Good morning, friends, from the depths of the culture war — one that Philly found itself smack in the middle of this weekend.
President Trump is on quite a tear this week — in the midst of another national healthcare debate and a burgeoning humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, he's spent most of his fuel criticizing athletes taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. He was slammed by owners and players on nearly every NFL team, including the Eagles, who locked arms during the national anthem at Sunday's game.
And this isn't, of course, the first time debates over the flag and the anthem and what they represent have roiled the country. But sports arenas a particularly potent place for these kinds of protests, said Penn communications professor Carolyn Marvin — because they play on the same themes of sacrifice and unity that we associate with national symbols.
"But when we have have people sacrificing for the country, we want it to be a worthy sacrifice. That was the problem with Vietnam," Marvin told me. "And today, these athletes are talking about a sacrifice taking place on the streets — people who are sacrificed by the police. And that's what they're protesting."
In 1989, Marvin burned a flag on Penn's campus in the wake of a controversial Supreme Court decision that legalized flag burning — to show her students, she told me, the intense emotions that have always surrounded the American flag, and likely always will.
"People say, 'You can have your opinions, but you should find a better way to express it,'" she said of the most recent protests during the anthem. "But that's a kind of soft censorship — freedom of speech means the ability for you to choose how to express yourself."
Trump being Trump, there's another layer to the president's fixation on athletes' protests: there's a Senate primary in Alabama, and Trump has decided to endorse the mainstream Republican candidate, Luther Strange, over his much more MAGA-friendly challenger, Roy Moore. The president's choice trails in polls. So calling athletes like Colin Kaepernick and Malcolm Jenkins "sons of bitches" is a pretty good way of having your cake and eating it, too, and all for the easy price of embroiling yourself in an already incredibly high-stakes debate about the meaning of patriotism.
"We're going to press on." — Sen. Lindsey Graham on his Obamacare repeal that appeared to fail just before he debated Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar on live television last night.
"I got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag." — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, speaking to an oil-industry crowd and alleging disloyalty to himself and Trump in his ranks.