By Joseph Linebarger
At his rally in Alabama, Trump suggested the NFL should fire players who kneel for the national anthem. The president went on to tweet numerous times about the issue, escalating a year old controversy to the hot topic of the week. Trump’s comments have caused a considerable reaction from both sides, prompting more players to protest in solidarity while encouraging football fans to boo and abandon their teams should they disrespect the flag.
The impact of Trump’s comments have been profound, yet many are left concerned and puzzled, asking why the President of the United States is so invested in a how the NFL responds to the situation. While it may be inappropriate for the president to take sides in matters like this, the level to which Trump is promoting this issue suggests there may be a method to the madness. There may be a larger strategy at play.
Donald Trump is a controversial figure, and by that I mean he revels in controversy. With media-hyped celebrity feuds, making personal insults, comments regarding women, the list could go on and on. Generating controversy seems to be the essence of Trump’s character. While most people are stunted or hurt when they attract controversy, Trump seems to be made stronger by it. To have experienced so much bad press and still manage to reach the White House, Trump is either incredibly lucky or he just knows how to use controversy as a means to promote himself and his ideas.
To some extent, Trump knows how to control the news cycle and how to grab attention. This consists of creating or escalating an entertaining controversy which peaks widespread interest and leaving a lasting impression and taking over the national dialogue. One can see this strategy in how Trump ran his campaign. He announced his candidacy by calling Mexicans criminals and rapists, quickly gaining the attention of the media and Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. After the first GOP debate, he insinuated that one of the moderators was on her period, ensuring that he would be the only candidate in the news following the debate.
Despite being in the center of constant controversy, Trump has been remarkably successful in selling himself and what he stands for. He has the ability to choose what issues become relevant as well as the ability to bring people over to his side. The strategy Trump uses to promote himself and his ideas has clear results. Not only is it effective, it can be repeated again and again for different issues and situations, including the current controversy over the national anthem. Instead of just dismissing Trump’s comments as inappropriate behavior for someone in his position, people ought to be asking what Trump hopes to gain from escalating this controversy.
The controversy surrounding the protests is heavily fueled by conflicting values. There is a sense of alienation for many Americans when football players are praised for choosing not to honor the flag in front of millions of people. These protesters have a clear right to express themselves, but the values they are expressing do not sit well with many Americans. By escalating the controversy to a level of importance and condemning the behavior of the protesters, Trump is essentially winning favor with everyone who feels respect for the flag and everything it represents. Taking a hardline stance on the issue and appealing to people’s values is a brilliant strategy for Trump to potentially draw more people to his side.
The average person on the street may not always be able to articulate their position on healthcare, foreign policy, immigration, or trade but almost everyone has an opinion on kneeling for the national anthem. Standing for commonly held values is a strategy frequently implemented by politicians to broaden their appeal. Although the method in which Trump uses his influence may be chaotic and unorthodox, it is definitely effective in reaching out to the population. As the NFL’s ratings drop, crowds boo and long-time fans renounce their teams for kneeling, these people turn to Trump as the champion of their values.