Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

The power of Trump News

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2017 file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters. Trump mentioned the South China Sea among regions where national sovereignty has been threatened in his debut address at the United Nations, but offered no direct criticism of China’s moves in the area. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Richard Drew/Associated Press
President Trump addressed the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19.

Sweetheart, get me rewrite.

The country is talking about football players taking a knee during the national anthem — not about health care. When it comes to agenda-
setting, Trump News, run by a cynically savvy editor in chief, continues to beat the competition. All it takes is some presidential red meat tossed out during a rally — followed up by a pot-stirring tweet or two.

Senator John McCain’s announcement that he could not in good conscience support his party’s latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act drew attention, as it seemed to doom the replacement proposal. But President Trump’s attack on protesting football players gave a measure of cover to a last-gasp effort to push through repeal. While NFL fans counted bended knees during Sunday’s pre-game festivities, and watched billionaire owners pretend to be shocked by their man in Washington, a redrafted health care bill popped out.

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The latest version of Obamacare repeal is designed to give extra money to Arizona, home to McCain, as well as to Alaska, Maine, and Kentucky, the states represented by key senators whose votes are also needed for repeal. That bribery might not be enough, which could explain why Trump extended his huffing and puffing over player protests into its fourth day.

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Trump’s ability to set the news budget isn’t news anymore. He has been doing it since he entered the presidential race and does so now with all the weight of the White House as bully pulpit. But it’s still depressing to see it at work. Besides taking on kneeling football players, who for the most part are black, Trump took on the leader of North Korea during the speech he delivered to the United Nations. Referring to Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” he made sure that juvenile name-calling dominated last week’s foreign policy debate.

In other news, Trump expanded his travel ban, imposing travel restrictions on people from Chad, Libya, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Iran, Somalia, and some groups from Venezuela. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kusher, used a private e-mail account to communicate with other administration offices, Politico reports. Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, has been using taxpayer funds to travel on private jets — a practice he grudgingly said he would stop until the department’s inspector general completes a formal review. And Republican leaders also circulated a plan that calls for tax cuts for corporations and the rich, according to The Washington Post.

The press dutifully reports these items. But Trump understands what it takes to distract from them. It’s not terrible for Americans to think about North Korea or the meaning of patriotism. But how Trump does it is terrible. It’s all about dividing the country along racially polarizing and politically partisan lines. He loves to push the hot buttons, and has no worries about bringing the country or the world to a dangerous boiling point.

Meanwhile, he’s surely enjoying the fake outrage from the NFL over his attacks on its players.

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is “deeply disappointed by the tone of comments” from Trump? Where has Kraft been? When it comes to tone, Trump is consistently alienating and divisive. Not once, as a candidate or president, has Trump ever tried to unify the country. That didn’t stop Kraft from contributing $1 million to Trump’s inaugural celebration or giving him a Super Bowl ring. But Kraft decided to weigh in on this Trump-generated controversy over players taking a knee rather than the one about players taking hits in the head.

Of course, knee-gate gets better ratings than health care for the country, or than health issues for NFL players. That’s the power of Trump News.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.