President Donald Trump once again has chosen to use the most powerful bully pulpit in the world not to draw this country together, but to tear it apart. As has happened all too often in this presidency — and despite his claims to the contrary — his targets once again were black Americans.
At a Friday rally in Alabama, Trump said NFL owners should fire players who have been protesting police violence against blacks by "taking a knee" during the national anthem. Trump roared to a mostly white crowd that owners should "get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He's fired. Fired!" The following day Trump declared that Stephen Curry of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors was disinvited from the White House because he was "hesitating" before accepting an invitation that may never have been formally proffered.
This is all occurring against a backdrop of more pressing national matters — including North Korea threatening military action against the U.S., and 3 million Americans in Puerto Rico without power and fast running out of supplies and hope after a devastating hurricane. It once was commonly said that little was more precious than a president's time, so vast are the responsibilities of that office. No more. This president squanders his time and attention with abandon, focusing on personal pique over issues vital to the nation's well-being. Trump appears incapable of calculating that his energy might be better focused on forging a health care compromise or mobilizing aid to an island territory that is looking to the mainland for help.
Trump's endlessly combative nature has made his attempts to divide the people he is supposed to lead one of the most unfortunate aspects of his presidency. But he may be disappointed to discover that American character is stronger than he imagined and that American DNA is hard-wired to resist would-be dictators.
The more Trump sows divisiveness, the more everyday Americans step forward to resist. His latest tirade succeeded mostly in setting off a wave of similar protests. Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf locked arms with their players in solidarity. Musical icon Stevie Wonder knelt on stage. And John Middlemas, a 97-year-old white Missouri veteran, went viral with a photo of himself "taking a knee," affirming his belief that "those kids have every right to protest."
They know the American flag is powerful because of what it represents — a bedrock commitment to liberty, including that most cherished right, freedom of expression. It's what has set this country apart from those led by kings, dictators and any regime too fearful of its people to allow them to freely express their thoughts. Trump should remember that this nation was born in rebellion, because its people refused to submit to the tyrannies of those who would quash their right to speak and think as they chose.
If Trump wants to fight, there are plenty of causes worth fighting for — better health care, better jobs, better housing, a more peaceful world. They will take all of his energy and commitment — if he'll let them.