After being urged to do so by Donald Trump, the Vice President of the United States made the effort to attend an NFL game last Saturday between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers – only to subsequently leave after players knelt during the National Anthem in solidarity with victims of police brutality. Not only is this another example of the Trump administration marginalising a very prevalent issue within US society but this recent publicity stunt also has cost the US taxpayer $250,000. Not all publicity stunts are without merit, as some champion issues that otherwise would not likely be brought into the public sphere. However, the costs of Mr Pence deciding to obey his boss have proved unforgivably high and the message the US administration has sent cannot be considered as anything less than disgusting.
Mr Pence flew from Las Vegas to Indianapolis and then to Los Angeles the following day. Had he chosen not to listen to Trump and travelled directly to the Californian city, it is estimated that this would have cost $45,000, therefore he unnecessarily cost the US taxpayer around $200,000. The Vice President, shortly after walking out of the game, declared the following: “I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem.” However, even if one chooses to assess the validity of a protest by its adherence to patriotism, a deeply troubling yardstick that alludes to everything that is uniquely wrong with the Trump administration, Pence’s actions are problematic – public figures have this week criticised Pence for behaving in an anti-American fashion.
Many Trump supporters cited their first amendment rights in disgust when an anti-fascist activist punched the alt-right leader Richard Spencer. Yet now they are refusing to tolerate NFL players’ rights to freedom of speech which they so readily grant to the far right extremists. The idea of being an American is epitomised by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is characterised by the “American Dream,” the idea that if an individual works hard he or she can become whatever they aspire to be. For many in contemporary American society, NFL players exemplify that American Dream. They are role models for countless young people who see professional sport as their escape route from poverty. Many professional footballers have experienced police brutality before and therefore know what it is like to not have a voice. They are choosing to use their platform to empower the voiceless. Far from NFL players disrespecting the national anthem, Mr Pence has shown contempt for men who inspire so many young Americans and contribute so much to the US economy.
Not all publicity stunts are indefensible, yet this one certainly was. The waste of such important public finances in this case sends a very significant message. It demonstrates that the President is willing to prioritise his own pride over helping those he supposedly represents. $200,000 would not fix the US economy but squandering it so thoughtlessly does lead one to question the integrity of Mr Trump, his Vice President and their intentions to help working American families, as if this question could still be in any doubt.
Image: Myles Cullen via Wikimedia