About a week ago hurricane Maria ripped the island of Puerto Rico apart and left widespread destruction and damage in its wake. As the storm passed the commonwealth found that nearly the entire power grid had been destroyed leaving most of the island surviving on generators and whatever fuel they could find. Infrastructure and property damage made travel difficult if not impossible and the majority of cell towers had been destroyed so communication was rendered down to simple radios.
Within a few days the concerns shifted toward a dwindling food supply, hospitals at capacity and still without power, and a dam that threatened to flood 11 billion gallons of water onto nearby towns and countryside where an estimated 70,000 people lived. Puerto Ricans wandered their destroyed homes, cooked food on campfires, and drew water from whatever source seemed fresh enough to drink. The island was a wasteland, and an apocalyptic humanitarian crisis was beginning to unfold for the 3.5 million Americans that were stranded there.
However, despite the suffering and destruction the people of Puerto Rico could rest easy knowing that their catastrophe was at the forefront of President Trump’s mind…right behind getting those fucking NFL football players to stop kneeling during the goddamn national anthem.
For the past week while the citizens of Puerto Rico have been experiencing the VR version of the shittiest season of Survivor Trump has been busily tweeting about players kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games. He’s even brought the issue up at recent campaign rallies which he’s still holding for some reason.
It seems like an odd fixation for the often distracted and apathetic technical president to seize upon. The kneeling protests began in 2016 with Colin Kaepernick and while it was controversial at the time it was not the national phenomenon that Trump has now made it.
So why exactly would the notoriously narcissistic Cheetos Jesus suddenly care about players kneeling during the anthem? It’s not like a black star athlete snubbed him and he took it personally or anything…
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
At some point in the last month while avoiding his actual job as president, Trump began to notice and seize upon the growing tension between black and minority athletes and the conservative media. Kaepernick’s protest was a major focal point for this as his using his celebrity status as a platform to protest the oppression and struggles of black Americans did not sit well with far right commentators – Trump’s people.
This was easy fodder for Trump’s base who thrive on race baiting commentary and stories that can be framed as insults to American values. Token millennial girl who is also a Twitter troll and racist Tomi Lahren ranted about the NFL kneeling story for weeks to her followers rebooting the same story more times than a Spiderman movie.
I have some Final Thoughts for the whiny overpaid kneelers and Roger Goodell. https://t.co/jeACnKSCd2
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) September 25, 2017
Eternal Trump fanboy and lapdog Sean Hannity also ran with the story ad infinitum and pitched it to several Fox regulars to get their enlightened takes as well.
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) September 26, 2017
It seems random on paper. This obsession left a lot of people who aren’t sucking down a Big Gulp of the Trump Kool-Aid scratching their heads. Sure, the protesting players have valid grievances for the systemic racism and oppression that permeates American society and they’re using their status and celebrity to help make those injustices known. It’s pretty straight forward? So why take this fight? Why now?
Aside from the obvious answer that the American right is low-key and also not low-key racist this is a politically advantageous issue for Trump to champion. This is his home court. Donald Trump is an incompetent president, businessman, and leader but he’s a master at stirring drama, creating gossip, and stewing in controversy.
Tackling the evolving disaster in Puerto Rico is hard, it requires intelligence, courage, and a steely resolve. Trump is deficient in all of these areas. So a distraction is necessary. By reframing the NFL protests away from their valid messages and toward a kind of faux patriotism Trump has effectively created a news story. One that inexplicably connects standing for the national anthem with respect for our military and troops (fucking what?) in the same way that an Arby’s can connect a roast beef sandwich and a Cinnabon.
The real news story here is that more athletes are using their celebrity and position to create a platform to address real societal issues. However, if you’re in the MAGA camp then what you see is an overpaid minority complaining and being unpatriotic and that’s exactly what Trump wants you to see. For anyone who holds that perspective, Trump now has a fight on his hands and he can ignore real global catastrophes like what’s unfolding in Puerto Rico to scrap on behalf of patriotic Americans with the NFL.
This kind of fabricated controversy is the smokescreen by which Trump has run his administration and much like the real smoke rising from the generators of the 3.5 million Americans currently suffering in Puerto Rico, it’s a sign of just how difficult the next few years will be.
Maybe if Puerto Rico starts blaring the national anthem while its citizens kneel Trump will finally pay attention to the devastated commonwealth?