Dean Obeidallah: Trump's latest NFL comments show he doesn't understand the meaning of key American freedoms
In place of embracing freedom of speech, he is trying to undermine and threaten it, writes Obeidallah
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Donald Trump may be the American President, but he doesn’t understand the importance of American values – particularly freedom of expression, pluralism and tolerance. In fact, he is a threat to them.
We saw yet another example of this on Friday, when Trump denounced NFL player Colin Kaepernick and others like him who have taken a knee during the national anthem to protest what they view as racial injustices in our nation. Trump declared at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!”
What Trump doesn’t get is that Kaepernick wasn’t taking a knee because he was trying to disrespect our nation. It’s because Kaepernick and others like him love this country and want it to live up to the ideals it was founded upon.
In fact, after Kaepernick began taking a knee last year, he explained that he was doing it to bring attention to the oppression of “black people and people of color” and cited the unjust killing of people of color by the police. But he added that he would stand for the national anthem once “there’s significant change, and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.”
This is the very same idea that President Barack Obama championed in his 2008 election night speech. “For that is the true genius of America – that America can change,” he said. “Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”
And it’s the same sentiment that has inspired so many in our nation to speak out and to engage in civil disobedience over the course of American history.
But Trump doesn’t get that. Trump views dissent as a threat – not as a form of patriotism.
Just look at his tweet Saturday morning urging NFL owners to “fire or suspend” players who refuse to stand for the national anthem. And in response to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling Trump’s words “divisive,” Trump again made clear his contempt for freedom of expression. “Tell them (players) to stand!” he said.
Trump is demanding conformity and obedience over championing freedom of expression. That is the type of sentiment you expect to hear from a Third World dictator – not the President of the United States of America. In a tweet Saturday morning, he revoked his invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House.
Some believe that Trump is engaging in this fight as a ploy to distract the media and the public from the likely failure of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill and the possible loss of the Trump-supported Republican candidate in the Alabama Republican senate runoff.
Maybe. But Trump’s rejection of American values was on display long before this weekend.
As a candidate, Trump led a war on the American values of tolerance and pluralism. He demonized Mexican immigrants and stunningly called for a ban on Muslims from American soil. And as President, he rescinded DACA and pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who had been repeatedly accused of profiling Latinos.
Beyond that, Trump refused to denounce white supremacists – both as a candidate in regards to David Duke’s endorsement and as President in response to Charlottesville – until he was called out by the media, the public and even some of his fellow Republicans. If he truly believed in the words enshrined in our Declaration of Independence – that “all men are created equal” – he wouldn’t need to be shamed into verbally denouncing white supremacy.
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And Trump’s attacks on freedom of expression aren’t new. Only one month before the 2016 election, Trump stunningly called for Saturday Night Live to be canceled because the show mocked him in a way he felt was unfair. And just last week we saw Trump demand ESPN apologize to him because one of the networks’ anchors had tweeted that Trump was a “white supremacist.” Imagine if President Obama had called for a conservative to publicly apologize for his or her criticism of Obama?!
Many would agree that Trump doesn’t get what it means to be President – his low approval ratings support this idea.
But I say Trump doesn’t get American values, and I doubt he ever will.