Like it or not, in his Friday remarks on anthem-kneeling NFL players, President Trump expressed sentiments shared by millions of people across the country. This fact is important for a number of reasons, but especially because some have taken the predictable step of arguing Trump's comments were racist.
As a sampling, here's what David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker:
"People like yourselves." "Those people." "Son of a bitch." This was the same sort of racial signalling that followed the Fascist and white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is no longer a matter of "dog whistling." This is a form of racial demagoguery broadcast at the volume of a klaxon. There is no need for Steve Bannon's behind-the-scenes scriptwriting. Trump, who is desperate to distract his base from his myriad failures of policy, from health care to immigration, is perfectly capable of devising his racist rhetoric all on his own.
The average NFL viewer isn't reading Remnick, but they're aware that opinion is being shared in some corners of the country because outlets that penetrate their media diet tell them as much. Though Remnick insists Trump's rhetoric was beyond dog whistling, most people who read or heard bites of his remarks would not identify "people like yourselves," "those people," or "son of a bitch," as racist.
Yes, that players are kneeling for the anthem at all is upsetting to many people. But when that's taken to the next step and they believe others see them as racists for disliking the protests, they are incensed. By the way, a Quinnipiac poll from 2016 re-upped by FiveThirtyEight on Monday showed that in addition to 87 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of Independents disagreed with the protests.
If the Left could resist its urge to malign (implicitly or explicitly) millions of well-meaning people who cross partisan (and racial) boundaries as racists, conversations would come easier. What drives people to Trump is that he's not afraid to (a) speak plainly on his dislike of the protests and (b) bat down the inevitable accusations of racism that follow. In many ways, the latter is actually more important.
As we've argued before, much of the Left operates with a broader definition of racism than the rest of the country, one that lumps, for instance, a patriotic independent in suburban Milwaukee into a category society has long reserved for neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. As you can imagine, that's infuriating for decent people who believe fully in racial equality but don't believe kneeling for the national anthem is an appropriate form of protest.
Political observers underestimate how desperate people have become for someone, anyone, to fight this. Enter Trump, whose complete disregard for the pressures of political correctness resonate powerfully with many conservatives, but also with nonpartisans who in many cases care a lot less about policy than about having a champion for cultural common sense.
The Left must begin to think carefully about how its ever-expanding definition of racism impacts people who believe in fundamental racial equality, but are now placed into the same category society has long reserved for groups such as the KKK.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.