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EDITORIAL: Fumbling the ball at home, abroad
President Donald Trump spent the weekend doing what he’s good at, unfortunately: Exacerbating tensions.
The president stoked the flames of controversy both foreign and domestic, ratcheting up his embarrassing war of insults with North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un, while arbitrarily launching a crusade urging punishment or even dismissal of NFL players who protest the nation’s ongoing racial inequities during the National Anthem.
Taken as a whole, the weekend’s display would be beneath the dignity of the White House, if the White House had any dignity left.
Alas, it does not. Thus, the nation was treated to the spectacle Friday night of Trump referencing former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick with these words: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a (expletive) off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
As many observers pointed out, Trump used stronger language to criticize NFL protesters than, thus far, he has seen fit to employ toward white supremacists or Russian elections meddlers.
The president went on to say on Twitter that the league should “Fire or suspend!” players who kneel during the national anthem.
"The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” Trump later added, willfully ignoring that the protests are entirely about race. “It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!"
Got that? Players “must respect” the National Anthem or they should be fired. Never mind the First Amendment. That such words can come from a United States president should frighten every right-thinking American.
With gas thus poured on the flames courtesy of the nation’s leading gasbag, NFL teams repudiated the president en masse Sunday. Players, coaches and, in some cases, even owners locked arms in unison, knelt side by side or refused to take the field during Sunday’s pre-game anthems. The NFL commissioner and other heavyweights from the sports world (and beyond) weighed in with defiant responses.
At some games, including in Buffalo, crowds booed. And so, one of the few things that still unites Americans — national sport — has become entangled in the one thing sure to divide them: politics.
That the president would spend days focused on non-violent NFL protests when he has ignored the issues the demonstrations seek to highlight — continuing instances of police violence directed at black victims, with little or no justice subsequently rendered — is as pathetic as it is unsurprising.
The president has made clear that Civil Rights is nowhere to be found on his priority list; his insistence on insinuating himself into the issue in such counterproductive ways only highlights his administration’s failures on this front.
All of this took place while North Korea’s regime dialed up its threats in light of Trump’s kindergarten criticisms last week.
Responding to tweeted taunts and a provocative show of force by U.S. Air Force bombers near North Korea’s eastern border over the weekend, the nation’s foreign minister on Monday accused Trump of declaring war by tweeting that the country “would not be around much longer.” He maintained the regime had the right to shoot down American military aircraft — even outside its own airspace.
The sabre rattling is becoming increasingly perilous, and it has been left to regional players like China to appeal for calm. Again, credit the president for making matters worse.
Trump’s tweets about “Little Rocket Man” would be embarrassing at a junior high school debate. They are beyond ridiculous on an international stage at a time of increasing tensions between nuclear powers.
That the president should ditch the name calling in favor of an effort at true diplomacy is self-evident — to all but him, unfortunately.
Trump’s insistence on Twitter-sniping rather than meaningfully engaging — from the North Korean threat to NFL protests to any number of other issues — remains one of his underlying failings. He refuses to learn from the repeated fallout of this fatal flaw, and is evidently incapable of transcending it.
The NFL is now weighing its responses. As is North Korea. Two prospective wars — one of words, one potentially much worse. Neither of them necessary.