Deflection from real issues comes from President Trump

October 17, 2017

In the Oct. 12 issue of the Cape Gazette, Lawrence McSwain responded to my letter concerning the recent controversy about NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

McSwain said that I had "attempted to deflect from the real issue, disrespect of the flag, onto his (and every other liberal's) favorite target - the president."

Not so. My only criticism of Trump concerned his attack on Sen. John McCain's war record. Nothing else. I brought up Trump because he was the one who provoked the controversy.

Let's recap. McCain was a naval aviator who was shot down during the Vietnam War. He suffered two broken arms and a broken leg.
He was captured. He was tortured. He refused an offer to be released before fellow prisoners. Here's Trump's take on McCain's war record: "I like people who weren't captured." It's possible, of course, that Trump could have fought off the entire North Vietnamese army, despite serious injuries. I guess we'll never know.

Here's what we do know. From World War I through the Iraq War, 142,000 American soldiers were captured and held as Prisoners of War. More than 17,000 of these POWs died in prison. Trump's attack on McCain disrespects all those POWs, thousands of whom never made it home. They made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. They should be honored, not belittled. Trump, McSwain and others are free to think otherwise, even if they never served in combat.

Here's my position: Trump's cowardly attack on a brave soldier renders him unfit to question the patriotism of others. McSwain appears to disagree. Online, he wrote, "Some will agree with the president's assessment, some will not. That there is dishonor in surrender is, in fact, a valid opinion."

So McSwain thinks that Trump makes a valid point when he suggests that McCain was dishonorable in surrendering, despite three broken limbs. That's not a point I'd consider myself qualified to make. McSwain also wrote that Colin Kaepernick's protest was based on a lie. "The police officer in that instance was cleared completely," he wrote, "as have been the vast majority of other officers."

This is too big of a topic to address here. Interactions between cops and civilians can be fraught with danger, on both sides. (I applaud recent efforts of Wilmington police officers reaching out to residents of the city's troubled neighborhoods.) However, statistics from a Washington Post database show that black people are 2.5 times more likely to be fatally shot by police than white people. Multiple videos, available online, show examples of these shootings.

The video of North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott is especially chilling, for two reasons.
The first is the calm, casual way he pumps bullets into a fleeing man's back. The second is the realization that, but for the video, Slager would have been cleared.

Kaepernick decided that taking a knee during the anthem was a way to draw attention to this issue. Whether one agrees or not doesn't matter. He was exercising his First Amendment rights. Protecting unpopular speech is the very essence of maintaining the First Amendment. People aren't persecuted for saying they love Mom and apple pie.

Trump, of course, also enjoys First Amendment rights - which he employs to great and divisive effect - but he's wrong to use his enormous megaphone in an attempt to restrict the rights of others. Last week, he came right out and said that it was "frankly disgusting that the press is able to write whatever they want to write."

That drew a response from conservative Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who asked, "Are you tonight recanting the oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect and defend the First Amendment?" (It's funny how McSwain complains about attacks on Trump from liberals. He should be more concerned about attacks from conservatives.)

The main, though unstated, purpose of my original letter was to suggest that the trumped-up national anthem issue was infinitely less pressing than other problems we face. Trump clearly enjoys tallying what he considers "wins" in the culture war. Ultimately, however, he will be judged on his ability to deal with real problems, such as the 3.5 million American citizens facing a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

That crisis continues. This weekend came a report that desperate Puerto Ricans were drinking water from a Superfund site. That's what you call a "real issue." Don't let the president's deflections convince you otherwise.

Don Flood is a former newspaper editor living in Lewes. He can be reached at

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