Donald Trump and his pals Newt Gingrich and Steve Mnuchin have proven themselves masters of diversion over the past weekend --- as well as showing that they are, indeed, “color blind” (because they can only see white). It started with Trump’s Friday night stemwinding speech in Alabama, where he said NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem should be fired for disrespecting our flag. Newt Gingrich, for his part, said: 'Arrogant Young Millionaires' who feel oppressed 'Need a Therapist, Not a Publicity Stunt.” He also said it was "frustrating" that "millionaires who say they are underprivileged are able to go about disrespecting our country and its veterans.” Mnuchin, of course, chipped in with his brilliant comment: “It’s not about free speech. They can do free speech on their own time. This is about respect for the military, and the first responders, and the country.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.
By shifting the narrative --- from Colin Kapaernick’s protest against police brutality & social injustice to “respecting” the military & first responders, Trump, Gingrich, and Mnuchin are being grotesquely cynical, at best, or grossly and embarrassingly ignorant. My money’s on the former.
Given Trump’s history on race, it is not surprising the “President” would dog whistle his base on Friday night by diverting attention from his failures (health care, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, the UN speech) and attacking NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem. Typically ignoring facts, Trump did not at all acknowledge that the protests began after a series of police killings of Black men but somehow made the protest about “disrespecting our culture and heritage.” Trump’s low-information base, which agrees with him that all our woes in the U.S. have been brought on by immigrants & entitlements to “those people,” jump on this bandwagon, cheering their White Knight. Gingrich’s comments are fabulously stupid, of course, because he assumes that if people have money (and lots of money) they are somehow immune from discrimination, declaring the protesters are claiming they are “underprivileged” (never the case). Mr. Gingrich has apparently not noticed that people of color, despite their socio-economic status, are not treated equally in this society. We have seen incredibly wealthy Black celebrities (Michael Jordan, pre-rape charges Bill Cosby) lose family members to racial violence. Money does not affect melanin. Trump and Gingrich are simply shifting the narrative to suit their own political ends and to muddy the waters of the original protest.
Mnuchin may be a multi-millionaire but has clearly spent too much time hanging out with equally wealthy assholes, only conversing with people in L.A. and New York. His movie producer, Goldman Sachs worldview certainly makes him an authority on the First Amendment, doesn’t it? The frightening thing is that he probably does believe that people should only “do free speech on their own time.” Speaking as a true Trump type CEO, Mnuchin believes his workers are his property. And isn’t that what Trump is saying when he tells NFL owners to “fire” the players who take a knee? Welcome to Trumpland, where the old plantation mentality is rampant and owners are in charge.
That this controversy has now spilled into the NBA, with Steph Curry and LeBron James getting on board, the brouhaha promises to continue through at least a few more days of the 24/7cycles --- until Trump comes up with some other diversion. While the talking heads on Cable tv are perseverating over this latest outrage, what, exactly, is happening regarding North Korea? Will the “President” begin to take any action to help the citizens of Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands? Is the Zombie Health Care Bill going to die before the week is out? And what about that entire Facebook “fakes news” situation?
Since January 20, 2017 the United States has truly become a rambling reality television program with an unreliable narrator driving the stories from day to day. Is there any way for us to change the channel? Not until 2020, probably, but in the meantime we need to stand and defend basic values like the First Amendment --- and the right of others (everyone --- even those you disagree with) --- to exercise their free speech as well.