October 12, 2017 3:18 pm
Updated: October 12, 2017 3:22 pm

Donald Trump makes joke about ‘high ratings’ during military ceremony honouring the flag

ABOVE: President Trump talks over military ceremony meant to honour the U.S. flag, then jokes with Fox News' Sean Hannity about "high ratings."

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In recent weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump has made respect for the national anthem and the flag of the United States a focal point of his public and social media statements.

So many were surprised Wednesday when, during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity at a military base in Pennsylvania, Trump ignored a military ceremony meant to honour the flag – so he could joke with Hannity about “high ratings.”

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Trump was speaking with Hannity at an Air National Guard base in Middletown, Penn. when the bugle call of “Retreat” sounded during their interview. Trump continued to discuss his tax reform plan over the sound of the bugle before expressing confusion as to what was going on.

“What a nice sound that is,” Trump said.  “Are they playing that for you, or for me?”

The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States then elected to make a joke about Hannity’s ratings.

“They’re playing that in honour of [Hannity’s] ratings,” Trump joked. “He’s beating everybody.”

“I think they’ll be higher tonight. I’m just guessing,” Hannity replied.

READ MORE: NFL owners to discuss anthem policy amid Trump’s criticism of protests

According to the United States Department of Defence, the playing of “Retreat” at military bases is a daily occurrence, usually at 5 P.M. local time, as the flag is lowered to signify the end of another day.

“’Retreat’ is traditionally a time to secure the flag and pay respect to what it stands for,” reads a statement from the U.S. Military’s Defense Logistics Agency.

Furthermore, all those present at the base “should stop activities, and turn in the direction of the installation flag and/or direction of the music.” Those in uniform “shall salute the flag and/or in the direction of the music.”

Trump has made respect for the flag and the national anthem a focal point of the national conversation in recent weeks with his blistering attacks on the NFL, and on NFL players who choose to kneel during the playing of the national anthem.

During a speech in Alabama on September 22nd, the president referred to any athletes who chose to take a knee during the anthem as a “son of a b*tch” and has doubled down on those sentiments in a series of statements both in public appearances, and on his Twitter account.

The “take a knee” protests began in 2016 when then-San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” as a way to protest police violence against black and minority suspects.

He later modified his protest from sitting to kneeling, after being advised by Nate Boyer, a fellow NFL player for the Seattle Seahawks and a former Army Green Beret, who recommended kneeling as a more respectful way to make his point while acknowledging the sacrifices of the troops.

WATCH: Trump calls NFL players who kneel during U.S. anthem ‘son of a b***h’ and to be fired

The issue of Kaepernick’s protest was largely confined to the football world until Trump’s repeated public comments brought it into the national conversation, promoting dozens of players across the league to “take a knee” during the anthem. This, in turn, spurred an equally angry reaction from many NFL fans, who viewed it as a form of disrespect for the flag and its ideals.

READ MORE: Donald Trump to speak at anti-LGBTQ group’s Value Voters Summit in Washington

The tradition of the “Retreat” bugle call dates back to the American Revolution in the late 1700s. American units, borrowing heavily from the British military tradition as well as the practices of their French allies, used a series of signals to communicate the various stages and activities of a soldier’s daily life.

In this way, the “Retreat” predates both the “Star Spangled Banner” and the current version of the American flag it was intended to honour.

In contrast, players in the NFL have only been mandated to take the field for the national anthem since 2009. Some teams had previously joined fans for the singing of the anthem, but the patriotic act was never mandatory.

TIMELINE: Why the NFL, players are taking a knee during U.S. national anthem

“The NFL has a long tradition of patriotism. Players are encouraged but not required to stand for the anthem,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy confirmed to NBC’s Comcast SportsNet last year.

Since being institutionalized, NFL anthem celebrations have become politicized and often militarized, due in large part to millions of taxpayer dollars spent by the U.S. Department of Defence (DOD) to promote the armed forces at live games.

Many on social media pointed out the seeming hypocrisy of Trump attacking NFL players for their lack of patriotism, while disregarding the centuries-old tradition of “Retreat” himself.

Many also pointed to a 2007 USO performance by Robin Williams at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait where “Retreat” began to play.

In that instance, Williams halted his performance to allow the call to finish before remarking on how unnerving it was.

-With files from Alex Maveal 

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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