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Pouring Gasoline on a Bonfire

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

It's been over a week now and the brouhaha without the ha-ha continues -- even if the kneeling on the sidelines is on the way out.

I think it's fair to say that the last thing you'd expect President Trump to talk about at a rally in support of a Republican candidate for the United States Senate ... was what he wound up talking about.

His remarks have been called divisive -- and they were. He knew that most Americans don't like to see athletes who make millions of dollars refuse to stand during our national anthem. So he cynically exploited the issue.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. Out. He's fired." Then, after a moment's pause, he bellowed, "He's FIRED!"

Donald Trump didn't start the fire -- Colin Kaepernick did. But this is a president who can't walk by a bonfire without pouring gasoline on it.

Things aren't going well at the moment for Trump. Health care was crashing on the rocks -- again. He's got virtually no major accomplishments to brag about, the Gorsuch nomination notwithstanding. And who knows what the special counsel is going to uncover. So just as he had called for a ban on transgender people in the military -- which also came out of nowhere -- in order to change the subject from Russia, he did it again in Alabama. 

But imagine if instead of calling a player who takes a knee during the national anthem an SOB, saying players who don't stand during the anthem should be fired and telling fans to walk out of the stadium if players kneel, imagine if he acted presidential for a change and said something like this:

I understand why some Americans, including some in the National Football League, feel the need to protest what they consider injustice in America. And if they feel that way, they should speak their mind. But I ask them to consider how taking a knee comes across to many of their fellow Americans as disrespect for our flag. Maybe that's not their intent, but how things look matter. So I ask anyone in the NFL who feels the need to kneel in the presence of our flag to reconsider. Please consider the Americans who gave up so much, including their lives, for what that flag represents. Feel free to continue to express your grievances. But please find a more respectful way to do it.

Would liberals both in and out of the media praise him for taking that approach? No. But lots of fair-minded Americans would, even some who didn't vote for him. He could have come off looking good for a change. But tossing grenades is more to this president's liking. It's the only way he knows.

But I wonder how liberals who have rallied around the players who won't stand for the anthem would feel if other players took a knee for causes that they also care deeply about.

What if players who think abortion is murder decided that Sunday afternoon on the football field is a good place to showcase their cause and took a knee to protest what they see as an injustice to unborn babies who can't fight back?

What if players who think fatherlessness -- especially in black America -- is a much greater roadblock to equality and success than a few bad cops, decided to protest that injustice by taking a knee?

Would liberals turn those protestors into heroes? I don't think so. More likely, they'd portray them as divisive figures.

An editorial in The Wall Street Journal that ran under the headline "The Politicization of Everything" got it right. "American democracy was healthier when politics at the ballpark was limited to fans booing the politicians who threw out the first ball -- almost as a bipartisan obligation. This showed a healthy skepticism toward the political class. But now the players want to be politicians and use their fame to lecture other Americans, the parsons of the press corps want to make them moral spokesmen, and the President wants to run against the players."

And so we are all citizens of the Divided States of America. We're more polarized than we've been in a very long time. I guess Colin Kaepernick and Donald Trump didn't think we're divided enough.

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