Days after President Donald Trump made his first round of ugly comments about NFL players demonstrating during the national anthem, Americans learned that Russians sought to stoke racial division in Facebook advertising campaigns during the 2016 election.
Of course, the Kremlin’s efforts are dwarfed now that the man it helped install in the Oval Office gladly does its work in trying to divide us.
As Trump doubles down on his criticisms, calling the demonstrations disgraceful and saying the NFL “will go to hell” if they continue, Americans should ask ourselves a simple question: What should we do about a president who is willing to attack U.S. citizens exercising their right of peaceful protest but ignores Russian aggression that strikes at the core of our democracy?
After all, while there’s some disagreement about whether the demonstrations are appropriate, the truth is they aren’t hurting anyone. They also — contrary to the opinion of some misguided people — aren’t aimed at showing disrespect to the nation or its armed services.
Instead, the players are following the example of other athletes who’ve used sports as a stage on which to call attention to problems in our society. In this case, the focus is on the killings of black Americans by officers from mostly white police departments.
In addressing the demonstrations, Trump could have followed former President Barack Obama’s lead and urged Americans to consider the issue from different perspectives — the military veterans who feel disrespected and the protesters experiencing racial injustice — and engage in a dialogue about it.
But instead of taking a healing approach, Trump drove people deeper into their camps.
And for what? It’s not as if the players were inciting riots. The week before his remarks, only six of them demonstrated. Not only that, but the players started out sitting during the national anthem but decided to kneel instead because it was a more of respectful gesture.
So what clearly happened was that Trump seized on a way to gin up the racists in his base, and made the most of it.
And that makes the Russia/Facebook story all the more disturbing. A half-dozen Americans kneel quietly, and Trump calls them a profane name and says their livelihood should be taken away. But yet more evidence comes to light of Russian interference in the democratic process — just a week after another report indicated the Russians prompted an anti-immigrant rally through use of fake news on Facebook — and Trump blows right past it.
Who’s the real enemy here?
It certainly isn’t the athletes, who are no lesser Americans than Muhammad Ali was when he took his courageous stand against fighting the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. It’s well worth remembering that Ali was vilified at the time — accused of disrespecting the country and the military. Sound familiar?
With a different president, perhaps we’d be making progress instead of revisiting some of the uglier moments from our past.
But instead we’re stuck with Trump, who won’t stand up to foreign aggressors if they happen to be Russian, and thus doesn’t deserve to stand in the shadow of our great flag.