This 4th of July, Americans are fighting over what ‘American’ should mean

Posted at 10:07 PM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-04 00:54:10-04

When President Donald Trump gives his military-themed “Salute to America” on Thursday, he’ll stand in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where the words of President Abraham Lincoln’s greatest speech, his second inaugural address, are etched in stone.

In that speech, Lincoln promised to heal the wounds of the Civil War “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” a political approach Trump hasn’t embraced.

For Trump’s speech, there will be American flags everywhere. Count on it. It’s not out of the question that he will sidle up and hug one, something he’s done before.

Most Americans (70%) said they were extremely or very proud to be Americans in an annual Gallup poll released this week. That sounds great except that the 45% who said they were extremely proud is the lowest since Gallup started asking the question on the Fourth of July — in 2001, as it happens.

It turns out there’s almost nothing more divisive to a national identity than building a presidency around nationalism.

Trump revels in putting his definition up against other people’s. That’s why he stoked his fight with kneeling NFL players for so long. And that’s why so many are frustrated that he’ll hold a rally on the National Mall — a “Salute to America” — on the Fourth of July.

He’s saluting his own version of America and he’s not very charitable to anyone else’s, which can be an offensive thing at a time when people are basically streaming to the US as refugees from Central America. It can be offensive when there is an undercurrent of racism in his acceptance of white nationalist protesters or his defense of Confederate statues.

But this week it was Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President’s son Donald Trump Jr. who were offended by reports that Nike had pulled a sneaker featuring an early version of the American flag because former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick said that marketing a version of the flag from a period of history featuring legal slavery was offensive.

The Betsy Ross flag, with its circle of 13 stars for the original 13 Colonies, is named for the possibly apocryphal story of the seamstress who made it.

The ensuing uproar was led by McConnell, who said Tuesday that “If we’re in a political environment where the American flag has become controversial to Americans, I think we’ve got a problem.”

McConnell is interesting on this issue. He’s a great supporter of free speech, be it in the form of campaign dollars or flag desecration. He is a leading voice against a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.

In fact, back in 2006, the Senate failed by one vote to support an amendment to outlaw flag burning. McConnell cast that vote. He was one of three Republicans to vote no. Of the others, former Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island lost a reelection campaign and is no longer a Republican, and Bob Bennett of Utah lost a primary. He has since died.

McConnell can control what the Senate votes on, so it’s unlikely he’ll allow a proposal introduced last month by fellow Republicans to vote again on an anti-flag-burning amendment to reach the Senate floor, although Trump is all in favor of it.

“All in for Senator Steve Daines as he proposes an Amendment for a strong BAN on burning our American Flag. A no brainer!” Trump tweeted on June 15, the day after Flag Day.

Nike’s decision, which a spokesman said was made to not offend people celebrating Independence Day, prompted Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to move to pull back tax incentives the company was set to receive for opening a plant. It’s a twist on liberal efforts to pull business from states moving to restrict abortion rights.

Then California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom and New Mexico’s Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reminded Nike their states are open for business.

Trump Jr. sensed an opening to tie Nike to the brewing Republican accusation that Democrats are pushing socialism with the proposals for nationalized health care and student debt forgiveness. He tweeted an imagined pair of Nikes emblazoned with the Soviet flag.

It shouldn’t be lost in all this that while Kaepernick is employed as a Nike spokesman, he no longer gets to be a football player — while no one is kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games anymore.

Similarly, it was Megan Rapinoe who knelt before US Soccer games in solidarity with Kaepernick, who was trying to make a point about racial and social justice. That ended after the US Soccer Federation voted almost unanimously to require players and staff to stand during the anthem.

This week, Trump, the purveyor of nationalism, joined in a Twitter war with Rapinoe after the release of a video in which she said she wouldn’t be visiting the “f***ing White House,” although she didn’t expect Trump to invite the team if it won the Women’s World Cup final.

That feud simmered — Rapinoe scored two goals after he said she should finish the job and win the final before talking about White House invitations. She was then benched with a mild hamstring strain and watched while her teammates defeated England.

The team’s general excellence — and not the row with Trump — has led their jersey to become the best-selling soccer top in history. People frustrated by not having access to Nike’s Betsy Ross sneakers might consider buying a red, white and blue USWNT jersey, also made by Nike, instead.

So HBD, America. Let’s keep it together. Stop worrying about the flag shoes Nike won’t sell and take a look at the soccer jersey it does.