King Pyrrhus was a Greek general who fought the emerging Roman Empire from 280 BC to 275 BC. King Pyrrhus won stunning victories against the Romans, but at a heavy price. When he was congratulated for another such victory at the Battle is Asculum, King Pyrrhus quipped “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”
I think about that retort when viewing many of the political battles fought today.
The controversy over football players kneeling during the National Anthem has waned, and Trump is being declared the victor. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell published a letter saying everyone should stand for the anthem and the league suddenly discovered bylaws requiring players to do so or face fines. All in all, it seems like a pretty clear win for Trump, and Rich Lowry explains why in Politico:
It is true that, after Trump got involved, the polling on the protests began to show the public more evenly divided. If you’re Donald Trump and at 40 percent or below in the polls, though, a 50/50 issue works for you. If you are the NFL and hope to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, a 50/50 issue is a disaster for you.
I think this assessment is fairly accurate, but incomplete. Trump won, but the NFL was not the only loser.
Before Trump inserted himself into the simmering controversy, the American people overwhelmingly opposed the Anthem protests. It wasn’t even close. But as Lowry points out, it became a roughly 50/50 issue after Trump became involved.
Trump is such a divisive figure that tens of millions of Americans were prepared to accept a protest that disrespects America in order to oppose him. What’s more, that reaction was entirely predictable.
Is Trump so naive he did not realize he would drive Americans into the arms of the protestors, or is he only concerned about himself and did not care that the battle would damage America? Both?
Moreover, the main reason the controversy waned this week is because networks stopped showing the playing of the anthem before each game. Instead of watching the National Anthem sung in what is meant to be a moment of patriotic unity, fans are now treated to an extra commercial.
The NFL bowed to the pressure Trump wrought and appears to be coming down on the side of supporting the Anthem. But as a consequence, many more Americans support the Anthem protest and only the fans actually present at each game will hear the Anthem played. The unifying display of patriotism tens of millions of Americans experienced each week is now gone. For how long we do not know.
Republicans seem to be winning a lot of Pyrrhic victories lately, but even King Pyrrhus knew that the war was more important than any battle.