Bildet: Spillere fra Indianapolis Colts kneler i protest når nasjonalsangen spilles før de skal møte Cleveland Browns på Lucas Oil Stadium 24. september. Foto: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters/Scanpix

Donald Trump fikk nok av sportsstjernene som demonstrativt lar være å reise seg når «Star Spangled Banner» spilles før konkurranser. Han sa fredag at de burde pelle seg av banen.

Tirsdag gjentok han kravet om at fotballspillere skal respektere flagget eller la være å spille.

“I don’t think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem,” Trump said at a Rose Garden press conference.

The president, in response to criticism in the media, insisted he was not preoccupied with the controversy – and is focusing instead on the federal government’s hurricane response in the Caribbean.

But explaining his decision to speak out on the anthem protests, Trump cited all those who have died or been injured fighting for the United States.

“They were fighting for our country, they were fighting for our flag, they were fighting for our national anthem,” he said, referring to injured soldiers he’s visited at Walter Reed. “For people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem I think is disgraceful.”

Echoing an earlier tweet, he said the NFL should not allow players to kneel, saying he was “ashamed” by the protests.

Trump har invitert til ordkrig. Forbausende mange innen fotballforbundet forsvarer spillernes rett til å knele når nasjonalsangen spilles, og det gjelder ikke bare svarte spillere. Men Trump blir provosert av at noen føler at de står over det nasjonale samholdet. Meningsmålinger tyder på at han har truffet en nerve i befolkningen. Fotballstjernene tjener et par millioner dollar i året. De ofrer ingenting. Det gjør de familiene som får sine nærmeste hjem i kister.

Trump står for patriotisme. Han vil forsvare amerikansk historie og amerikanske symboler. Det skal ikke være noen opt-out clause fordi noen er misfornøyd med hvordan politiet oppfører seg. Dessuten: Ytringsfriheten – for dem som påberoper seg den – brukes til å håne politiet. En av fotballstjernene brukte sokker under en match som viste politimenn som griser.

Spillere er blitt nektet å bære symboler som minner om 9/11, selv på årsdagen. Slik fungerer politisk korrekthet, den er anti-nasjonal.

Denne utviklingen har akselerert de senere år, og Trump fornemmer frustrasjonen. Dette er ikke Amerika.

Her har han en måte å markere patriotisme på som tjener til hans fordel. Mange blir opprørt over stjernenes oppførsel. Megan Fox skriver om da kusinen mistet sin mann for fem år siden:

We are forgetting someone in this NFL vs. fans fight. They are the most important people among us. The ones who sent loved ones off to war never to see them again. These families have had to sit silently watching a bunch of spoiled, mostly incoherent dunces spit on the flag that bears the blood of their loved ones.

That flag is draped over coffins that arrive in Dover, Delaware. The homecoming the loved ones had imagined, planned for, hoped for was destroyed. Instead, they stand on a tarmac and have to somehow move leaden legs forward to greet the one who didn’t make it. This is all that is left. After a lifetime of hugs and smiles, kisses and laughs, what’s left is a box draped in a flag. That flag, carefully folded up and given to spouses, children, and parents, is supposed to reassure us that the sacrifice of our loved one is worth it.

My cousin, 1st Lt. Damon Leehan of the Oklahoma National Guard, was one of the many who came home under a flag from Afghanistan. I have avoided writing about it for many years. I thank God that few people today know what a military funeral is like. It was the hardest thing many of us have ever gone through. Unlike a civilian service that is over in a matter of two or three days, a military funeral stretches on for weeks. There was the waiting for his body to be brought back to the United States (which took almost ten days), the greeting at Dover Air Force Base, the homecoming in Oklahoma days later, and finally, the funeral. None of these things happened in quick succession. It stretched on for agonizing weeks.

The pain is indescribable. Helping a widow choose not one dress but four different dresses to honor her husband at four different ceremonies, wondering how you’re going to make it through yet another day while trying to keep a cheerful face for the toddlers left behind is a Herculean task. Tears keep coming even when you are dried out and dehydrated. Strangers live in the house, dictating your every move, upholding protocol, making sure all the papers (and there are reams) are signed. Enduring protestors who show up with «God Hates Fags» signs on the worst day of your life. Wanting to run out on the tarmac to hold up your sister because she might fall down under the weight of it, but you can’t because she has to do this alone. The soldier who left his post to escort the body of his friend — never leaving his side, sleeping next to his coffin. The jarring crack of the gun salute. Little children standing graveside looking bewildered, one grasping a softie and a bottle. The tears on the face of a hardened soldier as he kneels to deliver Old Glory to the achingly young widow, who isn’t yet 30, with a soft word no one else can hear. It is stunning in its cruelty and harshness and equally breathtaking in its honor and beauty.

Five years later I can’t think about it without losing my breath and choking on tears. Watching my dear Audrey lay her face on that flag in the 112-degree heat of an Oklahoma summer heat wave was the most horrible and beautiful thing I ever saw. Beautiful because the willful little girl I knew growing up showed the strength of her grit that day. She didn’t fall down. She didn’t collapse. She bore it because she had to. She had dignity on the day she lost everything. There wasn’t a person in that crowd on that day who cared if the person next to them was a Democrat or a Republican. We knew that this sacrifice we were witnessing was for all of us. War is no respecter of skin color and all blood runs red.

While it’s true that Damon died protecting the First Amendment rights of all Americans to peaceably protest, it is a shame that those partaking in the protest of our anthem and flag refuse to consider how this is affecting our Gold Star families. Some men play a game for a living. Some men give their lives in service to their country and their families are left behind to bear the cost. The cost is so high that it cannot be put into words. It cannot be described. A son who does not remember his Daddy who loved him beyond anything. A daughter who cries because she is forgetting her toddler memories of him. The cost is too high to kneel down when you should stand.