The Trump administration went to great taxpayer expense yesterday to alienate an awful lot of people and demonstrate that yes, they truly do disrespect the opinions of several million people while at the same time dividing the country.
Trump reignited his feud with the N.F.L. on Sunday by telling Vice President Mike Pence to walk out of a game in his home state of Indiana after nearly two dozen players from the visiting San Francisco 49ers knelt during the playing of the national anthem.
Mr. Pence lavishly documented his early departure in a series of tweets and an official statement issued by his office. On Twitter, he declared, “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”
While the vice president portrayed his decision as a gesture of patriotic principle, it had the distinct appearance of a well-planned, if costly, political stunt. He doubled back from a trip to the West Coast to take a seat in the stands in Indianapolis, where the 49ers — the team most associated with the N.F.L. protest movement against racial injustice — were suiting up to play the Colts.
Shortly after Mr. Pence issued his statement, Mr. Trump said on Twitter, “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”
For Mr. Trump, the vice president’s walkout keeps alive a dispute that has proved popular with his political base, even if he has drawn criticism from the N.F.L. and some of its owners for being divisive and politicizing professional sports. On Sunday, a spokesman for the N.F.L., Joe Lockhart, declined to comment on Mr. Pence’s statement.
While politicians from both parties concoct situations for political gain, some criticized Mr. Pence’s walkout as transparently premeditated. The vice president did not take a pool reporter traveling with him into the stadium; a member of Mr. Pence’s staff told the reporter, Vaughn Hillyard, that the vice president might be leaving the game early.
“Manipulation of faux patriotism took new turn today with VP Pence. Preplanned early exit from Colts game after 49ers kneeled, then tweets,” Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote on Twitter.
Others pointed out the expense involved: Mr. Pence flew to Indianapolis from Las Vegas, where he had attended a memorial service for victims of last Sunday’s mass shooting, and was immediately flying back to Los Angeles.
“After all the scandals involving unnecessarily expensive travel by cabinet secretaries, how much taxpayer money was wasted on this stunt?” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, said in a tweet.
There was little doubt, given the presence of the 49ers, that Mr. Pence would be given an opportunity to make his political statement. The former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the dispute over the national anthem last year by taking a knee to highlight the plight of black Americans, particularly the killing of black men by police officers.
Mr. Kaepernick left the 49ers in March and has not been signed by any other team — a situation seen by many as a blacklisting by other team owners. But other 49ers have continued the protest in a show of solidarity with their former teammate.
In America — at least the country that I believe in — no one dictates to anyone else how to show patriotism, be it a salute to a flag or the recitation of a pledge, and certainly not with a stunt that was deliberately staged to inflame the issue.
A grown-up and inclusive administration would have worked to find out what could be done to bring people together and to understand the grievance. Someone who understands statecraft would have said that while they may not agree with the act, they have every right to show their true feelings. Or, best of all, they would have said absolutely nothing in public to make the situation worse.
But that’s not the America Trump and his puppet Pence believe in.