When many professional athletes protested against racial injustice last year, Donald Trump seized on the issue as a new front in a divisive culture war. As a practical matter, the president's campaign worked: apparently eager to assuage the Republican, the NFL this week announced that players who engage in on-the-field protests would be penalized.
The problem with appeasement, of course, is that the intended target is rarely satisfied.
Taking a knee during the national anthem during a National Football League game should "maybe" be a deportable offense, President Donald Trump appeared to say in an interview that aired Thursday morning.
Speaking just moments after the NFL announced that all players who are on the field when the national anthem is heard before a game must stand and show respect -- or can choose to remain in the locker room without penalty -- Trump praised the new policy but also said it didn't go far enough in punishing players who might continue to take a knee during the anthem.
In an interview that aired this morning, the president told Fox News the new NFL policy is "good," but added, "I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms.... You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
At face value, watching a sitting president attack the patriotism of Americans who take a knee in recognition of racial injustice is offensive. But for Trump and his aides, these kinds of criticisms have become unnervingly common.
Earlier this month, for example, the Republican told supporters, "We have laws written by people that truly do not love our country." In March, he insisted that Democrats "don't believe in" the U.S. military. In February, Trump whined that when Democrats failed to applaud his State of the Union address, "they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much." He then casually raised the prospect of "treason."
In April, the Washington Post noted, "The Trump White House has turned questioning patriotism into a talking point."
This isn't just an unhealthy approach to the political discourse in a democracy; it's also deeply ironic.