WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is indulging in his favorite kind of drama — personal, aggressive, culturally volatile and entirely of his own making.
During a week in which a crucial Senate health care vote, his tax plan, the North Korean nuclear threat and Puerto Rico’s post-hurricane suffering vied for attention, Trump carried his feud with the NFL over players who kneel in protest into the new week with a fresh volley of tweets.
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“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!” he said in one of his Monday tweets.
But for some, Trump’s argument with professional athletes had everything to do with race.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., called Trump a “racial arsonist” and said he was using the manufactured controversy to pander to his conservative political base.
“He uses race to advance his own ends,” Jeffries told CNN.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart defended players’ rights to peacefully protest what they view as racial inequality and police mistreatment of black males.
“Everyone should know, including the president, this is what real locker room talk is,” Lockhart said in an apparent reference to the “Access Hollywood” tapes in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Trump had chalked up those comments as “locker room talk.”
In KPIX 5’s exclusive Survey USA Poll, participants were asked whether not standing during the national anthem is wrong or an acceptable way to protest.
46 percent said it is wrong not to stand, while 40 percent said it is acceptable.
But a huge majority of people responding — 70 percent — said President Trump’s comments on the controversy have made the situation worse.
Most people KPIX 5 surveyed — 82 percent — said they always stand for the national anthem at a sporting event.
At the same time, 40 percent say it does not upset them when other people refuse to stand.
28 percent say it bothers them a little, while another 28 percent said it bothers them a lot.
The range of reactions to the protests stretched from the 16 percent of people who said they should be celebrated to the 18 percent who said protesting players should be disciplined and the additional 9 percent who said the players should be fired.
Meanwhile, 30 percent of respondents said players should be tolerated when they don’t stand for the anthem.
On Monday White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to defend the president.
“I think that it’s always appropriate for the President of the United States to defend our flag, to defend our national anthem,” Sanders told reporters. “This isn’t about the President being against anyone; this is about the President and millions of Americans being for something. Being for honoring our flag, honoring our national anthem and honoring the men and women who fought to defend it.”
The President tweeted that this is not about race, but rather about respecting the flag.
But the protests began last year when former 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he kneeled because of racial injustice.
“They should probably protest the officers on the field that are protecting them instead of the American flag,” said Sanders.
On Monday afternoon, students at an East Bay high school held their own anthem protest.
Students at Encinal High school gathered for a peaceful protest. They reached out to their teachers and administration over the weekend with their after-school plan.
The students wanted to do something symbolic as a way to show and protect their basic freedom of speech of expression.
They gathered around the schools flag pole while a recording of Whitney Houston’s rendition of the national anthem played.
The high school students who can’t vote yet said they are doing what they feel is right for themselves, their future and the country.
“To me, his [the President’s] comments are uncalled for. I think he could have handled it in a better way, said Encinal High School varsity football Delayo Faatiliga.
Trump has a history of engaging in racially fraught battles, from spending years promoting the false story that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was not born in the United States, to his campaign promise to temporarily ban Muslims from the United States. He drew widespread condemnation last month for saying “both sides” were at fault for violence between white supremacists and their opponents during clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Public opinion is mixed on whether professional athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem as Trump would like, and there is a racial split in how Americans process the issue.
More than half of Americans, or 52 percent, said in a September 2016 Marist Poll that sports leagues should require their players to stand for the national anthem. While a majority of whites, 56 percent, said standing should be required, most Latino adults, 55 percent, and nearly half of African-Americans, 48 percent, said athletes should not be made to stand.
As the criticism rolled in, Trump supporters argued that he was expressing patriotism, not targeting African-Americans.
“It’s a perfect example of where the president gets it right,” said Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend. Ruddy said team officials and the news media are not in line with much of the country. “It’s a win for him at the end of the day.”
Trump tweeted about the issue anew Monday evening, rebutting a CNN report that White House chief of staff John Kelly was displeased with Trump’s criticism of the NFL. Trump referred to the network as “fake news” and tweeted that Kelly “totally agrees w/ my stance on NFL players and the fact that they should not be disrespecting our FLAG or GREAT COUNTRY!”
The NFL spat overshadowed the beginning of a week in which Trump was expected to flesh out the tax overhaul plan he wants to sign into law by year’s end, and perhaps help win over enough Senate Republicans to pass the newest health care bill. Both are top legislative priorities for him and his party.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back against the idea that Trump wasn’t spending enough time on his agenda.
“It really doesn’t take that long to type out 140 characters,” she said. “And this president is very capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day.”
But instead of putting the public focus on health care or the tax plan, the president spent four days attacking NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
During a political rally Friday in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired, he’s fired.”
On Saturday, Trump rescinded a White House invitation for Stephen Curry, a star player on the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
The tweets kept coming throughout the weekend and into Monday, when he tweeted his praise for NASCAR, whose fans are predominantly white.
“So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won’t put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag – they said it loud and clear!”
Trump’s words Friday and Saturday sparked a massive show of defiance Sunday as more than 200 NFL players protested by choosing not to stand for the national anthem. Many coaches locked arms with the players.
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