It is often difficult to determine if President Trump’s offenses against national unity and presidential dignity are motivated by ignorance or malice. His current crusade against sideline activism at professional football games features both.
Protests by players during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” are misdirected, but their motivations are understandable. African Americans have a naturally complex relationship with a country in which 1 out of 7 seven human beings was once owned as property and robbed of his or her labor. A country with a founding promise that bypassed them.
We are a country where the reimposition of white supremacy following the Civil War involved not just segregation but also widespread violence. A country in which mass incarceration and heavy-handed police tactics now create a sense that some neighborhoods are occupied by a foreign force. A country in which wealth and opportunity remain, in significant part, segregated by race.
If white Americans can’t feel even a hint of this alienation and outrage, it is a fundamental failure of empathy and historical memory.
Trump seems ignorant of, or indifferent to, the unfolding drama of the civil rights movement — of President Abraham Lincoln’s firm hand signing the Emancipation Proclamation, of African American military heroism in defending the Union, of the stubborn courage displayed by protesters in the front of buses and at segregated lunch counters, of Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, repeated in many bloody versions. When the president looks at protesters, he cannot see what they are trying to be.
This ignorance is matched by malice. Trump must know that rallying his white base against young African American protesters is feeding racial tension and providing permission for bigotry. He is essentially accusing these athletes of disloyalty, just as he accused Mexicans of being rapists and Muslims of being threats. This is a pattern and habit of division by race, ethnicity and religion.
Stop and consider. This is a sobering historical moment. America has a racial demagogue as president.