Take A Knee for Democracy: The Anti-Republicanism of Trump’s Tweet to Sport Team Owners

Underlying Donald Trump’s call for owners of major league sports teams to fire athletes who take a knee during the national anthem lies a dangerous premise–concentration of wealth mints the moral permission to censor speech. The notion that wealth mints the authority to curtail principled public acts of speech is not only anti-Democratic and Anti-American, it is specifically anti-Republican. It’s to this latter matter that I wish to direct your attention. Free speech and open public discourse, including vigorous dissent, were–the Founders understood–essential to the American experiment because such freedoms were and continue to be robust bulwarks against tyranny. That is in part why Jefferson believed that democracy would best thrive in a nation of small property owners. People of limited, but adequate resources, in a nation of widely distributed ownership of property, would have the capacity to sustain and voice independent views, and could not by dint of their wealth exert coercive power over the voices of citizens and those who represented them in public office.
The Republican notion that democracy, its freedoms and the strength of our union resides in the people was voiced in folksy fashion by President Lincoln, “God must have loved the common people–he made so many of them.” An observation that Richard Nixon quoted in the famous Checkers speech, the address that restored his viability as Eisenhower’s partner on the Republican Presidential ticket. Elsewhere in the speech Nixon personalizes the matter of Republicans being simple, common folk, having every bit the right to stand for office as the wealthy, by describing his wife Pat’s cloth coat, “I should say this—that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she’d look good in anything.”
It is instructive to reread Nixon’s Checkers speech for the standards of financial disclosure it voices, not because of Nixon’s moral character, but because of the Republican values to which it appealed. Back then, one might have described these as dyed in the wool principles of accountability, principles that stand in stark contrast to the unaccountable, parasitic plutocratic entitlement that defines practice in the Trump administration. By aggressively encouraging owners to censor the speech of players, Trump in effect is advocating a system of class-based rule, one in which unhindered speech is the sole perquisite of the holders of concentrated wealth. Nothing could be less Republican. Even Nixon knew that.