“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
Former President Bill Clinton’s most infamous line from his 1993 inauguration speech might offer a more important message today than it did more than 24 years ago.
The nation’s current president should re-read it and take note, as his divisive comments about ongoing protests from NFL players — and now at least one MLB player — show a fundamental misunderstanding of several things that make America great.
President Donald Trump called Friday for NFL owners to fire players who kneeled during the national anthem. Over the past 12 months, a handful of players have taken knees or held fists in the air to draw attention to police violence and its disproportionate effects on minority populations.
Trump doubled down on his statements over the weekend, tweeting a dozen times about athletes needing to respect the flag and America.
Trump tweeted around kickoff of Sunday’s early NFL games:
Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag — we MUST honor and respect it! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
In the tweet above, Trump completely misses the point. Making this issue about only the flag or anthem diminishes the motivations behind the players’ actions and the context in which they’re made. Despite using caps lock liberally, the president’s argument that peaceful protest disrespects the flag, anthem and, by proxy, the United States of America willfully ignores the reality of America’s best qualities. Those who sacrificed and died in the name of our flag sought to ensure the freedom of all Americans to protest peacefully (along with every other constitutional right).
America is not great because it has a military. Rather, America is great because it has constitutional freedoms protected by a military and a system of governmental balances aimed at preventing dictatorship and authoritarianism.
You can love America but still have peaceful protest
To have heard Donald Trump — who avoided military service thanks significantly to a diagnosis of heel spurs — criticize Sen. John McCain for being held as a prisoner of war for more than five years was to ponder one of the most insensitive, derogatory and anti-American political statements ever made.
Yet to hear Trump piously hide behind the sacrifices of American veterans and bash black men for their peaceful protest is stomach-churning in its foolishness.
You can love America but still protest its systemic shortcomings.
You can disagree with your fellow Americans but not denigrate their believes.
You can kneel for The Star-Spangled Banner and still support military veterans.
America’s greatness is not defined by yes or no, left or right, kneeling or standing. This country’s important values are not created by a president’s words, nor are they limited by a professional athlete’s criticisms.
The American flag represents all of these axioms, and it damn sure represents an individual’s right to freedom of speech.
That stands for President Donald Trump, and it applies to all Americans.
Even if they decide to kneel during the national anthem.