Freedom of Expression and the ACLU in the Trump EraRead More
Eric Heiden, the iconic American speed skater who set the 1980 Winter Olympic Games on fire, once said, “Sports and politics don’t mix.” Referring to President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, Heiden, had he qualified, would have defied the President’s Summer Olympics’ embargo. Ultimately, Heiden did not qualify, the United States did not participate in Moscow, and four years later, the Soviet Union was a tit for tat no-show for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Heiden’s claim that sports and politics don’t mix is wishful thinking in America today, especially for the many Americans who retreat to sports as an escape from the nation’s polarized political atmosphere and those whose neglect politics outright. Historically, athletes have used their platform to express political beliefs and have faced the consequences, including the criticism and repercussions of Muhammad Ali’s decision to dodge the Vietnam War, the backlash from John Carlos’s and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics, and the St. Louis Police Officers Association’s counterblast to the St. Louis Rams’ “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” gesture in response to Michael Brown’s killing by a police officer.
However, in an era when athletes have particularly been propelling themselves into political advocacy, President Donald Trump, like no President before him, has used his bully pulpit to command the American sports narrative. When taking into consideration the way conservatives historically view mixing sports and politics, this could not be a more ironic circumstance during Trump’s tenure in the White House.
Trump’s sharp rhetoric has enlivened much of the conservative-leaning demographics of American sports fans, particularly with his scathing, derogatory rhetoric towards the athletes who kneel during the traditional pre-game recital of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” A trend most prominently featured in America’s largest and most popular sporting enterprise, the National Football League (NFL), taking a knee during the National Anthem rose to the spotlight when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, sat during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the United States, stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” However, after consulting former Green Beret and retired NFL player Nate Boyer, Kaepernick altered his protest and kneeled, setting off a chain reaction throughout American sports, not just the NFL, which has received mass attention and scrutiny from the media.
Although Kaepernick’s polarizing actions predated Donald Trump’s election, the 45th President has repeatedly attacked him and taken a hardline stance against players who, in his view, “disrespect our flag.” In August 2016, GOP nominee Trump said of Kaepernick’s protest, “I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a new country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen.” President Trump also blasted the beleaguered quarterback at a rally in March 2017 by appealing to his crowd of supporters who, according to Trump, “...like it when people actually stand for the flag.” What may be the most impactful is the reasonable assessment that Trump single-handedly ruined Kaepernick’s NFL career. The quarterback remains unsigned in the NFL quite possibly because of the President’s apparent threat to NFL owners, which, according to Sports Illustrated’s Jonathan Jones, goes as follows: “Sign Kaepernick and feel the wrath of the 63 million people who voted for me, some of whom are fans of your team.”
By decrying the protest of the National Anthem and encouraging NFL owners to fire players who kneel during the anthem, Trump has dismissed the ideals of freedom of speech as explicitly permitted in the Constitution’s First Amendment. He has also effectively rallied his steadfast supporters to support the idea that exercising a right afforded to people in the United States demonstrates the greatest extent of anti-Americanism and warrants exclusion from society.
The Colin Kaepernick saga only scratches the surface of President Trump’s invasion ofthe American sports landscape. At a rally in Alabama for the purpose of endorsing Luther Strange for Senate, Trump extended his criticism of Kaepernick and doubled-down on his crusade against the NFL. He also blasted the NFL for “ruining the game” because of the league’s efforts to institute new rules that limit head injuries that have been proven fatal, especially in wake of recent reports confirming a correlation between football and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Furthermore, Trump’s election cast a shadow over the status of the traditional visit to the White House for a major sport’s champions, and a day after Trump preached to his Alabama choir, the President rescinded the invitation to the White House for the 2017 National Basketball Association (NBA) Champion Golden State Warriors after their star player, Stephen Curry, expressed his disinterest in attending an event hosted by President Trump at the White House.
The above actions received widespread condemnation from notable NFL and NBA athletes, spurring demonstrations in every NFL game played the following weekend and afterwards one by NBA superstar and outspoken Trump Critic LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers in their first game of the season. In wake of this, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell received the Presidential seal of disapproval after not committing to instituting a rule that would make standing during the National Anthem a league-wide policy (though he did express the belief on behalf of the NFL that the players “should” stand).
Trump’s well-documented undermining of the media is no different when it comes to sports media, particularly ESPN, which abides by its motto: “the worldwide leader in sports.” Notably, in response to ESPN on-air personality Jemele Hill’s scathing tweet about the President being a “white supremacist,” Trump slammed the sports network for continuing Hill’s employment, tweeting that it is “no wonder [why] ESPN ratings have tanked.” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred to Hill’s anti-Trump tweets as a “fireable offense,” though it is ambiguous if her actions legally warrant her firing from the network. These tweets also angered a conservative base that accused ESPN of applying a double standard when it dismissed baseball analyst Curt Schilling for sharing a Facebook post in response to the controversial North Carolina bathroom bill regarding transgender persons but not disciplining Hill.
Much of Trump’s politicization of sports carries significant irony. Common conservative belief advocates for the “stick to sports” message, which, according to High Point University associate professor Paul Ringel, is a message “...that focuses as much on preserving a national system of economic and social inequality as it does on maintaining white supremacy.” Modern conservatives have heavily criticized ESPN for not “sticking to sports” and have blamed ESPN’s recent layoffs on the network’s tendency to speak about political issues relating to sports. However, Trump himself rallied his base in staunch opposition against talking about subjects of societal importance beyond the playing field by using every ounce of his stature as President of the United States, thereby directly mixing sports and politics.
Despite the aforementioned hypocrisy, Trump has successfully maneuvered his way around inconsistencies like mixing sports and politics during his presidency. Trump framed the sports protests as unpatriotic and brought his impenetrable base along for the ride. As a result, millions of sports fans have put pressure on American sports for “disrespecting” America. The President, like a puppeteer, attempts to control the sports landscape, and he can manipulate it however he pleases.
Indianapolis Colts’ safety Darius Butler said he adopts Kaepernick’s protest-kneel because he doesn’t want Trump to “hijack the narrative.” With the President mixing sports and politics, deeming First Amendment rights unpatriotic, and causing widespread outrage as a result of his actions, he has done exactly that, permanently killing the notion of “stick to sports.”
- Jake Steel
If I were to have told you that a 30-year-old investigative filmmaker and former political aide who had never served in any elected legislative capacity would come within 2 percentage points of becoming a congressman in a field of 17 other candidates, would you have believed me? What if I also were to have told you that this young upstart is running as a Democrat in a district that has not been represented by a Democrat in almost forty years?
Only in the Trump era can a story like this not only be feasible, but also true. On April 18, Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District (GA-6), which constitutes the suburbs outside of Atlanta’s metropolitan sector, held a special election for the House of Representative position left open due to Tom Price’s appointment to as Secretary of Health and Human Services. In this nonpartisan blanket primary, during which all candidates, regardless of political party, vying for the same elected office run against each other at once, Jon Ossoff, the leading Democratic candidate, received 92,390 votes, constituting 48.1% of the district and falling short of the 50%+ margin to win the seat outright. In a June 20 runoff, Ossoff will face the next highest vote-getter, former Georgia Secretary of State and Republican frontrunner Karen Handel, who received 37,993 votes and 19.8% of the district. Whichever candidate breaks the 50% threshold in the runoff will win the vacant GA-6 seat.
As a resident of GA-6, this election, quite literally, hits home. After coincidentally going back to my hometown Atlanta suburbs the day after the special election, something felt different: people cared. Friends of mine, mostly between 18 and 22, told me about their experiences volunteering, canvassing, and feeling as if they had made a difference as a part of the Ossoff campaign. Although my passion for politics bloomed while going to school in New York, I fully understood the consequences that this special election carries on a local and national level.
GA-6 has voted overwhelmingly red since 1979 for three notable Republicans: former Speaker of the House and “Republican Revolution” leader Newt Gingrich (1979-1999), current Senior Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson (1999-2005), and Price (2005-2017). The 1990 GA-6 election, during which Gingrich held his seat by 0.6% against Democratic opponent David Worley, is the only exception to what has traditionally been Republican dominance. However, as evidenced by Ossoff’s wide support group beyond GA-6, the campaign to “flip the sixth” has threatened to upend precedent and take a seat away from the Republican-controlled House.
The unusually large amount of campaign yard signs I saw supporting Ossoff, let alone a Democratic candidate, demonstrate that the left-leaners of the GA-6 have pooled all their resources towards the up-and-comer. This unity for Ossoff threatens the district’s Republican stranglehold along with the fractured Republican support for its candidates in the primary. After witnessing the usual amount of yard signs promoting GOP candidates, I noticed the inconsistencies of whom the signs endorsed, mostly favoring Handel, Dan Moody, Bob Gray and Judson Hill. This perfectly reflected the reality of eleven Republican candidates vying for Price’s old seat in the primary. Though Republicans received 51% of the April 18 vote, with Handel leading the field, the massive coalition for Ossoff coupled with the Republicans’ failure to rally around one candidate in the primary nearly cost them their seat.
This turn of events may have been expected, however. While both Republican nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney outperformed Obama by a wide margin in GA-6 during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, respectively, Trump squeaked past Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the district this past November. The McCain and Romney vote and its contrast with the Trump vote deduces that GA-6 prefers establishment conservatives, and Handel’s political ideology, which aligns with Price’s, fits the bill. Statistics back this up, as well: the candidates who identified the most with Trump performed worse in the primary; though she supported him for President, Handel shied away from mentioning the President during her campaign.
Per the inevitable, the Republican Party has coalesced around Handel since she secured the nomination. The President himself has vocalized his support for the GOP nominee by attacking Ossoff both on Twitter and more fiercely in an April speech to the National Rifle Association in Atlanta, and he will likely continue to do so leading up to the June 20th runoff. Handel has followed suit by graciously asking for and accepting Trump’s endorsement. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will even make a trip to the district next week to stump for Handel and raise money for what has already become the most expensive House race in history, with nearly $30 million spent on TV ads alone at time of writing.
President Trump investing in Handel begs an important question for Democrats: is this election pro-Ossoff or anti-Trump? The answer may be two-fold. Many 1990 GA-6 voters, particularly organized labor groups, resented Gingrich for standing against government intervention of the now defunct Eastern Air Lines, and Worley, a 32-year-old lawyer whom Gingrich had defeated twice before, represented the alternative, almost ‘flipping the sixth’ himself. In 2017, Trump’s low approval ratings, particularly that by the Democrats and left-leaners, parallel the circumstances that almost cost Gingrich his seat twenty seven years ago. Furthermore, many major news outlets have presented this election as a referendum against Trump, citing it as a test against the GOP.
Because of these circumstances, this election has transformed into a pro-Ossoff campaign. GA-6 resident desperate to turn the district blue in spite of the 45th President jumped on the bandwagon for a young, charismatic, scandal-free candidate who possesses “...a deliberative, professorial style somewhat similar to Barack Obama’s.” Ossoff has not only been endorsed by current Georgia Congressmen, Hank Johnson (GA-4) and John Lewis (GA-5), former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, Bernie Sanders, the Daily Kos, and many celebrities, but he has also received millions of dollars in support. Although Ossoff lacks political experience and does not even live in GA-6 (though he previously lived there and currently lives just outside the district), he represents the anti-Trump coalition, kick starting his campaign with the slogan “Make Trump Furious.” Thus, a vote for Ossoff is assuredly a vote against Trump.
With the expectation that the Republican Party unites around Handel, Ossoff has an uphill battle despite his strong primary showing. The district has not sent a Democrat to Washington since 1974, and though Ossoff represents the best chance to “flip the sixth,” a Republican candidate with a high degree of support has historically maintained a winning edge in this district. Ossoff can very well win this election, but even if he loses, his campaign and the recent Kansas special election has put a scare into Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress on notice. If the 2010 House Elections are any historical indication, the GA-6 special election foreshadows the Democratic Party rising in 2018.
Just as interestingly, however, we should ask ourselves whether the competitiveness of the district is actually sustainable, to which I would answer: almost certainly. While there is merit to the notion that GA-6 would not have been in play had a more establishment GOP presidential candidate been on the ballot last November (i.e. Mitt Romney won the district by 72,000 votes in 2012), it can be argued that the demographic shifts within both the district itself and Georgia as a whole would have become too powerful to keep GA-6 an uncompetitive Republican seat for much longer. As more companies have relocated and/or expanded to the district over the last twenty years, GA-6 has experienced a notable influx of new residents, many of whom are non-white and college-educated. In Sandy Springs, a city located in the southernmost part of the district and home to the likes of UPS, Cox Enterprises, and Mercedes-Benz USA, the population of Asian persons increased 66.74% in the period 2000-2010. Likewise, the population of persons Hispanic or Latino origin grew 57.01% over the same period of time, all while the population of Caucasian persons fell 8.26%. I expect to see this trend reinforced in the 2020 census, with a strong likelihood of even higher growth among non-white people.
Most telling for the future, the Ossoff campaign has employed and motivated an upbeat and young base that has entered politics, many of whom I know personally. After getting a taste of participating in an election, these Ossoff supporters have demonstrated an eagerness to further their political activist efforts, especially in spite of President Trump.
Update: On June 20, 2017, Karen Handel defeated Jon Ossoff by a 51.9%-48.1% margin, surpassing the pre-election polling projections that predicted a deadlock the entire way. While Ossoff won early voting by nearly 10,000 votes, Handel greatly outperformed her opponent by 20,000 votes on election day voting. While Handel's victory extends the Republican grasp over GA-6 and leaves Democrats continuing to look for answers after their party's fifth special election loss in 2017, Democrats have continually outperformed their benchmarks in special elections and, as was the case with Republicans and Obama, the words "President Trump" have shown no signs of slowing down an impassioned Democratic base. This will make many House seats in the Trump era more competitive, let alone in Georgia's Sixth District.
- Jake Steel & Jay Edlin (Guest Contributor from GA Tech)
In 1948, United States President Harry. S Truman recognized the existence of the State of Israel as the Jewish State following Israel’s declaration of independence. Truman’s decision set a precedent for American support for Israel, positioning Israel to become the United States’ greatest ally in the Middle East. However, the significant and enduring relationship between the U.S and Israel is entering a new phase in the face of controversial politics and policies surrounding the Israeli government, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recent events and trends, including the Iran nuclear deal, President Donald Trump and his administration’s hardline pro-Israel stance, and the U.S. generational gap in relation to Israeli support, has undermined what once was close and supportive bipartisan support for Israel in American governmental affairs. As the American political left-wing has become less pro-Israel and the right-wing has assumed a stronger pro-Israel stance, views toward the Jewish State in the United States have transformed into a polarizing issue, one that has the potential for considerable global repercussions.
The Rightward Israeli Political Shift
The change in American political attitudes towards Israel directly coincides with the transfer of power from a left-wing to a right-wing Israeli party (For more background on the Israeli political process, please refer to this resource, and for more information on Israeli political parties, please refer to this resource). This shift in political ideology in Israel’s democracy began on November 4, 1995 with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, a right-wing Israeli extremist. Since then, the right-wing factions of Israel, dissatisfied with Rabin for his “land-for-peace” stance towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rose to prominence in the Knesset, the Israeli government. Israeli public opinion has also swayed from Rabin’s ideology because of several key events.
From 2000-2005, the Second Intifada, which consisted of intensified violence between Israelis and Palestinians, especially the former’s military intervention and the latter’s many suicide bombings targeting Israeli citizens, reinforced the Israeli right’s protectionist beliefs, and the 2007 takeover of Gaza by the terrorist organization Hamas following Israel’s withdrawal from the territory two years prior was viewed similarly. Continued failed peace conversations, including the Camp David Summit in 2000, the Taba Summit in 2001, and the 2010 and 2013-2014 U.S.-sponsored direct talks also energized the political right in Israel. More recently, the Middle East’s ongoing instability, marked by the Arab Spring, Syrian Civil War, and the rise of ISIS, and the divided Palestinian leadership, which features the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Leadership Organization, and Hamas, have strengthened the political stature of the Israeli right.
These events, all of which occurred during a time in which there was no bona fide leader to fill Rabin’s place on the Israeli left, have spurned a political environment that has enabled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party to rise to power, serve three consecutive terms, and follow through with a conservative political agenda, headlined by the expansion of settlements into territories internationally recognized as Palestinian. Global liberal leaders, especially former U.S. President Barack Obama, have been angered by the Likud Party’s policies.
The Iran Nuclear Deal
In the face of a strong Israeli right, the build-up to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, marks another crucial occurrence that sharply divided U.S. political parties and the American pro-Israel populace. On March 3, 2015, Netanyahu, the International leader to most staunchly oppose the Iran nuclear deal, caused an uproar in American Jewish communities when he addressed a joint session of U.S. Congress, during which he claimed to speak for the global Jewish population as he chastised the proposed deal with Iran. Furthermore, Netanyahu’s visit was not orchestrated by the Obama administration, the entity responsible for engineering the Iran nuclear deal. In response, many elected Democratic officials boycotted the Israeli Prime Minister’s address, drawing more partisan lines between America’s two dominant political parties.
Following Netanyahu’s address, a Gallup poll showed Netanyahu’s favorability rating among all Americans dropped while those who disapproved of him increased. This trend was mostly buoyed by registered Democrats or left-leaning Americans, whose favorable views towards Netanyahu plummeted while unfavorable views featured an increase. Registered Republicans and right-leaning Americans’ attitudes toward Netanyahu mostly remained stable, with a slight increase in favorability and a slight decrease in animosity towards the Israeli Prime Minister.
American pro-Israel advocacy groups, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and J Street, also expressed differences in opinion over the deal. AIPAC stood with Netanyahu who was joined by the American right-wing in opposition the agreement; lobbyists for AIPAC frequently met with representatives and staffers from congressional offices--400 times in the span of one week, in fact--and spent tens of millions of dollars to create a campaign called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which launched attack ads against the deal. Contrarily, J Street firmly supported the deal, which was lauded by the American left-wing. J Street lobbying efforts were targeted atdifferent congressional offices 125 times and they spent $5 million towards advertising promoting the deal. Although J Street’s efforts paled in comparison to those of AIPAC’s, J Street and the American left-wing emerged victorious. Congress approved the JCPOA and the deal was adopted on October 18, 2015 and implemented on January 16, 2016 after an historic political battle. Currently, the agreement and the hostilities that arose from it continue to generate condemnation and create political partisanship, both of which have only been amplified since the election ofRepublican U.S. President Donald Trump.
Donald Trump and his Administration
Netanyahu and former President Obama experienced a turbulent relationship during the entirety of their terms, a key reason for Obama’s Democratic Party’s disinclination with Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s strained relationship with Obama, which has been replaced with a seemingly cordial one with Trump, has only added fuel to the partisan fire. Trump has praised Netanyahu’s premiership, has vowed to rip the Iran Nuclear deal to shreds, and has sharply criticized his predecessor for “disdain” and “disrespect” towards the United States’ greatest ally in the Middle East. Also, Trump’s appointment of David Friedman, an outspoken hardline Israel supporter, as his administration’s Ambassador to Israel has split the American pro-Israel community into political factions.
Who supports whom?
Analyzing the results of Gallup Poll taken in the weeks before Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech to Congress in which he pleaded with the United States Congress not to ratify the Iran nuclear deal and a Pew Research Report conducted in April 2016, during the recent divisive U.S. presidential election season, the partisan gap could not be more apparent. The data shows that the more right-leaning you are, the more likely you are to support Israel, and vice-versa. An overwhelming percentage of Republicans and conservative or moderate Democrats sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians. Liberal Democrats have increased their support of Palestinians during the sustained decline in their support of Israel, a considerable change in attitude since the turn of the century.
Moreover, a post-U.S. presidential election Pew Research Poll depicts a majority of Republicans siding more with Israel while modern day Democrats have sympathized less with Israel and more with the Palestinians. Each of these polls showcase how partisan differences have arisen regarding support of Israel since 2000. Both polls also assert that white evangelical Republicans maintain the highest likelihood to stand with Israel. This sounds counter-intuitive when considering that Israel was created to the be the Jewish State, but the sizable, left-leaning Millennial populace, a part of which a great amount young American Jews make up, has steadily sympathized less with Israel and more with the Palestinians since the turn of the century for a variety of reasons.
The Consequences of Partisanship
The growing American political partisan gap in attitudes towards Israel has the potential to alter or even undermine the strong U.S.-Israel relationship grounded in history. As demonstrated by the Trump Administration’s alliance and outspoken accordance with Netanyahu and his Likud Party, the overwhelming American right-wing support of Israel reigns supreme, and unless the Israeli left can produce a Rabin doppelganger in opposition to the current Israeli government, Netanyahu’s premiership and his right-wing policies may be secure. However, the increase of Millennial sympathies with the Palestinians and their decrease of support towards Israel exhibits a trend that the Administration of the 45th President will only augment with its hardline stance towards the United States’ greatest ally in the Middle East, not to mention a democratic state.
If the trend continues, then there may be significant global consequences in the future. The U.S.-Israel relationship notably includes billions of dollars in military aid and economic support. This alliance has spurned Israel’s high scientific and technological achievements, for which Israel received a top-10 ranking in the 2017 Bloomberg Innovation Index of the world’s most innovative economies. However, Israel’s settlements controversy has angered much of the international community, particularly in the United Nations, though the U.N. treatment of Israel maintains a controversy of its own.
If a hard-line Trump presidency continues to endorse, albeit tacitly, the current Israeli Knesset’s right-wing policies, then the relationship may weaken once the 45th President leaves office. Trump’s historically low approval ratings and Netanyahu’s unyielding conservative positions continue to polarize the American public, and if the Democratic Party continues shifting its preference towards far-left candidates such as Bernie Sanders, who broke historical precedent towards Israel during his campaign, then the next Democratic President, possibly Trump’s successor, and even the next Democratic controlled Congress, which could come as early as 2018, may assume an alternative stance that distances the U.S. from the Jewish State. This is a stance that could grow steadily over time because of decreasing American Millennial sympathies towards Israel.
The future of the U.S.-Israel relationship remains an important issue on the ever changing global political landscape and only time will dictate what ultimately happens. However, with delegitimization efforts against the State of Israel and world leaders, organizations, and countries that wish to destroy it, Israel needs the United States’ loyalty and backing to protect itself. The U.S. has all the leverage in its alliance with Israel because of the latter’s heavy dependence on American aid. Thus, when American Millennials, who are supporting Israel less and less, begin serving as U.S. lawmakers and shaping the U.S. political agenda, the Israeli Knesset may be forced to shift to the left and change its policies in order to save its country’s coalition with America. Even though that circumstance has yet to occur, the growing U.S. partisanship regarding Israel has set the stage for an impending situation that may very likely test the U.S.-Israel relationship and alter the modern world.