Donald Trump in the presidency represents many things– most of those that come to mind are bad. He is a threat to our democracy, he is a threat to world peace, he’s a threat to the environment, he is an embarrassment to this nation before the world, etc.
But almost any development can also be seen and used as an opportunity, and the Trump presidency is no exception.
Part of the reason a person like Donald Trump could get elected president is that the American people of our times had come to take all too much of our democratic heritage for granted. Now, with Trump regularly trampling on our hard-won democratic system and the political norms that help to safeguard it, Americans are being awakened to those precious values now endangered.
Nowhere has this opportunity to make American lemonade out of this Trumpian lemon been so swiftly seized than in the reaction to Trump’s abominable remarks about the NFL Friday night in Alabama.
(“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,”)
Trump’s remarks are clearly part of Trump’s ongoing attempt to inflame racial divisions. But they are also an assault on the more general — and absolutely core — American value: the freedom of American citizens to express themselves.
Trump is calling upon his buddies, the NFL owners, to institute the kind of authoritarian dictatorship that Trump himself would apparently love to impose on the nation — love that Putin! — if he weren’t constrained by that pesky U.S. Constitution.
This assault by Trump on a fundamental American liberty, in the context of the protests expressed by a few NFL players (like Colin Kaepernick) has immediately provoked a healthy immune response from the athletic world he has tried to drag into his agenda of division.*
His assault has driven NFL owners and players together to give voice to America’s deep values. Whereas Trump declares that a player kneeling during the national anthem represents “a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” one owner after another has articulated that, on the contrary, Trump’s words represent an assault on what we as a nation stand for.
Jed York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, declared: “”The callous and offensive comments made by the president are contradictory to what this great country stands for. Our players have exercised their rights as United States citizens in order to spark conversation and action to address social injustice. We will continue to support them in their peaceful pursuit of positive change in our country and around the world.”
Said Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots: “I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
From the owners of the Buffalo Bills, Terry and Kim Pegula, “Our players have the freedom to express themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner…”
And there have been others, reminding the nation of a value that we Americans had come to take too much for granted. Trump’s political pathogens are stimulating the body politic to produce the necessary political antibodies.
Meanwhile, Trump’s attacks on the NFL — as well as on Stephen Curry of the NBA Golden State Warriors — have spread this immune response to other sports, not previously involved. The catcher for major league baseball’s Oakland Athletics — Bruce T. Maxwell — has become the first baseball player to kneel during the national anthem.
Maxwell, who appears to be white, thus perhaps manifesting the immune response to Trump’s clear attempt to attack black athletes to foment hostility between the races, declared through two tweets:
Don’t be surprised if you start seeing athletes kneeling in other sports now!! Comments like that coming from our president. WOW! // Inequality is being displayed bigger than ever right now as our president shows that freeedom of protest and speech is not allowed..
There is an old Sufi story, which is also an old Chinese story, that expresses that it is not always clear what’s good news and what’s bad news. In a sequence of happenings that befall an old farmer, neighbors come to congratulate or condole on what seems to them clearly favorable or unfavorable developments. But the farmer’s response is, consistently, “Good news, bad news, who can say?” (In the final development, the “bad news” of the son of the farmer breaking his leg ends up sparing that son from having to go to war.)
In that story, it seems to be the unpredictable vagaries of fate that can transform the apparently bad into the good. I look at our situation, as a nation, with Trump as president in a different way.
The vagaries of fate may have their role in determining what kind of shape this nation is in by the time we come out from under this abysmal presidency. But much of that outcome depend on how we, the American people, respond to this challenge.
From any given situation, there are many possible paths into the future. How much Trump turns out to be the terrible news we all felt him to be on November 9 of last year, and how much the ascendancy of this God-awful Republican president can be made into an opportunity to redeem the spirit of our troubled polity, will depend on the creativity, and skill, and determination we bring to the struggle.
Yes, he — and his also terrible GOP allies — have the power. But for inspiration we can look to another source of wisdom out of the East: as such martial arts like jujitsu and Aikido reveal, the skillful warrior can turn that power against his opponent.
As Trump claims to defend the flag, America is calling him out for his trampling on that deep American value of “liberty and justice for all” for which that flag stands.
* I am waiting to see if the reaction against Trump leads some NFL team to finally hire Kaepernick, whose performance statistics clearly show him to be well within the range of what the NFL requires of a quarterback.