President Trump picked a fight with the NFL and the NBA and the media. And he won.
Trump picked his fight by attacking former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Kaepernick’s followers who chose to kneel for the national anthem. While Kaepernick’s media mouthpieces insisted that the kneeling was not meant as disrespect for the flag or the national anthem, that was clearly untrue: Kaepernick himself stated his case thusly:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
By picking Kaepernick as his target, Trump was attempting to claim ownership of the flag and the national anthem. Trump went on to suggest that players who knelt should be fired by the NFL owners, and deployed other members of his administration to say the same. This latter comment was inappropriate coming out of the mouth of a government official, of course, but it did serve one crucial purpose: it made the Left’s heads explode. Instead of Leftists in the media and athletic world agreeing that kneeling was counterproductive and wrong, but also stating that Trump’s commentary wasn’t worthy of the presidency, they chose to cut off their noses to spite their faces: they encouraged kneeling alongside Kaepernick’s allies.
This was asinine.
It was particularly asinine because, again, Americans saw kneeling as disgusting. So while the NFL players and owners and media cheered their own solidarity with the “woke,” the rest of the country just saw a bunch of athletes disrespecting the troops and the flag.
All of which meant that the Left would have to back down, and back down quickly.
Which, this week, they did. Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, announced that league rules would continue to mandate that players stand during the anthem. Players from the Steelers announced they would stand for the anthem; so did players from the Broncos, who knelt last week. The Bears and Packers stood for the anthem.
So, here’s the most simplistic and obvious version of the last week’s events: players knelt; Trump ripped them and threatened boycotts; players stopped kneeling. Trump wins.
That’s correct: the big losers here are the NFL and the NBA and the media who thought that Trump’s leap into the culture wars would somehow hurt him. It's not a complete account — the NBA, for example, has had a rule about standing for the anthem going back decades (in 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sat for the anthem and was suspended by the league).
But there is a difference between Trump winning and conservatism winning. Yes, Trump helped expose that the Left despises him so much that they’ll even kneel before the flag before granting him any sort of credit. But he also achieved something the Left wants: more Americans are now okay with kneeling than at any time in recent history.
Today’s polls show that 55 percent of Americans think kneeling during the anthem is inappropriate, according to a Fox News poll; 43 percent of Americans say the players did the right thing by kneeling, according to a CNN poll. That’s a massive drop from September 2016: that month, a Reuters poll showed that 72 percent of Americans saw Kaepernick’s protest as unpatriotic,” and 61 percent said they did not “support the stance Colin Kaepernick is taking and his decision not to stand during the national anthem.” That included 40 percent of racial minorities.
So, why did the numbers drop here?
Because of Trump. The CNN poll shows six in ten Americans think Trump did the wrong thing by criticizing the players, even though a slight plurality (49 percent) think that sports leagues should require players to stand during the anthem. One year ago, 42 percent of black Americans thought players should be required to stand, today, just 13 percent of black Americans think so. In other words, Trump may have won the battle, but he also drove a lot of people into the Left’s arms.
Is that a win for conservatism, the flag, or the national anthem? Probably not in the long run. But in the short term, Trump can chalk this one up as a win. And that means that he’ll get a boost that he sorely needs.