On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence used taxpayer-funded travel to attend an Indianapolis Colts homegame against the 49ers, and then left in huff because 11 players on the San Francisco team knelt during the national anthem. He then boarded Air Force 2, and headed to Los Angeles for a Republican party political fundraiser.
In an official statement released via Twitter (someone get this guy the 280 character-update!), he said that he would “not dignify any event” at which such a protest takes place, adding “I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the flag and our national anthem.” (Of course, kneeling for the anthem is a sign of both protest and respect, as explained by one of the military “heroes” Pence and President Trump keep humping to promote this feud.)
Shortly after Pence’s grand gesture, President Trump tweeted that he told Pence to leave the game if anyone knelt, a weird move in which he wants to take credit for Pence’s action while simultaneously undercutting any of the “glory” Pence might have gotten for himself. It was a blatant political stunt whose execution would be flubbed if the cheering Trumpists ever bothered to critically think about anything their idols do.
On it’s face, this stunt is just gross. The vice president’s team didn’t even unload the protected press pool from their vans. Pence was in Las Vegas, but flew two-and-a-half hours to Indianapolis at a cost of around $43,000-per-hour, to attend a game where he — or at least his staff — knew that players would kneel. He then flew back across the country to L.A. for his fundraiser. For an administration who just dismissed a top official for overuse of private air travel, this is not — as the kids say — “a good look.”
Earlier this year, when students walked out of his commencement address at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame, Pence derided the students for doing the exact same thing he did just now.
Pence bestowed his compliment upon the university “sadly, when free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America,” he said. “Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed, where opposing views are debated, and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear.”
He commended Notre Dame for maintaining an “atmosphere of civility and open debate,” while condemning other campuses where there are “safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness, all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech.”
Apparently, the desire to prevent tone-policing and administration-sanctioned political correctness stops at the door of Lucas Oil Stadium.
This naked stunt was done to rally the Trump/Pence base’s anger against a protest led by black Americans protesting the brutality of police against other (mostly black, per capita) Americans. It’s not so much a dog-whistle, as it is a foghorn. While Puerto Rico enters its third week with electricity operation on less than ten percent of the island, shortages of water and food, and even open caskets on the streets after graveyards flooded.
Also, and perhaps most telling of all, there has been nary a word from the Trump administration about the second white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in the past two months. A prominent, and apparently punch-able, white nationalist who I will not name here led the demonstration of about 50 people, again carrying torches and whining about the slow, slow decline of white supremacy in the cultured world.
Perhaps the Trump administration hasn’t condemned this most recent rally as offensive. To them, it seems, emboldened white nationalists are not as offensive as football players silently expressing their feeling that this country doesn’t embrace non-white people the way it should.
This protest may nor may not be effective. Rather than discussing police brutality, every one is going off about the anthem and how the founders felt about protest and, of course, Trump. That’s a discussion for another time, featuring other voices. It’s also not the point, at least of this latest stunt by Pence.
What is clear is that rather than trying to unite the country they lead, Trump and Pence want to fray it down the middle. They want their cheerleaders to be loyal without question. They want those who dissent or criticize to be silenced and vilified. And that path only ends up in one place: tyranny and the fall of nations.