Call me old-fashioned if you want, but when I watch an NFL game, I want to hear the announcers talk about quarterbacks, linebackers, game plans, and touchdowns. You know, football. Likewise, when I flip to ESPN, I want to hear about basketball, football, baseball, hockey, golf, and if it’s a slow week, even soccer. I don’t want weather reports, stand-up comedy, wildlife documentaries, or political commentary. All those topics have their own channels, as well as numerous internet destinations. So, for me, it’s been a frustrating few weeks, as the NFL announcers and sports channels have been abuzz with news of the anthem protests. Every game, we’re discussing who’s sitting, who’s standing, who’s kneeling, and who’s not even on the field. Call me cynical, but I frankly do not care about the political opinions of professional athletes, at least not any more than I care about the career completion percentage of my state senators.
Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do besides complain. Politics has also taken over the late-night talk shows and much of the world of comedy is geared towards making fun of the person I hold most responsible for this annoying turn of events, Donald Trump. I know I’ve written about him before, but as he seems to be the only thing anyone wants to talk about, here we go again.
The anthem protests started last season when one player, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand for the national anthem. He did so as a way to protest racial injustice, specifically the police shootings of unarmed African Americans, a topic certainly worthy of some sort of protest. A few players joined him and a few more continued their protests into this season, but by and large, his message got lost in the furor over the national anthem. People were outraged, a huge overreaction. Those overreactions have unfortunately become the hallmark of American political discourse lately. I’d wager substantial sums that some of the same fans who were “outraged” by his protest, had probably made a point to use the national anthem as their pregame bathroom break more than once.
For his troubles, Kaepernick lost his job, as all thirty-two NFL teams decided his talents were not worth the trouble his protest had caused. This is America, and he has a right to his own beliefs. He can take a stand if he wants. The NFL owners are also free to make a business decision not to sign a player whose skills probably won’t make up for the fan boycotts that would accompany his signing. So far, so good.
It could have, should have, and probably would have ended right there, but unfortunately, our President decided to play to a particularly sympathetic audience and take a shot at the NFL anthem protesters, calling them SOBs, and suggesting he’d like to tell them “you’re fired”, just like his tv show. Ha ha, that’s so funny, facepalm.
The attitude doesn’t bother me really. I’m cynical, so I assume all those in power are basically arrogant, self-righteous zealots who are convinced of their own moral superiority and enjoy exercising power over their fellow men and women, whether they admit it to themselves or not. As such, the mean spiritedness of the president’s remarks is not particularly noteworthy to me. I think pretty much all politicians harbor those types of attitudes, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s characterization of those who disagree as a basket of deplorables, or the 47 percent of Americans Mitt Romney doesn’t care about. The paternalism, the condescension, the smugness, I expect.
What bothers me about Trump, is the consistent stupidity. Most politicians are careful to conceal their real attitudes and their real opinions. When Hillary and Mitt reveal their true colors, it is a moment of unintentional stupidity. Trump does it on an almost daily basis, and has been doing it for most of my lifetime. We just noticed now because as a candidate and now a president, he finally has a platform where people can no longer ignore him as just another crackpot. When I heard about his recent comments I rolled my eyes and cursed the fact that I would have to endure weeks of political discourse on ESPN from people woefully unqualified to give it, and I asked myself, why? Why doesn’t he just shut up? Why does he continually stick his hand in the fire? What makes a man like him tick?
After considerable thought, I finally have a possible answer. You see, I happened to notice a piece on ESPN about how Donald Trump had helped form the USFL in the eighties, then sued the NFL and tried to use the lawsuit as a way to get his hands on an NFL team. He failed, and according to the piece, didn’t take it particularly well. Whether that piece ran because of his comments or whether it’s because since he’s now President, his entire life will be dissected over and over by historians is anyone’s guess, but it did make me think, maybe Trump’s comments weren’t directed at the players at all.
Given Trump’s petty, vindictive mindset, maybe this was his way of taking a shot at the NFL itself. Maybe it’s the owners, the handful of billionaires who wouldn’t let Donald join their club thirty years ago, who were really the target. After all, provoking an angry and disproportionate response is the one skill Donald Trump has consistently displayed throughout his campaign and during his presidency. He knows he has millions of diehard followers in middle America who, after decades of having their problems ignored by politicians, media, and industry, will cling to anyone who listens to them. Those people have demonstrated a tendency to spend money, or not, based on political and cultural beliefs. Maybe, just maybe, he was trying to provoke the NFL into standing up against him and inadvertently doing economic damage to themselves. To me, it’s not that farfetched, and it makes me wonder if I’ve finally figured out Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has made his political career out of speaking the language of populism. He’s the hero of the forgotten, the downtrodden, the ignored and the marginalized. Maybe the reason he speaks that language so well is because in his twisted mind, he is one. It seems absurd. Donald Trump was born into wealth. He’s never been poor, never had to worry where his next meal would come from, never worried about having his lights turned off, never had to apply for government assistance, never had his house foreclosed, and never worked his ass off to make someone else rich.
No, Donald Trump has always been rich, but then there are levels of rich, just like there are levels of anything else. There’s old money and new money. There are bluebloods and there are others. Donald Trump was rich, but never rich enough. He wasn’t a Kennedy, or a Rockefeller, or a Bush. He could afford to go to Harvard or Yale, but he wasn’t a legacy. He couldn’t get into the Skull and Bones club. He couldn’t break into the cliques that held the real power. He couldn’t get an NFL team because they didn’t think he was good enough. No matter how hard he tried, he would never be one of the super-rich elites that run the world (or at least think they do).
So, he ran for President. It was a long shot, but regardless of whether he won, it gave him a chance to stick it to the people he hated. He could rail against free trade agreements and immigration just to piss off some people he didn’t like. After all, none of his holdings are particularly dependent on free trade agreements or foreign labor. His message resonated because it was honest. He wasn’t an unemployed steelworker, but he could speak to their outrage, their feeling of being ignored and pushed aside. He never had his job outsourced to China or Mexico, but he could share his anger and bitterness toward those who make those decisions, the same people who wouldn’t let Donald into their clique. I wonder if Donald ever really wanted to be President. I wonder if all of his blustering from the beginning, indeed his entire campaign, was really just a form of childish payback.
Of course, I can’t say for sure I’m right. I can’t crawl into Donald Trump’s head, and really, who would want to? Still, my theory would be consistent with his behavior going back several decades. If I’m right, we’re in for three plus years more of explosive comments and juvenile name calling punctuated by the occasional bit of policy crafted by whoever happens to be on Donald’s good side at the moment. Those establishment politicians, and indeed the entire ruling class of the United States should be thankful. It could be a lot worse for them. They could have gotten a real charismatic leader, a Peron, a Mussolini, a Napoleon, or a Caesar. The anger that swept Donald Trump to power isn’t going away unless the underlying issues are addressed, and those who have the power should address those issues. Next time, it could be a lot worse for them, and indeed, for all of us.