The nation’s pastime showed just how much the nation has changed.
Major league baseball began a shortened season a few days ago. Opening day came nearly four months later than planned, another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
A lot was different. There were no crowds at the ballparks. Many players and coaches wore masks in the dugouts. Some didn’t even stay in the dugouts, but instead opted to maintain social distance by spreading out in the empty stands.
Signs of these strange times.
There were other signs, too.
At the start of the season opener in the nation’s capital, both the visiting New York Yankees and the home team, the World Series champion Washington Nationals, knelt during the National Anthem.
Such moments continue to provoke President Donald Trump to anger.
“Looking forward to live sports,” the president tweeted after some players and coaches took knees prior to an exhibition game, “but any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag, the game is over for me!”
Not so long ago, such a president fulmination would have ignited a national firestorm.
Some members of Trump’s dwindling band of followers groused that they were “done” with baseball.
But most of the rest of the nation was more puzzled by this bit of presidential pique than they were stirred by it: Our nation is burning down around us and our leader feels he has time to worry about something like this?
As baseball resumed play, America suffered agonies.
The coronavirus rages across the land. Nearly 150,000 Americans already have died from the disease and at least 1,000 more lose their lives every day. We’ve already lost nearly three times as many Americans to the coronavirus in five months as we did in the Vietnam War’s dozen years of combat.
And the casualty rate is accelerating. By year’s end, we could have a quarter-million or more of our citizens dead.
The disease is deadly, but the ineptitude of the federal government’s response has made it even deadlier. Because the coronavirus is a national emergency, it required a national response.
But the Trump administration left the states to fight the pandemic on their own. As a result, the United States now has more than 26% of the world’s coronavirus cases even though we have just a little more than 4% of the world’s population. America’s death totals are similarly disproportionate.
At the same time the coronavirus roamed across the land like the Grim Reaper, the streets of our cities have become tortured places. George Floyd’s death in Minnesota touched off protests in communities across the nation.
Initially, those protests focused on the question of police brutality.
But they soon expanded to embrace reconsideration of America’s anguished history regarding matters of race and justice. Leaders at the state and local levels across the nation worked hard to bring sides together, to conciliate, to heal wounds.
The president did what he always does.
He saw a divide.
And he sought to widen it.
He sent federal troops into several cities to “quiet” protests, with predictable — to everyone but him — results. Instead of diminishing the unrest, his use of federal troops inflamed it. In some places, veterans took to the streets to defend protesters from their own government.
When he took office nearly four years ago, Donald Trump vowed in his inaugural address to end the “carnage” in America’s streets.
Instead, he brought the carnage with him.
He now runs campaign reelection commercials that warn Americans what their country will look like if Joe Biden is elected president and that feature images of cities in flame. He’s oblivious to an irony obvious to others — the fiery images he shows are of a Trump-led America.
That may be what is most disturbing — that the president of the United States doesn’t seem to understand what everyone else does.
That the nation burns while he Tweets.
No wonder most Americans shrugged when the president fumed about baseball players taking a knee.
They know that, at this moment in America’s history, kneeling, as if in prayer, to ask for help and guidance for this beloved, beleaguered country is the best way to honor a nation that has lost its way.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.