Still, Trump chose this controversy and orchestrated its autumn return for a reason: Although discerning observers understand that the protesting players mean no disrespect to the flag, their actions are easily miscast by a demagogue as profaning what, for many, is a sacred symbol.

The president’s deft manipulation of that misperception is especially frustrating for Americans whose patriotism is properly grounded in the core values of the Founding. We regard the flag as a symbol of those values, and therefore believe that the protesting NFL players have a far greater claim to the flag than does the president—that while he abuses his position by pressuring a private enterprise to punish its employees for their political speech, the NFL players, kneeling together in public protest of what they believe to be unjust killings, are acting in ways that have parallels to the Founders. That is, they are pledging their honor and risking their fortunes in political protest of what they see as a government that is failing to secure the rights of Americans, and failing in particular to protect their lives and liberty.