Contrived Controversy over Kneeling Distracts From Disastrous ‘Disrespect’

By BILL BONVIE | Oct 18, 2017

“You can’t disrespect our country, our flag or our anthem.” So said President Donald Trump in an interview last week with Fox News host Sean Hannity at a Pennsylvania Air National Guard base. Trump said this as he himself failed to stand at attention to honor the flag while a “Retreat” bugle call was played, which is expected of both military personnel and civilians. Instead, he jokingly asked Hannity if they were playing it in honor of his ratings.

Trump’s comments, of course, were intended to stoke a contrived controversy that he himself created with a profane and provocative proclamation over some NFL players having chosen to kneel rather than stand during the playing of the national anthem to protest police treatment of black Americans. His original remarks, in case you’ve forgotten, were made during an appearance at an Alabama campaign rally at a time when nearly 3.5 million U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico had just experienced the worst natural disaster in their recent history.

Kneeling, in fact, is actually considered an act of reverence. To kneel, according to an online definition, is to “be in or assume a position in which the body is supported by a knee or the knees, as when praying or showing submission.” 

Actually, though, if there’s anyone who has shown genuine disrespect for our country, flag and anthem, as well as for our history and heritage, it’s Trump himself. His displays of contempt have extended to all manner of things that actually have helped make America great, ranging from our free press to our war heroes to our ethnic diversity. And by mocking both his critics and anyone else who displeases him, including members of his own party and cabinet, with disparaging and childish invective, he’s even succeeded in dissing the institution of the presidency itself.

But that should come as no great surprise, given that this is the same Trump who just a couple years ago told his biographer, Pulitzer-winning reporter Michael D’Antonio, that “for the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

It’s the total disrespect that this president has for the health and safety of our country, however, that most concerns me. I don’t just mean in terms of his attempts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. And, oddly enough, it’s not unrelated to his persistence in directing the public’s attention toward athletes he deems to be “disrespectful.”

In fact, I think D’Antonio characterized it perfectly during a recent CNN broadcast when he referred to Trump’s tendency to create “this haze of distraction.”

Because, let’s face it, the entire NFL media frenzy is inconsequential news at best, an example of a marginal matter being accorded exaggerated and prolonged coverage. It’s much ado about very little, a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing of any real significance.

But by following Trump’s lead, the media are taking their collective focus off far more ominous and disturbing developments that will have lasting and profound repercussions. Those things, unfortunately, are already starting to have a very real and horrific effect on people’s lives, although many of us may not yet have connected all the dots.

It turns out, however, that former President Obama did just that when, at his second inauguration, in 2012, he warned about “the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms” that the warming of the planet could bring about. And, almost as if on cue, those are exactly what we’ve been seeing, and what so much of the news has been devoted to in recent days and weeks – apart, that is, from the bogus brouhaha over whether NFL players choose to stand or “take a knee.”

So, do I mean to insinuate that these unprecedented catastrophic events, and the terrifying toll they’ve taken in both life and property, are the fault of President Trump? Well, not exactly. But what I am saying is that as bad as these calamities have been, they are mere harbingers of the kinds of destruction awaiting us. What Trump and his “team” are now engaged in doing behind the scenes is putting us directly on the road to such palpable forms of perdition.

What they’re doing is deliberately demolishing the dam of hard-won protections against these very dangers that has been painstakingly erected over the years by people who have devoted their lives to understanding the disastrous consequences we face without it.

Most pointed in this regard are the actions Trump’s top terminator at the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has already done to systematically dismantle as much of its mandate – and of Obama’s environmental legacy – as he possibly can in what one former EPA official calls a “hostile takeover” of the agency. Just last week, for example, Pruitt signed a measure to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an executive order intended to reduce emissions from fossil-fuel power plants that both foul the air and contribute to climate change over the next couple decades while encouraging the development of clean, renewable energy sources.

When it comes to eliminating environmental edicts, however, Trump couldn’t have chosen a more qualified hit man than Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma who sued the agency he now heads no fewer than 14 times at the behest of major players in the fossil-fuel industry.

So secretive is the manner in which Pruitt has gone about rubbing out the EPA’s responsibilities that, as was revealed last month, he has spent nearly $25,000 of the taxpayers’ money to have a secure, soundproof “communications booth” installed in his office in an unprecedented attempt to keep anyone from eavesdropping on his conversations.

Pruitt’s infamous rise and the direct influence that Robert Murray, a corporate coal baron and leading climate change denier, had on that of Trump himself are among the outrages aired on a recent broadcast of the PBS show “Frontline,” titled “War on the EPA.”

In case you missed it, the show, which also reveals the collusion with industry forces that resulted in Trump’s withdrawal from the 195-nation Paris Climate Accord, can be accessed at the network’s website. But its central point was best summed up by journalist Jane Mayer, who noted that the anti-environmental movement is “now in control of the government and the regulatory process.”

Mayer also notes how “there’s a tendency to ignore what’s going on in places like the EPA.” Such a tendency is exactly what Trump is working to exploit by lighting firecrackers in tweets and campaign rallies that divert the nation’s watchdogs away from genuine and rapidly growing threats to the health and safety of Americans, which his administration’s policies are directly helping to exacerbate. Nor can PBS, a more or less “elitist” media outlet, hope to compensate for that collective dereliction.

But if you want additional evidence of how this administration is setting the stage for more and worse calamities, you need look no farther than what the Union of Concerned Scientists has to say about how the “effects of global warming on temperature, precipitation levels, and soil moisture are turning many of our forests into kindling during wildfire season.” And how there’s been a nearly fourfold rise in such conflagrations since the 1980s and a sixfold increase in their duration, accompanied by increased risk of their spreading into urban areas, as we’ve just seen in California.

That’s not to mention the air pollution caused by such blazes, which makes it harder for people with respiratory problems to breathe, as do the industrial emissions that fuel them. Nor is it to talk about the widely acknowledged rise in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, such as the ones that just ravaged parts of Texas and Florida and the entirety of Puerto Rico, as well as the Virgin Islands.

But maybe you’re among those folks who place no faith in science, only in God. Well, if you are, I would say that maybe such “acts of God” as we’ve witnessed throughout these last few catastrophic months are intended by the Almighty to send you a direct message: You can’t mess with and befoul His creations and get off scot-free (or maybe that should be Scott Pruitt-free).

In fact, it’s enough to make me want to kneel the next time I hear the praises of the flag being sung.

Bill Bonvie of Little Egg Harbor Township is a co-author of  Badditives! The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet – and How to Avoid Them and author of the essay collection Repeat Offenders, both available at


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