What is going on? Why is the US president fighting with a National Football League team and the mayor of  the largest city in a state he won by a very narrow margin?

Two words: Culture war

Stoking the US’s already inflamed cultural divides is one of the Republican party’s key tactics heading into the 2018 midterm elections. Trump’s plan for the coming months is to to add “gasoline” to the system, as a GOP consultant told Quartz earlier. That means plenty of rallies where Trump refers to suspected Latino gang members as “animals,” denigrates Democrats, and even insults cancer-stricken Republican senator John McCain.

Trump is trying to inspire his most loyal fans to turn out for the 2018 elections, using fear, grievance, and an “us versus them” mentality to prod them. Traditionally, a president’s party loses congressional seats during the midterm election after they win office. Losing control of the House would increase the threat of impeachment for Trump; already Republicans only have a tiny margin in the Senate.

After learning last night that not all the Eagles players wanted to attend the White House celebration, Trump put out a statement making the entire situation about standing for the national anthem.

The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow.  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.  The Eagles wanted to send a smaller delegation, but the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.  These fans are still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony—one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.  I will be there at 3:00 p.m. with the United States Marine Band and the United States Army Chorus to celebrate America.

What Trump left out

Never mind that a former US Army Green Beret helped develop the concept of NFL players “kneeling” during the anthem to respectfully protest ongoing police killings of unarmed black men. Also ignored in this statement is the fact that none of the Eagles players have even kneeled during the anthem in the regular season.

Fox News appears to be playing a role here in egging the president on, using false information to do it, just as it did in reporting on the messy negotiations with North Korea. As veteran sports reporter Don Van Natta Jr. points out, Fox misidentified footage of Eagles players on a news segment this morning: They’re praying before games, not kneeling during the national anthem.

The controversy over the anthem has been a surefire way for Trump to command attention. “He doesn’t give a shit about NFL players taking a knee,” one former Trump transition team advisor said earlier this year.

Van Natta also reports that only a few Eagles players were planning to attend.

Who are “the 1,000 fans” coming to the White House to celebrate? The White House didn’t provide any other information on the official schedule, which only says: 

3:00PM            THE PRESIDENT participates in the Celebration of America

South Lawn

Whoever they are, it doesn’t look like they will be on the lawn with him for long. Thirty minutes later, Trump is scheduled to meet with members of Congress in the Roosevelt Room.

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