Donald Trump wants respect.
He wants NFL players to “RESPECT OUR COUNTRY.” He wants them to stop “disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country.” He wants coaches to “bench” players who “disrespect our Flag.”
Donald Trump, whose campaign for the presidency effectively began with a bid to find President Obama’s real birth certificate, would like NFL players, 70% of whom are black, to show some respect.
The use of this language is not surprising. It appeals directly to the views of a portion of his base; midway through the Republican primary in 2016, a Reuters/Ipsos Poll found that 44% of Trump supporters thought that blacks were “ruder” than whites.
Donald Trump’s ability to create dog-whistles that both appeal to his supporters’ racial biases and allows them to indulge such biases in what they perceive to be a socially acceptable and defensible manner is one of the hallmarks of his political career.
In this instance, in calling to respect “our” country, Trump is really saying that the protest Colin Kaepernick started is illegitimate. Much of Trump’s base believe there is no need to protest police violence against African Americans because, in reality, they are treated fairly.
In Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan, three swing states that went for Trump, a plurality of those surveyed as part of the 2016 General Election exit polling indicated they believe the criminal justice system “treats all fairly.” In Michigan, of the 48% of voters who indicated they believed that the criminal justice system treated everyone fairly, 68% voted for Trump. Of the 44% who believed the criminal justice system “treats blacks unfairly”, 78% went for Clinton. Similar numbers were recorded in Florida and Wisconsin.
So whilst a majority of Americans in the latest Quinnipiac poll, 58%, deemed Trump’s comments on the NFL protests inappropriate, it is worth emphasising that a significant proportion of voters disagree with the premise of Kaepernick’s original protest. Thus, whilst these tweets clearly demean the presidency, they also form part of a larger narrative constructed by Trump that plays well with a substantial portion of the electorate. Unless the beliefs of the electorate change, this narrative helps put his re-election bid well within reach.