On the President, Peaceful Protests, and Professional Athletes

So, just to clarify: waving a traitorous Confederate flag and chanting anti-Jewish slogans during an alt-right white supremacy march is constitutionally-protected free speech and makes some of those participating in the march “very fine people,” but African-Americans silently and peacefully kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of white supremacy and police brutality against people of color makes them “sons of bitches” who should be “fired” from their jobs.

This is the stated logic of the present President of the United States, Donald Trump.

You can’t call for peaceful protests and then call the peaceful protesters “sons of bitches” that “ought to be fired.” Because black athletes (and white athletes, and Latino athletes, and Asian athletes, etc.) always respond well when you call their mothers “bitches.” Right Mr. President?

 

On Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, in response to African-American athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans, President Trump said, "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!'"

On Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, at a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, in response to African-American athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans, President Trump said, “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!'”

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Pres. Trump Should Not Have Cancelled His Masada Trip

Sarah E. Bond has a nice article in Forbes this week about Donald Trump’s decision to skip Masada during his visit to Israel and the West Bank. In it, my colleague discusses the reasons President Trump should have gone to visit the famed hilltop fortress. While it once served as an opulent southern hideaway for the tyrannical Herod the Great, well-removed from the established Judean capital of Jerusalem, Masada is best remembered for its role in the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-73 CE), and concepts of honor, loyalty, and the Jewish history of perseverance in the face of oppression.

But the president didn’t go.

Mr. Trump cancelled his visit to Masada after he was informed that he wouldn’t be allowed to land his helicopter on the over two-millennia-old archaeological ruins atop the mountain.

Thus, while there are many reasons the president should have visited Masada, there are also plenty of reasons the president should not have cancelled his visit–political reasons, symbolic reasons, and reasons that give us a glimpse into the mindset of our 45th president.

Masada Snake Path

Masada’s Snake Path can be seen below the cables of the Masada cable car, both of which lead to the Visitor Center at the foot of the mountain.

The first reason is simple: it’s Masada. From the Visitor Center, you either walk the Snake Path or take the cable car to the top. For two millennia, Christian and Jewish pilgrims, tourists, and soldiers have made the arduous journey up the mountain to visit this monument to perseverance. Tourists do it. Soldiers do it. Staff members do it. President Trump should do it like everyone else, including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

However, when President Trump was told he couldn’t land his helicopter on the famed archaeological remains in order to avoid the heat and sweat of the journey, he cancelled the visit. The fact that Donald Trump cancelled says a lot about how he views himself as opposed to literally everyone else on earth, including other U.S. Presidents.

Second, if riding the cable car is too much work for President Trump, then he wouldn’t be able to see the site anyway. The top of the plateau is massive–over 1.6 million sq. ft., or 36.78 acres! Furthermore, many of the key components of Masada lie on the perimeter of the top of the mountain–with some even carved into the side of the mountain–and these are accessible only by lengthy, rather precarious staircases. Any tourist who has visited Masada knows this. Only those in relatively good shape and possessing strong legs and great balance are able to descend into Herod’s hanging palace. You simply cannot experience Herod’s resplendent extravagance if you’re not willing and able to put in the effort. Even via the cable car, visiting the mountaintop Masada fortress requires some sweat and getting dirty–two things the president loathes and typically lets others do for him.

Masada

The mountain of Masada from the east/Dead Sea. Photo by: gaspa, Creative Commons.

Third, the entire ordeal of President Trump’s cancellation of Masada tells us a lot about how he views the relationship between effort and reward. Like many other things in his life, President Trump wanted credit for the difficult journey, but insisted upon a means of getting there not available to everyone else. (And no, the Russians did not build the cableway; it was built by two Swiss companies.)

President Trump wanted credit for reaching the top of the mountain, but needed more help getting there than others who are required to work for their achievements. And when he couldn’t take the easy route, he quit.

Finally, it is quite telling that when the president was told he could not ascend Masada–a monument to resistance–via helicopter, he backed down. This tells us something. When faced with strong resistance, Donald Trump backs down, because taking on the resistance requires discipline, patience, and persistent focus and effort–all clubs the president has repeatedly demonstrated he does not carry in his bag.

President Trump did a great many other things on his trip to Israel. But sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that say the most about you. And our president has shown us repeatedly that while everyone else must work hard for what they achieve, he will take a shortcut whenever he can. And when he is told he must work like everyone else, he quits.

Masada

The top of Masada, looking south. Photo by: Godot13.

Masada is about perseverance, honor, resistance, and hard work. It’s about being willing to die for what you believe in. And in the end, perhaps it is best that President Trump didn’t visit Masada. This mountain has already experienced one paranoid, conspiracy-laden hegemon, who achieved his position with the help of a foreign power and by agreeing to use his government to pursue their interests. Perhaps it’s best we remember Masada for those who have made the effort and the sacrifice, and not for those who fled when they didn’t get their way.

 

 

 

 

On the American Flag at Political Conventions

I cannot help but notice how many on the right equate patriotism with the size and number of flags you can cram onto a stage. Far-right conservatives are proud of their American flag: a field of pure whiteness, covered by streaks of red protecting a handful of white stars held aloft by the divine protection of the blue heavens. Far-right conservatives see flags like guns and cars and women: the more you have and the bigger and better looking they are, the more “American” you must be.

True patriotism, however, is not simply about the mere symbol, but about what that symbol represents: policies and actions. The flag must represent the actions of standing up, acting on behalf of your fellow Americans, serving them, treating them fairly, and the willingness to give your life for them, as so many of our veterans have done. It must also represent the establishment of policies, both personal and civil policies, that bring about our ideals.

The flag is a symbol, and symbols represent ideas and ideals. And if your ideas are bad ideas—if they are divisive, and bigoted, and harmful—then it doesn’t matter how many flags you have. You can line up a row of massive flags from one end of the stage to the other—if your ideas are bad ideas, and your ideals do not treat all Americans equally and with respect, you cannot simply paper over selfish ideals and bad policies with the American flag. Because when you do, the symbol becomes an idol—an end in itself. And much like the crosses on the walls, and around the necks and wrists, and on the car bumpers of those who do not live lives reflective of the teachings of the man associated with that cross, the idol comes to represent nothing at all. And this is why those that worship their star-spangled idol flood their stages with the idol: they hope that none will notice that their idol is empty, and that their lives do not reflect the selfless service that the idol once represented.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump receiving his party’s 2016 nomination in Cleveland, Ohio.

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