Trump, Ersatz Patriotism and the Divine Right of Kings

I’m not supposed to like the Philadelphia Eagles for several silly sports reasons, the most immediate being they spent the last Super Bowl making my team look like a herd of addled goats. Yes, I’m a Patriots fan just like Donald Trump. I was a Patriots fan long before he polluted the experience, and I’ll be a fan long after they wind him in his tangerine shroud. Bad people like your team, too.

I’m not supposed to like the Eagles, and then along comes safety Malcolm Jenkins to lay an open-field hit on Trump you could hear from the back of the parking lot. Jenkins was compelled to call the president of the United States a liar in public because, well, the president of the United States is a liar in public.

Early this week, Trump petulantly cancelled the traditional White House visit for championship teams after several Eagles players said they would not attend, reigniting the ongoing fatuous anthem argument by claiming once again that kneeling players were disrespecting soldiers and the flag.

Deliberately, no mention was made of the true reason for the anthem protests — ongoing police violence against people of color all across the country — and so Malcolm Jenkins responded. In football terms, Trump crossed over the middle of the secondary and Jenkins laid him out flat on his own team logo, because that’s what safeties do:

This is what my colleagues and I have been facing for the past two years. Players have met with police departments, elected officials and community advocates around the country. Chris Long played for free last year and donated his entire salary to charity. We’ve fed the hungry, we’ve mentored our youth, we’ve fought to create opportunities for communities and individuals who have been disenfranchised, we’ve given scholarships, and the list goes on.

It’s not our job. No one elected us to do this. We do it because we love this country and our communities. Everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, deserves to be treated equally. We are fighting for racial and social equality…. Instead the decision was made to lie, and to paint the picture that these players are anti-America, anti-flag and anti-military. We will continue to fight for impacted citizens and give a voice to those who never had one.

It should be noted at this juncture that, while Trump did win the state in 2016, Pennsylvania remains a swing state with the midterms right around the corner. By publicly denouncing and disinviting the entire Philadelphia Eagles team, he took a giant public dump on one of Pennsylvania’s major secular religions.

That’s not a small thing; Eagles fans are singularly rabid, pridefully so, there are quite a lot of them, and even if they claim not to care what Trump has to say about their team, they’ll remember. Like, forever. Politically speaking, this is Trump urinating on a cheesesteak from Geno’s because someone told him to get Whiz on it. No good comes of angering that fan base. Just ask Michael Irvin, or Santa Claus.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump’s flag-humping football sideshow traversed the realm of pathetic and staggered into the dominion of the bizarre right there on the South Lawn of the White House. In place of the cancelled Eagles event, Trump decreed there be a “Celebration of America,” complete with the Marine Corps Band and the US Army Chorus, and all the Eagles fans who had been “abandoned” by their team (according to Trump) were invited to attend.

Exactly one Eagles logo was spotted in the ensuing gathering. The rest of the crowd looked precisely like what they were — harried White House staffers and lobbyists who were dragooned into participating in the farce to make sure the press had more to film than Trump, the band and a wide expanse of empty grass. According to reporters, no one in the crowd who was asked could name the Eagles’ quarterback, which is funny all by itself because the team has two right now, as every Philly fan knows full well.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any excitement. Brendan Martin, a software developer in the crowd, shouted Trump down as the farce was beginning: “Stop hiding behind the armed services and the national anthem to attack your fellow citizens!” he bellowed while taking a knee. The crowd booed him, but from the perspective of the cameras, it looked and sounded like they were booing Trump. Martin then yelled, “Go Eagles!” and was booed again, making it seem like the crowd was booing the team during what was supposed to be an Eagles rally. The best part: Brendan Martin actually is an Eagles fan.

From there, it got positively surreal. Donald Trump, self-appointed arbiter of all things patriotic, who seemed to have cobbled together this whole tepid display of limp nationalism because a football team hurt his fee-fees, completely failed to remember the words to “God Bless America” when the time came to sing the one song they all showed up to sing. It was a perfection of absurdity, and all on video. Did I mention it was on video? It was. All of it.

Fairly preposterous behavior coming from someone who is attempting to lay claim to the Divine Right of Kings, no? One would think someone seeking absolute power for himself, in direct contradiction to the Constitution and the rule of law, would at least make a stab at playing the part of the statesman, or something. That’s not how Don rolls, though. When he wants to rob the barn in the middle, he lights the barns to the left and right on fire first. Magnificent distraction, fire. Gets people running without looking where they’re going.

Reading the welcome words of Malcolm Jenkins, I am strengthened in my conviction that this country desperately needs a crash course in civics and the perils of recent history. This country is an idea — actually, it’s a series of ideas, some of them awful, all wound into one cord — and like any idea, it is fragile. It takes hard work and the will of good people to hold it together, especially when the grifters and barn-burners are about, making mischief and stealing whatever isn’t nailed down.

None of this freedom stuff is automatic, and when the president says he is above the law to such a degree that he can actually pardon himself (“What, me guilty?”), we have entered the realm of the Stuart monarchs, the Divine Right run amok, and all the reasons why the Constitution and Bill of Rights were laid out as bulwarks against institutionalized tyranny with the ability to self-improve as circumstances warrant. It is not exceptional, but it is pretty damned impressive when put to work for We the People instead of They the Powerful.

“No one elected us to do this,” wrote Jenkins as he crossed the middle and lowered his shoulder. “We do it because we love this country and our communities. Everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, deserves to be treated equally.”

The players’ protests are important. Trump’s noise about them, however, is a big burning barn meant to distract us from his efforts to put himself beyond the reach of justice and the law. Do not lose sight of this president who wants everyone to believe he can’t be touched.

Everyone can be touched. Just ask a safety.