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Have you started to wonder like I have: Who is the real patriot — Donald Trump or Colin Kaepernick?

Is kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to exercise the fundamental American right to peaceably protest somehow less honorable than a president of the United States groveling to a murderous anti-American strongman in full view of the rest of the world?

Yet there Trump was just a few hours after his shameless and clueless, not to mention embarrassing, performance with Russia's Vladimir Putin, tweeting once again to demand that the National Football League punish players who don't stand at attention during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The so-called Make America Great Again draft-dodger was talking tough again — something he finds easy to do on his Twitter account, but then he can't find the courage to make it clear to Putin that the United States isn't going to stand for his country's attacks on our democratic systems.

Plenty of advisers, foreign policy experts and Russian scholars had suggested how Trump ought to deal with Putin, making it clear that despite his repeated denials we have proof positive that he's been hacking our election system and making sure he knows the consequences if it continues.

But no, Mr. Tough Guy, who likes to bully political leaders and allies like Angela Merkel and Theresa May, didn't have the courage to stand up to a tyrannical despot whose goal is to divide the Western nations and dismantle democracy.

Kaepernick, meanwhile, decided to kneel as the anthem was played to call attention to the rash of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers. He was following the example set by thousands of civil rights activists who had come before him to highlight an injustice and, hopefully, spur action to correct it.

He's paid a steep price. Despite his credentials at quarterback, including making it all the way to the Super Bowl championship, no team has deemed it fit to sign him. That's resulted in dozens of other protests, particularly among the league's black players who, too, see injustice and want to call the nation's attention to what they see as a national crisis.

The kneeling and holding of hands did, in fact, call attention to their cause even as many fans saw their actions as disrespecting the anthem and the American flag. That's when Donald Trump cynically realized what a great political opportunity this presented — calling out the black football players for being unpatriotic and disloyal, red meat for his base. Not once has he conceded that the protests are directed at a cause, but instead he's called the players names and accused them of being un-American.

They need to be fired, he tweeted in all capital letters. And, predictably, it did fire up his base, enough so that the NFL owners, most of whom are Trump toadies themselves, decided to enact rules effective this coming season that outlaw kneeling on the field at risk of fines and suspensions.

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Truth is that many Americans, regardless of color, have been "disrespecting" the anthem for decades. It no longer carries the symbolism that it represented when sports teams played it before games during World War II. It's turned into an artificial show of our supposed patriotism, spectators holding a beer in one hand and listening to some singer or band perform an unrecognizable rendition of what slaveholder Francis Scott Key composed.

Most of us don't need to be reminded of what it is to be an American at some commercial sports event where the anthem is played and a few troops are put on display for the fans to "honor." This is about as far as many of those people standing and clapping in the stands will go to "serve" their country and prove their own patriotism.

The ultimate irony, though, is that Colin Kaepernick knows the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner." Do you think Donald Trump does?

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. 

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