In comments at a speech in Louisville Monday, President Donald Trump once again attacked beleaguered ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This was, and will likely remain, an easy pitching wedge for Trump: the pro-Trump Kentucky crowd was more than happy that their man in the White House was taking credit for Kaepernick’s inability to sign with a new team, and a pro-Trump crowd anywhere in the country would likely have been all too ready to cheer on the demise of an infamous National Anthem sitter. But there’s a deeper issue here: just how much actual bullying of private citizens are we willing to tolerate from the “bully pulpit”?
Teddy Roosevelt didn’t mean bullying in the way we think of it, of course. But it is undeniable that in the modern age of 24/7 news and social media a president can and will use his position to publicly attempt to sway opinion using examples of either individual citizens and businesses. Typically in the case of individual citizens, these examples are positive in nature (think State of the Union guests who are pointed out mid-speech regarding some policy or another). You may disagree with the policy, but the president is at least using the example in a positive way. The question becomes when is this appropriate and legitimate, and when does it cross the line into something which we, as a citizenry comprised of free individuals, should be loathe to accept from our leaders?
The Trump-Kaepernick example is illustrative mainly because there is nothing subtle about the players. Trump is bombastic and more than willing to crow about using his position to frighten NFL general managers off of possibly signing the quarterback. Kaepernick, for his part, comes off as a wholly unsympathetic character: he seems like a coddled asshole who a lot of football fans wouldn’t have wanted playing for their favorite team even before the anthem controversy. Add in the racial and patriotic components and you have the perfect American storm. It’s relatively easy, if you’re a right-of-center, red state dwelling individual (even one who didn’t vote for Trump) to not feel particularly upset at the situation. But anyone who considers themselves to be in favor of limiting the power of the federal government should be uncomfortable with Trump’s antics now that he’s president.
Using Kaepernick as a foil as a presidential candidate was one thing. At the time Trump had no more power to influence the business of the NFL than any other very famous person, and in any event was not technically speaking as a government official. But once elected he immediately assumed the responsibility of the power of the entire executive branch of the federal government, a power capable of much destruction. It is very easy to imagine NFL general managers and owners not wanting to risk another season of Donald Trump bashing the NFL as the actual president of the United States.
There is some flavor of turnabout being fair play on the Right in the attitudes towards the Trump vs. Kaepernick issue. It’s understandable, given eight years of President If You’ve Got a Business, You Didn’t Build That. But to accept a president targeting a specific business (as opposed to a general industry like, say, Obama and coal), or worse, a specific individual, is to condone a misuse of power and a violation of the seriousness of the office which should be at the least distasteful to conservatives.It should truthfully be unacceptable to anyone who professes a desire for a smaller, more decentralized government.
A zebra can’t change his stripes, and President Trump isn’t going to change. It would be nice to believe that a few Congressmen who purportedly desire a reining in of executive authority will at some point call out the President for this type of thing. It would be even nicer if a few of those Congressmen took legislative steps to actually rein in executive power. Neither is likely, and no breaths will be held. But, in all likelihood, President Trump will at some point publicly attack a private business or citizen who isn’t quite as unpopular with his supporters as Colin Kaepernick, and the reality of out of control executive power, and how it might be wielded by an unscrupulous bully, will dawn on them finally. And some of us will just point and laugh.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.