Before heading to the college national football championship Monday, President Trump reiterated his views on athletes using the national anthem to protest racial discrimination and police violence in America.
“We want our flag respected,” Trump told the annual gathering of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville. “We want our national anthem respected also.”
“There's plenty of space for people to express their views and to protest, but we love our flag and we love our anthem, and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
But at the Alabama vs. Georgia game in Atlanta, as the president stood with the color guard during the anthem and appeared to mouth the words to the song, some questioned: Does Trump know the words to the entire first verse of the national anthem?
Pool reporters traveling with the president said he mouthed what appeared to be some of the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but they could not tell exactly what he was saying or singing. Trump seemed more excited to sing along near the end of the song, according to the pool report.
And given the president's strong stance on the national anthem, it's no surprise that his critics pounced.
The majority of Americans — 61 percent — do not know all the words to the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” according to a Harris Interactive survey. But because of Trump's repeated defense of the song and the fact that he likely hears the national anthem more than most Americans, many expect him to know it.
No athletes protested at Monday’s game, in part because they were not on the field when the anthem was sung. However, the Atlanta branch of the NAACP encouraged people attending the game to wear white and wave white towels to show their disagreement with Trump’s policies and statements. The protest was intended to mock those conservatives who often call liberals “snowflakes.”
After a quiet period on the issue, Trump revived his criticism of national anthem protests last week, tweeting a photo of a woman lying down on a military grave. The photo touched a nerve for politicizing military widows.
With the Super Bowl around the corner, it's likely the issue of NFL player protests will resurface on the biggest night in football. And if players take a stance again — Trump has referred to them as “sons of b‑‑‑‑es” — you can bet the president will likely weigh in again with comments that get highly favorable marks from many in his base.
But as we approach midterm elections and Republicans try to court black voters, Trump may have to tread carefully. The majority of black voters disagree with Trump’s condemnation of the NFL protests.
On the way to the game Monday, Trump signed a law creating a new national historic park for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. As Americans commemorate King’s birthday next week, the president will again be called upon to hear out those citizens who support using the First Amendment to protest racial injustice — including on the football field.