President Trump has failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act or force Mexico to pay for a border wall — foundational promises of his White House campaign. Lacking legislative victories, he’s trying to score points with his base in a non-governing arena: sports.
The president on Wednesday again made Twitter targets of the National Football League and LaVar Ball, father of a UCLA basketball player released from Chinese custody last week.
“It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence — IT WAS ME. Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair. Just think,” he tweeted.
“LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool!”
He also had a post for the NFL :
“The NFL is now thinking about a new idea — keeping teams in the Locker Room during the National Anthem next season. That’s almost as bad as kneeling! When will the highly paid Commissioner finally get tough and smart? This issue is killing your league!”
When he accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination last year, Trump addressed “the forgotten men and women of our country — people who work hard but no longer have a voice.”
“I am your voice,” Trump said.
It’s hard to see how compelling NFL players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” or squeezing a thank-you out of LaVar Ball would improve the lives of “forgotten men and women” in any tangible way. Yet Trump does indeed seem to represent the “voice” of his white, working-class supporters, in the sense that he channels their cultural anxieties.
NFL players who sit, kneel or raise fists during the national anthem say their mission is to call attention to racial inequality. Many Trump backers reject the notion racial inequality even exists — or say that, if it does, white people are the true victims.
Washington Post polling director Scott Clement explained the sentiment in August:
“In the midst of Republicans’ primary contest last year, a Washington Post-ABC News poll asked Americans which is the “bigger problem in this country — blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for whites, or whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics?”
“Among the public overall, more people said blacks and Hispanics losing out was a bigger problem than whites by 40 percent to 28 percent. But attitudes were reversed among registered voters who supported Trump against Hillary Clinton, with 44 percent saying whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics was the bigger problem, more than twice as said the opposite (16 percent). The margin was even wider among Republican-leaning voters who supported Trump for the party’s nomination — 54 to 12 percent.”
Trump and fellow opponents of protests during the anthem cite respect for the flag and the military as their chief concerns. That might be part of it. Another part might be anger and resentment at wealthy African-American athletes and their grievances, fueled by the factually bankrupt belief that white Americans now face greater discrimination than minorities.
Note that Trump suggested in his latest Twitter message to Ball that there would be “no NBA contract to support you” if not for the president’s intervention. That makes little sense. Ball’s second son, LiAngelo, was held in China, but it is his oldest son, Lonzo, who signed a rookie contract with the Los Angeles Lakers worth an average of $6.9 million per season.
I’m pretty sure Lonzo Ball’s contract was unaffected by Trump’s action. But Trump tried, in his tweet, to create the false impression that the Ball family was permitted to prosper only because of the gracious diplomacy of the president.
Trump might not be delivering the legislative accomplishments he advertised as a candidate, but he seems to be hoping that some of his followers will settle, instead, for a president who uses sports to validate their feeling that hard-working white people are being victimized while ungrateful black millionaires complain about injustice.