Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trump On Football And Patriotism

Trump's Friday night speech in Alabama is a very good example of the message he wants to send to his base.  That it was about football, the American version, that it was about a sport women are not allowed to join, except to cheer for the players, is not an accident.

Football is a men's game, a warrior game for those (both men and women) who enjoy* the vicarious participation in the pretend-battles waged by well-paid gladiators, and for Trump and his base it is a game where political protests by black players are not welcome:

President Trump took aim at two of the world’s most powerful sports leagues and some of their most popular athletes, directly inserting himself into an already fiery debate about race, social justice and the role athletes play in highlighting those issues.
In urging N.F.L. owners to fire players who do not stand for the national anthem, and telling the N.B.A. star Stephen Curry that he is not welcome at the White House, the president has driven a divide between the players, many of whom are black and opposed to the president’s views on race, and the team owners, who are almost all white and in the N.F.L. largely conservative.

Neither is attention to the possible health risks of football (such as degenerative brain damage) allowed to distract viewers from enjoying the game:

Regarding his nostalgia for the dangerous hits that college and pro football have been trying to take out of the game, Trump said: “Today if you hit too hard—15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards! The referee gets on television—his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.

Trump comes across as scatterbrained in that direct quote.  But read more carefully, and note how his deeper message can be found in that "his wife is sitting at home..." section:  The people who are ruining the game ("they") are people like the referee's wife.  She has no business expressing any opinions about football.

The online dissection of Trump's speech is, as usual, a cacophony of different voices, stressing different problems with the speech**.  And that is normal and expected and many of the criticisms are to the point and matter.  But what might need more emphasis is this:

Trump's message to his base in that speech was consistent, logical and clear:

Power in the US naturally belongs to one demographic group (largely, though not only, consisting of white Christian men), football is an American masculine game, and therefore power over how it should be defined also belongs to that same demographic group. 

The roles of others in the game are to play and be quiet (players of color) or to look pretty and cheer from the sidelines (female cheer-leaders).  Trump can state that those who march for white supremacy include many good people, and he can simultaneously state that all NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem should be fired, because the former at least support the racial hierarchy Trump supports, whereas the latter wish to dismantle it.

Trump's great talent is this:  He hits the deep veins of resentment among his base and he does it in a language they fully understand:  Though nothing about football will bring American jobs back or rejuvenate dying rural towns or provide people with health care, traditional football stands as a powerful symbol of all that Trump's base desires, and to depict it as threatened by "others" will further fan the flames of anger and frustration among that base which feels similarly threatened.

*  I'm not trying to disrespect those who love to watch the game.  I watch ice hockey and lots of other sports!  My point is to remove all that patriotic veiling from the game and to look at what it is we are actually watching.

** The vast majority of the reactions are critical, I should note.