I have a prediction about Trump’s next move in his escalating crusade espousing patriotic signs of loyalty, plus an explanation for North Korea’s war of words with the bully-in-chief.
I predict Trump will mandate that all cabinet meetings begin with the Pledge of Allegiance, possibly followed by a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner (heaven help the secretary who doesn’t sing loud enough or warbles off key. Trump might even designate, on a rotating basis, one cabinet member to sing the national anthem solo, a cappella. If so, expect resignations or sheepish cries of laryngitis prior to their respective turns).
Trump doesn’t have to pressure Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to begin their respective chamber’s proceedings with the pledge and/or the national anthem. They already do.
Woe to the elected or appointed official who does not conform to the symbols Trump deems patriotic.
On WNYC public radio Monday morning, Brian Lehrer noted that after the disturbances in Charlottesville Trump said it was okay for peaceful demonstrators to protest the removal of a Civil War statue even if they marched with neo-Nazis and white extremists. He dismissed the idea that the statue of Robert E. Lee, or the Confederate flags or the torch light parade or the neo Nazi flags represented slavery, bigotry and the suppression of equal rights. Yet, he sharply and profanely criticized the peaceful demonstrations by athletes protesting racial inequalities while seeking an end to police mistreatment and killings of minorities.
My friend Linda, on the other hand, sent along a reminder that refusing to say the Pledge or to engage in other symbolic gestures of patriotism was a right protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in 1943—during the height of World War II, no less!—that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Furthermore, they could not be forced to stand while others recited it.
But the Barnette case applied only to public officials and government actions. Private employers may well have the power and legal right to fire employees if they violate a corporate policy to stand for the national anthem. The outcome of any such incident may rest on the individual’s employment contract and if a collective bargaining agreement exists.
In other words, there is no settled case law, and though Barnette is now the law of the land for the last 74 years, it is instructive to realize Barnette overturned a previous Supreme Court decision (Minersville School District v. Gobitis) that was just three years old.
So Trump’s verbal assault on athletes, asserting those who don’t stand for the national anthem should be fired, might, just might, be within legal bounds. Or not. We apparently won’t know as the National Football League and many of its team owners do not seem eager to test the issue. Indeed, the league and some owners have distanced themselves from Trump.
Trump, meanwhile, is like the old fashioned advertising executive seen as Juror #12 in the film 12 Angry Men. To advance the dialogue during the deadlocked jury deliberations he says in advertising you throw out ideas, run them up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.
When Trump speaks publicly he tosses out provocations and waits to see if they resonate with his base. If they do, he hunkers down, doubles down and attacks anyone who questions his wisdom. So it was with his anti-athlete diatribe that began with a speech last week in Alabama.
The national debate isn’t likely to go away soon (it is, after all, just week four of the NFL season), which seems to be overshadowing the after-hurricane crises in Puerto Rico, Houston and Florida, the debate over health care, the quest for peace in the Middle East, the need to overhaul the country’s infrastructure, cyber security, tax reform, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and the standoff with North Korea over nuclear arms development.
Grand Fenwick Redux: This much we know about North Korea and its enigmatic leader Kim Jong-un: The country is impoverished and ruled by a dictator who enjoys movies.
I don’t have it on good authority but I suspect Kim has seen the movie The Mouse That Roared, the 1959 Peter Sellers satire based on the 1955 novel of the same title, about the down on its luck Duchy of Grand Fenwick that concocts a get-rich-quick scheme. Its leaders declare war on the United States with the intention of losing as they believe America would then rebuild its vanquished foe much as it did with Germany and Japan.
Kim, no doubt, can’t possibly hope to win a confrontation with the U.S., but he could extract invaluable tribute from Washington. It would be the least Trump could do to reward the third generation tyrant for being a puppet antagonist to his patriotic protagonist. Of course, Kim would have to agree to live in exile, but I am confident he could find a more hospitable environment somewhere on this earth.