Faced with the embarrassment of his poorly attended ceremony to honor Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles, President Trump announced that he was inviting the team’s “fans” to a display of patriotism instead. The president “believes there is a significant overlap between football fans and his base and has told confidants that he believes his voters would enthusiastically take his side over football players whom Trump thinks have looked unpatriotic and greedy,” the Associated Press reports.
Even by the standards of a hastily devised event, it was a shambolic display. If the plan was to prove that Eagles fans would side with Trump over the Eagles, there is very little evidence it worked. Trump did muster a crowd. A reporter scanning the crowd found a total of one Eagles logo on display:
I have seen Philadelphia Eagles fans. These do not look like Philadelphia Eagles fans:
They look like Republican staffers and lobbyists who were hastily summoned to the White House to fill out the audience.
Trump attempted to sing along to “God Bless America,” but managed to get just two lines in before he obviously no longer knew the words. Trump didn’t just decide to stop singing. He picked the song back up when the chorus repeated:
Simultaneously, Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a crowd of reporters inside the White House that the administration reconciled its belief that bakers have the right to refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings with its belief that football players cannot kneel during the anthem as follows: “The president doesn’t think this is an issue simply of free speech. He thinks it’s about respecting the men and women of our military; it’s about respecting our national anthem.”
For such a brief statement, this contains an impressive quantity of evasions. First, the protests are not directed at the anthem but at police brutality, using the anthem as a point of demonstration. Second, the national anthem is an expression of patriotism, not support for the armed forces in particular. And third, even if Sanders was correct about both of the above points, once she has conceded that the issue is about a point of view — respecting the armed forces — then she has subverted her claim that it isn’t about free speech. Respecting the armed forces is also a point of view. She is demanding that players obey that view. Obviously, nobody who is trying to prevent free speech thinks what they’re doing is about free speech. They think it’s about the beliefs they’re trying to compel.
The afternoon at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was heavy on compulsory authoritarian demonstrations of ersatz nationalism, and light on genuine patriotism. The current, diseased state of the Republican Party and its Trump-era Kulturkampf was on perfect display.