Part of President Trump's draw has been his willingness to buck societal convention and say whatever's on his mind. Trump does not believe in political correctness and, for many of his supporters, this is the lynchpin of his success. Nowhere is Trump's embrace of uncensored opining more regularly on display than Twitter. But interpreting the meaning of even unedited, unscripted words can be tricky. And on Tuesday morning, appearing to celebrate the crowd reaction when the Dallas Cowboys' took a knee, Trump's Twitter account again provoked an outcry. "Great anger" — so ended Trump's tweet. Plenty of Twitter users read that as the POTUS delighting in animosity.
The word "great" has no less than 11 definitions in Merriam-Webster. First among them is "notably large in size." It's entirely possible Trump meant to convey the Dallas Cowboys' fan anger was huge, enormous, overwhelming. This seems likely, given the preceding sentence in his tweet: "The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard."
Then again, Trump has often used "great" to describe something he fancies, or as Merriam-Websters' 11th definition puts it, a "generalized term of approval." That's the interpretation of "great anger" that has Twitter buzzing.
Twitter is notoriously unforgiving of mistakes in the grammar and spelling departments. There's no edit option, so for someone like Trump, who can exhibit a kind of boundless ability to tweet with abandon, spelling mistakes have become somewhat legendary. There's simply no evidence the current POTUS puts much time and consideration into how his tweets might be perceived before sending them out to his 39.3 million followers.
Still, those who see Trump's commentary on the Dallas Cowboys' taking a knee as evidence of anger approval can point to another tweet he sent out within minutes of the other one. The first part of it read "Great interview on
@foxandfriends with the parents of Otto Warmbier: 1994 - 2017." The word "great" here is unmistakably serving in its approval-meaning capacity.
The controversy over players kneeling went into hyperdrive over the weekend. Trump made remarks at a rally that many heard as a thinly-veiled racist attack on professional athletes of color who kneeled in protest of police brutality. Speaking in Alabama on Friday, Trump said, "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
As many pointed out, the term "son of a bitch" is problematic in its own right. But others also responded to the idea that certain people seem to draw complaints when they participate in public expression of protest, no matter the format.
Perhaps nowhere is the complexity over protest more obvious than in Trump's response to the Dallas Cowboys' kneeling. Key in understanding this moment of kneeling is that many Republican complaints about NFL kneeling centered on dishonoring the anthem and the flag, not (supposedly) on protest itself.
But the Cowboys' kneeled prior to the national anthem, specifically to avoid the conflation of protest with anti-Americanism. When the national anthem came on, the team stood together, arms linked. Perhaps as notable, Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones came on field with the players, arm-in-arm, and kneeled with them. Commenting afterwards on their display of unity, running back Ezekiel Elliott said, "We don't agree at all with what the President said, and we just wanted to show that we weren't going to be divided by that."
Jones did not endorse Trump or Hillary Clinton for president, but has called Trump a friend in the past. He said he thought the country would be "fine," whoever won, and expressed excitement at the thought of seeing the first woman president and "to have it be Hillary." Jones has stressed his desire to keep his team and their fanbase together and united during the election and since.
Trump did commend the team for its "progress" in standing for the anthem.
Still, for a "great" number of Twitter users, Trump appearing to celebrate an angry reaction to the Dallas Cowboys's pre-anthem kneel is the tweet to focus on.