After canceling a White House event with the Philadelphia Eagles after not enough of the Super Bowl-winning team planned to show up, President Trump thought he would win the day by turning the event into a “Celebration of America.”
But, of course, that event didn’t turn out to be all that glorious. Instead, it underscored the president’s fumbled efforts to score points in the culture war.
On Monday evening, Trump announced that he canceled the Eagles meet-up, citing some NFL players’ decisions to kneel during the national anthem last season. Despite none of the Eagles having participated in that anti-police brutality protest, Trump wrongly linked the team to the demonstrations while shifting his own goalposts to suggest new NFL rules banning on-field kneeling do not go far enough.
“They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country,” Trump said.
The White House clarified Tuesday morning that the new, Eagles-spiting event would treat the 1,000 Philly fans (who were “scheduled to attend”) to “a celebration of the American flag with Eagles fans and performances by United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus.”
During the band’s performance of “God Bless America,” Trump seemingly stumbled through the song’s lyrics, appearing to sing the completely wrong words (a familiar occurrence to those who watched the 2018 college football championship) in a video that almost immediately went viral online.
At another point, Trump was heckled by a man who, according to CNBC, had kneeled during the band’s performance of the national anthem. “Stop hiding behind the armed services and the national anthem,” the man reportedly shouted.
Another unidentified man was filmed taking a knee during the anthem. According to a Danish reporter, the man “left right after” the event and “did not wanna talk.”
Multiple reporters described how the event’s crowd was strangely absent of the thousands of Eagles fans the White House claimed would attend. “Not exactly sure who these @Eagles ‘fans’ are but I have counted exactly one item of clothing with an eagles logo on it at the White House,” NBC Philadelphia reporter Tim Furlong wrote. “I’ve asked 6 of the ‘fans’ at the White House who was the @Eagles quarterback during the super bowl. Not ONE person knew.”
And even before the embarrassing moments took place, very few political observers bought the president’s spin about simply wanting to use the new flag-centric event to unite the country.
“Trump should expect this because he called a bunch of the players ‘sons of bitches,’” former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told The Daily Beast. “If he cared about bringing the country together he should have said, ‘I want every player to come and we will have an hour-long press conference before the ceremony and we can have a conversation about the justice system.’”
“But he just wanted an issue to divide people over.”
—Sam Stein contributed reporting.