As the absurd “controversy” of Trump’s culture war with the NFL rages on, both sides are screaming about racism and free speech while just about everybody misses the absurdist irony of the entire affair.
In case you’ve been living in the remote ice caves of Antarctica, it all more or less started when NFL player Colin Kapernick “took a knee” during the national anthem to protest institutionalized racism and America’s history of slavery. President Trump raged on Twitter, in typical crass, vengeful Trumpian fashion, that they should have pride in their country and respect the anthem or get off the field. Players and their advocates across the country have taken a knee in solidarity with them, while critics on the right have declared the protests a shameful shirking of a flag and country that gave them great opportunities that wouldn’t have been available elsewhere.
Personally, I don’t worship idols or songs, and I don’t care what the NFL or its players do. I always felt weird placing my hand on my heart and saying the Pledge of Alleigance in school, getting a weird feeling like I was part of some cult or dictatorship that demands its citizens vocalize their undying loyalty to the flag from the point of young childhood, before anyone is even old enough to know what the pledge means.
However, there’s something insanely ironic about the NFL becoming the hot new flashpoint for protesting institutionalized racism and Trumpian nationalism. The irony is this:
The entire point of the NFL and all national sports is ra-ra patriotic flag waving bullshit — gladitorial combat to celebrate the State, encourage blind patriotism, and promote tribalism, nationalism, and war, all while delivering enormous profits to rich, mostly-conservative white dudes. That’s why they sing the National Anthem at games to begin with.
Trump is being typically Trumpy (absurd/vindictive/childish), but the NFL is a pretty ironic platform to speak out against institutionalized oppression of people of color. A better protest would be for all the players to stop participating in an institution that was literally set up to encourage all the things they’re protesting to begin with. But then they would be out of a job.
It’s a typical display of protesting symptoms instead of root causes, and willful blindness to the self-contradictions baked into the movement. NFL players are literal pawns of an instutution that exists to provide a distraction circus while reinforcing nationalism and blind patriotic pride. Regardless of whether you stand for the anthem saluting the flag, or lie face-down on the astro turf until the final stanza, it’s not a particularly credible political statement to kneel for the anthem, and then continue participating in NFL games more or less designed as a celebration of patriotism, maledom, and combat.
Meanwhile, Trump has everyone losing their minds over his bizarrely aggressive stance on players kneeling for the anthem. Meanwhile, while everyone bickers, his goals are being achieved. What he’s doing is exercising his vindictive streak by engineering a further collapse in NFL ratings. He knows football watchers are a patriotic bunch because, again, the whole idea of national sport is to encourage nationalism. NFL team owners lose if they don’t participate, because they’ll look racist and unloyal to their teams, but they also lose if they do participate, because their viewership tends to be a flag-loving bunch.
What’s it payback for? For the failed US Football League or USFL, which Trump invested in during the 1980’s by buying a team. They tried to compete with the NFL, and failed. Trump sued in an anti-trust suit and was given a symbolic $1 reward, and clearly he saw that as an insult that had to be rectified, even if it’d take decades.
Trump also knows this is a stupid argument, but that it would get people riled up. He’s setting up democrats to inevitably paint themselves as unpatriotic and unamerican. This is him playing, yet again, on the left’s obsession with virtue signaling and identity politics to architect an issue that will help him secure average American hearts and minds for 2020.
I don’t know how good of a president he is, but 2016 shows that Trump is damn good at getting elected. And this NFL scandal, in all its irony, is just one more trap he has set for a political left that has become effortless to manipulate, like Pavlovian dogs, as soon as the right social justice-related wedge issues and buzzwords are exploited.