Donald J. Trump took the oath of office Jan. 20. After eight months, it’s time to ask a serious question:
Can Spencer Cox be president now? Please?
At a campaign rally Friday in Alabama, with the world on the brink of nuclear war, with Puerto Ricans begging for help after Hurricane Maria, Trump chose to call out football players who kneel for the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.‘ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
Cox, Utah’s lieutenant governor, sees the protests differently.
"I will stand and I will salute the flag until my feet bleed," Cox said Tuesday. "But I'm so grateful that we live in a country where people don't have to if they don't choose to."
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Cox made his remarks at Utah Valley State University in Orem, where he’d been invited to discuss how public officials should respond to extremists and white supremacy.
Clearly, the topic arose out of Trump’s response to this summer’s white nationalist protests in Charlottesville. When the rally turned violent, Trump assigned blame equally to neo-Nazis and demonstrators who marched to oppose them.
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The white nationalists included “some very fine people,” Trump said.
Once again, Cox distinguished himself from Trump.
"The response isn't that there are good people on both sides," Cox said. "The response is that it's evil and it's wrong and we should stop it now. There is no place in the public square or public discourse for white supremacy. Period. End of statement."
If the president of the United States had spoken those words Aug. 15, America would be a different and better place. Instead, we find ourselves debating Americans’ right to protest police brutality against people of color.
Cox defends that right, although he fails to grasp why players kneel during the national anthem; there’s no connection between the national anthem and police brutality, he argues.
Eric Reid, a San Francisco 49ers safety, explained the protests Monday in a New York Times op-ed.
In August 2016, after police shot and killed Alton Sterling in Reid’s hometown, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Reid knew he needed to protest somehow. He noticed that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had started sitting during the national anthem as a statement against police brutality, and he spoke with Kaepernick about finding a new form of protest — something that could make “a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement.”
Reid and Kaepernick decided to kneel “because it’s a respectful gesture,” Reid wrote. “I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
Yet that is the gesture Trump used to incite his political base. As Cox acknowledged, most people angered by kneeling players don’t understand why they’re protesting; somehow, opponents view it as a rejection of the military, those who died in uniform, and America itself.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel,” Reid wrote. “We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”
Cox sees Reid’s point. If he’d been on an NFL sideline Sunday, after Trump’s remarks, "I would be standing, but I would be linking arms with my friends who weren't," he told reporters.
That’s the America we should strive to build — together.