The protests by NFL players in week one of the season were inconsequential. A rough count shows four players remained seated during the National Anthem, three raised a fist and one knelt.
The demonstrations had kind of settled in and the NFL, along with its legions of fans, seemed more interested in football than politics. That all changed when President Trump called for the firing of kneeling “SOB” athletes for disrespecting the National Anthem and the flag.
That set off massive protests by NFL players and owners last weekend and the controversy has dominated the news cycle, social media and water cooler discussions.
Trump thrives on this kind of conflict. When things get dull Trump sharpens his stick and looks for an eye to poke.
Conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro writes in National Review that Trump’s provocations, the outraged responses and the media’s breathless coverage of the maelstrom are all part of the “culture-war political-entertainment complex.”
This complex “marries the power of those who gain from the culture war in political terms with those who gain from it in the ratings; both the politicians who engage in the cultural battles and the media who pump those battles for increased revenue have a stake in the continued fracturing of the republic.”
The rest of us are drawn into the fray. The debate is reduced to the lowest common denominator and we have to choose: To kneel or not to kneel? Be careful because your choice will determine how you will be brutalized by the other side. Are you a flag-hating commie or a jingoistic Neanderthal?
Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt said politicians and political activists traffic in the culture wars because they know it is fertile ground. “As normal Americans in increasing numbers try more desperately to escape a politics of brutal stupidity, the more aggressively the political world must assault those institutions,” Stirewalt writes. “You may not be interested in politics, but politics is surely interested in you.”
If true, that makes us bit players in this Greek tragedy of today’s political landscape. You just know it’s not going to end well. Instead of emerging from these politics-driven culture war controversies with better understanding and enlightenment, we are left angry and confused.
New York Times columnist David Brooks believes today’s culture conflicts rival the turbulence of 50 years ago. “He (Trump) is so destructive because his enemies help him. He ramps up the aggression. His enemies ramp it up more, to preserve their own dignity. But the ensuing cultural violence only serves Trump’s long-term destructive purpose. America is seeing nearly as much cultural conflict as it did in the late 1960s.”
Trump’s core supporters are reveling in the turbulence because they elected him to do just what he is doing, to give voice to Americans who saw their country slipping away from them. He promised to drain the swamp and “make America great again.”
However, there is a difference between draining the swamp and charging the enemy with guns blazing. The latter is catching many Americans in the crossfire, and some of them just wanted to watch the football game.