember that being a thing.
Michael Bennett and Doug Baldwin. I was hoping to see Justin Britt standing next to Bennett with his a supporting hand on his shoulder at the aggrieved parties’ table in a Las Vegas court room but that case disappeared.
I thought you were going to say that. You do realize that neither of them took an anti-constitution or hate America stance, right?
Herb isn’t into facts.
The funny (?) part is he is the type to tell someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum that their feelings aren’t facts, while simultaneously treating his own feelings as facts (as evidenced above). #cognitivedissonance #confusionreigns
Herb, again, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I know both men well enough to know that isn’t true.
Ronald Reagan would be HORRIFIED by Donald Trump and today’s Republican party. Reagan admired democracy. Trump admires authoritarianism. Reagan spent his adult life as a stalwart against Russian influence. Trump is Putin’s puppet. “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” (Eric Trump)
Roy Cohn also worked for Trump’s father, and briefly for his son. The president has long lamented his absence, which tells about all one needs to know about the president.
I’ve heard nothing to suggest Paul Allen’s view, but every owner was concerned. Your memory about players saying they “hate America” is much better than mine. It’s also possible it was never said.
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday
I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I was hoping for more than song lyrics.
Thanks for some pertinent history, Art. I’m not sure how a draft dodger who regularly insults war heroes and even families of those who were killed in action could ever be taken seriously when he lectures about “patriotism.” But I guess if everyone in his party plays along, it all makes sense in Bizzaro World. Someday the history of this time will also be written, and the true patriots will not be identified by flags on their lapels. For anyone who cares to study it, they never have been.
There is perhaps no word more abused in American English than patriotism.
This I have to agree with. I might not share your point of view, but I would sacrifice a great deal to ensure that you have the right to speak it freely. That to me is the true definition, or at least, very closely related.
That does set you apart from Trump, Mark. It’s supposed to set us apart from a fascist dictatorship.
The Nazi Card. Fresh take, Art.
Yet the jackbooted thugs patrolling the streets are from your side of the political spectrum. Not Trump’s.
Well said, Mark. In my college days, in the 80s, some of my best friends and professors had very different political views. We’d argue about touchy subjects like race and war, but it was done with smiles and affection. What happened?
Thomas Jefferson’s and America’s ‘Declaration’ is all about dissent and the right thereof. It is also all about diversity and the right to stand on your own two feet and find your own path to liberty and personal expression. And it is incredibly unifying. It’s interesting that Jefferson is a favorite of left wingers and right wingers as well.
Robeson was a spectacularly talented American who was also a very talented athlete, a powerful activist, and a dissenter who was embraced by people all over the world. There are apparently two films in the works to tell his story and I hope one arrives soon. Then people will have more of a sense of his soul, his oratorical power. He was a treasure. Do yourself a favor and listen to a recording of him reading a speech from Shakespeare’s Othello. Magnificent. Or listen to him sing ‘Old man River’ from Showboat, his signature piece. Incredible. Thanks for bringing up his story, Art.
Some time ago I heard some of his recordings. Remarkable. His story must never be lost.
This is the exact tweet. Word-for-word:
Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime
infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….
….it is done.”
If you find something racist in that? That’s on you. Not Trump.
The racism of that tweet stands on its own, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Prior to this tweet Trump called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five (later shown innocent by DNA evidence…but he still says they’re guilty), pushed for a White vs. Black episode of The Apprentice, spent years claiming that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and was a “terrible student,” claimed that many Mexican immigrants are rapists, called for a ban on Muslims coming to the U.S., said a judge couldn’t be fair because of Mexican heritage, has repeatedly retweeted messages from white supremacists and neo-Nazis, uses “Pocahontas” as an insult, said that “very fine people” march among white supremacists, and so many more examples that can’t fit here.
Notice any pattern?
Good to see you’re paying attention, tor.
1973…Trump sued by the Justice Department for racial bias in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
1991…”Laziness is a trait in black people.” (Donald J. Trump)
1992…Trump Plaza paid $200,000 in fines for racial discrimination in employment
A truly ridiculous (worthy of ridicule or mockery) gymnastics exercise.
Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Tlaib,–born right here, sonny.
Omar from elsewhere but is what they call a “citizen” in the law.
I’m sure there are other gymnastics exercises one can do now, but I really am disinterested as a certain poster has shown his true colors.
And I still give thanks to Allah that my parents moved us away from the Deep South when we were young.
Three came from the totally broken and crime-invested America of Donald Trump. They’re already home.
Omar was fleeing from Somalia the same kind of persecution that Steven Miller’s Jewish grandfather fled in the pogroms of Russia in the early 1900s.
The are all minorities who faced the “go home” insults from many others purely because of race/faith.
Even some Republicans understand Trump is, and has always been, a racist.
That’s what they’re doing and why they went into politics.
Why Art? You really feel the need for this?
Its actually super important. I figure if the Prez can opine so openly and willingly offend hoards of people, and if the athletes can take such open stances on their issues of choice, then its fair game for Theil and other journalists to address these things as well. The more we discuss these things openly, the more opportunity for there is for learning, growth and understanding.
Toxic politics on all sides have seeped into every endeavor. I don’t plan to weigh in often, but Trump loves to trash sports figures for no purpose other than his benefit. Someone needs to speak up.
Yes. I would hope you would have asked the same of Trump when he called NFL players sons of bitches.
It is absolutely your right, but please don’t ask me to read this stuff.
I merely ask you, and all of us, apply your standards equally.
And most sincerely, I appreciate you using name and photo. Public courage in sharing one’s convictions is rare these days.
Pretty sure nobody asked (or forced you) to read it. If you read it, that’s your own decision.
I don’t recall Art asking you to read anything.
Excellent and eloquent, Art. Thank you for speaking the truth.
I was a boy when Jackie Robinson was breaking into the major leagues. I was an avid reader of sports stories, especially baseball. I remember wondering how people, especially other players, could be so openly hateful to such a great player and courageous man.
One theme that ran through many of the stories was Branch Rickey’s insistence that Robinson not incite further hate by retaliating. His restraint was seen as vital to an acceptance of black players in the majors.
We live in a different time. Although the haters of today could have been taken from the cast of characters in Robinson’s time, young people of color will no longer accept that they must accept the white version of reality and conform to a white version of behavior. Many in our country are having difficulty accepting that. Either we will tear ourselves apart, a distinct possiblity, or we will form a more perfect union in which the experiences and insights of all are listened to and valued.
Thank you for a thoughtful column that contributes to the dialogue that must take place.
Thanks for the good words, Robert. Rickey’s order to Robinson was critical in de-segregating baseball. Rickey knew that Robinson had to be successful not only on the field, but had to turn the other cheek to avoid giving white haters a chance to say he didn’t belong. Difficult as it was on Robinson, it hastened integration because every team then wanted a Jackie Robinson more than they wanted to hate.
It was because of the sacrifices of Robinson and his contemporaries that black athletes today feel a little more comfortable in being truthful. But barely.
Thank you for responding Art. Is the “but barely” because athletes of color realize that whatever they say or do will be judged by whether it conforms to a white male notion of what is acceptable, no matter how foreign or wrong that is to the athlete, or political leader, or ordinary citizen of color? While the language of the four congresswomen seems unfair and counter-productive to me, I can’t recall any articles written by people of color analyzing their remarks and why they made them. Of course, they have a right to free speech. In support of that freedom, we need many more voices of color reflecting on the experiences that makes such comments seem important to those who speak them. Moving back to the sports realm, I have always been impressed by the integrity and intelligence of Doug Baldwin. I’ve read the reflections of white reporters about Baldwin but I’m not sure I’ve read any from black reporters writing from their cultural perspective. I’m not saying they don’t exist, just that I haven’t read them.
Conformity to a standard has been a part of human culture probably forever. The invention of written language and the invention of the printing press are two non-race examples of how the possessors of both used the power to set standards to which only they had access.
But you’re right, athletes of color are regularly conscious of how their words are heard and understood by the dominant culture. Regarding media, the number of non-white, non-male voices grow, but remain relatively few at the executive level.
If you have not done so, I recommend the works of Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Thank you, Art. I am familiar with the work of Ta-Nehesi Coates. We live in interesting and challenging times.
Absolutely on point…
I served 25 years in the Army to defend this country against all enemies, foreign AND DOMESTIC, per my oath. Did my time in Afghanistan and will defend all who stand, and kneel, in their beliefs. That is what i served for… the right to express your opinion and be heard without retribution. To be called unpatriotic and told to “go back where you came from” is the antithesis of being American.
Thanks, Michael, for your service and your thoughts. No group in America knows better the need to criticize government than those who put their lives on the line to protect it.
Right on mike…that was my pitch and theme during that entire episode. Our flag stands for these unalienable rights and by god thank you for pointing out what should be the obvious to some of these buffoons. Thanks for your service sir.
Colin Kaepernick accomplished what he set out to do: start discussion. And POTUS keeps that discussion going during the football season. On June 14 1943 the Supreme Court ruled that “the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects students from being forced to salute the American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance in public school.” It’s purpose was to defend one’s right to free speech and protected religious organizations that would forbid saluting political symbols such as Jehovah Witnesses.
POTUS hasn’t been alone in his stance among the NFL owners with Jerry Jones echoing a similar philosophy regarding the Anthem but Paul Allen gave Seahawks players freedom to express their opinions as long as it was dignified and professional. It should be NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s role to bridge the waters between the two differing philosophies but instead those waters have continued to be muddy and the NFL can only see the players actions and not the reasons why. If the league was more supportive and understood the issues as well as they do marketing their brand maybe the whole Anthem issue would become moot. In fact last season Doug Baldwin suggested it might have slowly died out if it wasn’t for POTUS reviving the debate again. It’s very obvious his purpose is to fire up his base and score political points and the league and its players shouldn’t allow that to happen. When the game of football is used for political favor everyone loses.
Goodell and the owners did reach an agreement with players prior to last season about protests.
But the league and its players, as well as everyone else, has no control over the president.
IMO that’s just treating the symptom. If the NFL at least agreed with players on the tragedy of some cases and allocated some of their millions to help them it would go a long way. It wouldn’t be such an “us vs them” situation. Just setting a policy for the Anthem and nothing more comes across as indifferent and self-serving. The NFL does seem intimidated by POTUS though and doesn’t want one of his nuclear tweets fired at them.
True, it is a symptom, not a cause. And the NFL did donate last year to causes espoused by the Players Coalition. But it is typical of the NFL to throw money to make problems go away.
Yes, they are intimidated.
“The Left and media take Trump literally but not seriously, his supporters take him seriously, not literally.”
As long as the Left and the media adhere to these words from a respected lib columnist, they are guaranteeing Trump’s reelection.
It’s a wry and accurate observation. As to guarantees, I didn’t know you were Nostradamus. I’d like you to guarantee and share some stock-market tips.
Ok – Costco, Amazon, Starbucks, MS (now that Ballmer’s mess has been fixed) and yes, Boeing, which will bounce back at east 20% in the next year.
So have you chosen the date for our pint of Guinness?
What if the Mariners have a 25-5 August? Granted, it’s like you demanding the president stick with the Constitution. But it’s possible.
Glad to see you speaking out Art and I wholeheartedly support you. The Trump Administration is an abomination and an embarrassment to our great nation. The sooner we can get Trump in the rear view mirror the better.
His suggestion that critics leave the country started with sports figures. He invited our participation in the dialogue.
“Hey Fred, look!” “The paper screwed up today and put the political writer on the Sports page!” “Nah, they did it on purpose, Ralph.” “They probably hope to get more readers for
the Trump-hater stuff since everybody who looks at the political columns has
already read a million of these…”
Points for original format, DB. No points for understanding the business.
Which business? Look, I have no disagreement with anything you are saying. My point is that it’s just another drop in the Niagara Falls of content that comes out daily in the mainstream press about our sociopathic Pres. It’s all about The Donald’s personality defects. I don’t care to further plumb the depths of his pea-brain. I’m more interested in his results, since he is our President. Finally, it’s our do-nothing Congress (both sides) that needs to go. Write about them next time for a change.
The American presidency wields a disproportionate influence throughout the world, regardless of occupant. His pea-brain is using racism to potentially ignite violence. That’s why his misdeeds deserve the immediate attention of all.
Well said, Mr. Thiel. The American majority of reasonable thinkers will not be cowed (hopefully) by the current pot stirrer, trump. The man may be very ignorant in so many areas, but he is brilliant in his divisive tactics. For only one purpose, of course, self aggrandizement. Now, back to sports!
My preference is sports topics. However, I was a citizen first.
Citizenry counts. I was just playing sports announcer.
Great column, Art. Thanks.
I have a Jackie Robinson card and I treasure it. Jackie was a great player. Sometimes I just want to watch a game for the sake of the game. To escape the real world with all of its ugliness.
As do almost all of us.
Somehow I missed this column when it was first published. There is no doubt that this piece entailed considerable thought, effort and research. Thank you, Art, for an excellent piece of journalism.
Thanks. The history can’t be ignored.