Fourteen months ago, Donald Trump stood behind a microphone during a rally in Alabama (a rally for Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange, who lost the primary to sexual predator Roy Moore) and called NFL players “sons of bitches” for kneeling during the national anthem.
The ostensible reason he did this was clear: Many in the country have rallied behind the idea that kneeling during the national anthem is offensive and disrespectful to troops. That narrative has been used to elicit passionate hatred for NFL players expressing their beliefs that black men and women shouldn’t be victims of white supremacy and police violence. But that doesn’t matter to Donald Trump, who is using the whole situation to cater to his base that only want Black people to be silent about our trauma.
But here’s the rub; the thing that the president and his supporters would never admit: Donald Trump has insulted the military far worse than any NFL player ever could.
Let’s take a look at how exactly NFL players have kneeled during the anthem, starting with Colin Kaepernick. When the NFL quarterback initially decided to sit for the anthem, he was approached by former Green Beret Nate Boyer, who asked for a compromise. Instead of totally sitting out the song, Kaep could alternatively take a knee as a show of deference to the troops while raising awareness for the issues at hand.
“In my opinions and in my experience, kneeling’s never been in our history really seen as a disrespectful act,” Boyer told NPR in September. “I mean, people kneel when they get knighted. You kneel to propose to your wife, and you take a knee to pray. And soldiers often take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave to pay respects. So I thought, if anything, besides standing, that was the most respectful. But, of course, that’s just my opinion.”
Boyer isn’t the only veteran to support Kaepernick. Social media hashtags like #VeteransforKaep showed that thousands of troops understood expressing the first amendment right to free speech is woven into the fabric of American principles. But let’s just say that you still believe Kaepernick and players like him have intentionally set out to disrespect troops. Let’s say veterans across the country should be outraged by what they players are doing. If that’s the case, then how should they feel about Donald Trump’s treatment of veterans, which are as follows:
- In October 2016, he reinforced stigmas that soldiers suffering from PTSD were weak: “you’re strong and you can handle it but a lot of people can’t handle it.”
- He criticized John McCain for being captured in Vietnam, insulting every POW in US history: “He’s a war hero because he was captured…I like people that weren’t captured.”
- Last October, he insulted the family of fallen soldier La David Johnson, claiming that “he knew what he signed up for,” while going on Twitter rants about his family.
- Last week, Trump requested to cut funding to the Veteran’s Affairs, even as veterans are still coming back to an America that fails to provide them adequate care or lives after serving.
- In just the last week alone, Trump refused to go visit a WWI memorial in the face of a light rain shower where other world leaders were miraculously able to attend. And yesterday he canceled his customary trip to Arlington National Cemetery on Veteran’s Day due to…rainfall.
Yet Trump is rarely called unpatriotic with the same fervor that NFL players, who have been called that and worse. The reason why is simple: None of this is about patriotism or actual support of troops.
NFL players aren’t called sons of bitches because they offend troops. They’re called sons of bitches because they are vocal Black men using their high-profile platforms to speak and try to stay alive in America. Donald Trump (who maintains a 44 percent approval rating among veterans, may I add) doesn’t care about insulting troops as he’s done so himself more times than any protesting NFL players. This is all about performative patriotism (a redundant phrase if there ever was one); this is about the tools used to silence Black voices and the manipulative cover the American flag provides. At this point, especially after the past few days of Trump insulting veterans, pretending to care about the troops and supporting him – while disparaging NFL players – is a willful act of hatred that ignores the truth staring everyone in the face: the real person insulting the troops is the man whose job it is to lead them, not the players who show respect by taking a knee every Sunday.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.