Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a talk at Georgetown University last week. As reported by Frank Bruni writing for The New York Times, "Sessions decried the rise of a creature with an insatiable appetite for affirmation, a distressing inability to respect the other side and an ugly impulse to silence anyone who dwells there."

Was Sessions talking about college students or his boss? I'm not sure. What I am sure about is that President Donald Trump is not an advocate for free speech, unless it is coming from white supremacists, KKK members, or Nazis marching on college campuses. Then, he respects the "fine people on both sides." Black football players, however, respectfully taking a knee during our national anthem, according to Trump and his supporters, are an insult to the American flag and our military. But Trump, who said about Sen. John McCain, "He's not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured" has a lot of nerve lecturing anyone about respecting our military.

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And for you Trump supporters upset with football players taking a knee, please explain your continued support for a draft dodger insulting a POW and calling our military "a disaster."

Trump knows that taking a knee during the national anthem was never a protest against the American flag or our military. It was a protest against the killing of unarmed black men by police. It was a protest for freedom, liberty, and justice for all — exactly what our American flag represents. Trump is using the issue to drive a wedge between Americans, as he has with his Muslim bans, immigration policies, comments about Hispanic judges, and his dispiriting remarks about refugees. He is the Divider-In-Chief.

If our flag stands for freedom and justice for all, then protesting the lack of freedom and justice for all during the national anthem makes sense to me. When I was in Senior ROTC training in college during the Vietnam war, I was often insulted by my fellow students protesting the war. But a captain in my unit told me that I was fighting for their right to protest and that by securing their free speech, I was ensuring my free speech and the free speech for all Americans. That made sense to me then and continues to make sense today.

It was interesting to hear so many people voice their concerns recently when a white hospital nurse was assaulted by a police officer and arrested because she refused his orders to take blood from a patient. The nurse wasn't shot; she was merely arrested. Yet, social media was filled with outrage from people who never said a word when numerous unarmed black men were shot and killed by the police. Do white people really need to see an unarmed white person harassed or killed by the police before they can begin to understand why the black community, including black football players, are protesting injustice in America?

For some football fans, the message is clear: We just want those black football players to entertain us. We don't care about the social justice issues in their communities. After all, it's not our community. The players should shut-up, entertain us, and stop making us uncomfortable about issues we don't want to address.

Our nation was built on protests. From the Revolutionary War which gave us our independence, to the civil rights protests which gave African-Americans their freedom and women the right to vote. Protests are always unpopular at the time, but they move us forward to a more perfect union. The Vietnam war protests were unpopular during the war, but a majority of Americans now agree that the war was a mistake. Women protesting for the right to vote was very unpopular at the time, especially with men, but a majority of Americans now agree that women should have the right to vote. The civil rights marches were very unpopular at the time, especially with white people, but Americans now honor the sacrifices of some in our attempts to bring freedom and justice to all.

Obviously, we have a long way to go. But Trump and his lackeys will not get us there. As stated by Dean Obeidallah, on CNN.com, Trump "doesn't understand the importance of American values — particularly freedom of expression, pluralism and tolerance. In fact, he is a threat to them. Trump is demanding conformity and obedience over championing freedom of expression. That is the type of sentiment you expect to hear from a Third World dictator — not the President of the United States of America."



Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is program coordinator of the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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