Anytime Donald Trump trots out the R-E-S-P-E-C-T word, you can bet it has about as much credibility as his pet phrase, "Believe me."
The divider-in-chief can't help himself. He sows chaos and spews rancor. It's what he does.
Especially when he needs to change the conversation about his other failings — like stoking nuclear war with North Korea, like wishing we'd believe the Russia probe is a hoax, like his White House advisers dropping like flies, like his son-in-law using his personal email ("lock him up!") for government business, like not pulling enough GOP support in a GOP-majority Senate to pass Trump/GOP care.
So he jumped on National Football League players making a peaceful protest of racism in 2017 America.
Players protesting racism gave him easy red-meat pickings to throw out as he campaigned last week in Huntsville, Ala., for a Senate seat primary candidate that Trump has backed, but who is unlikely to win — another loss for the Trump ego.
The president spoke in language that would have to be bleeped in most homes. He denigrated the players and their mothers as he called for NFL owners to fire those who kneel or sit in peaceful protest during the national anthem.
Such protests took modest hold last season among some black players after Colin Kaepernick, the now-former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, first remained seated, then took a knee to protest racial and social injustice after a number of instances of police brutality made national news.
Trump claims his criticisms of the kneeling protests are not about race, but about disrespect for the anthem, the flag and veterans — "a total disrespect of our heritage, that's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for."
But after our president's disrespect of one of our core freedoms, the freedoms that our veterans fought for, that modest protest mushroomed this weekend into a nationwide — and diverse — rebuke of Trump.
Several of the NFL team owners, rather than firing the scores of players who knelt or joined arms, protested with them.
Any time you have to say something's not about race, you have a problem.
Put this president's concerns for respect in context. In Trump's view, taking a knee as a peaceful protest (Kaepernick specifically took a knee rather than sitting out the anthem as a sign of respect for veterans) is disrespectful, but a protest of white guys carrying torches and chanting "Jews will not replace us" at a Charlottesville, Va., white supremacists' rally had some "very fine people" in it.
When will this president unite us? Sadly, the answer is never.
But perhaps Colin Kaepernick and the National Football League just did. And they did it by demonstrating American values, not tweeting or ranting to exploit them.
Recognizing America's failure to achieve racial justice and social equality is in no way disrespectful of our military or our heritage. On the contrary, our military heroes — and our civilian heroes — fight for freedom, not a song. Not even a flag.
Free speech and peaceful protest are among the freedoms that already make America great.