With all that is going on with recovery efforts after a barrage of hurricanes in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and with a battle over the future of health care in the United States of America in its current iteration in the form of the Graham-Cassidy Bill causing divisions even within the Republican Party, it almost seems silly to be talking about whether or not players kneel during the National Anthem. Then again, man-child Donald Trump is our President, Twitter is readily available, and his base apparently values blind patriotism over most things, so here we are. Trump essentially picked a fight with those individuals who would protest by doing anything other than standing with hand over heart—and by proxy, started in with the entirety of the National Football League—even going as far as to call these would-be dissenters “sons of bitches” and suggesting they should be fired. The NFL, meanwhile, through statements released by commissioner Roger Goodell and various owners, as well as through on-field shows of solidarity including kneeling, sitting, locking arms, and even remaining in the locker room during the playing of the Anthem, took Trump to task for his divisive rhetoric. These sentiments echo those of a separate fight picked with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association regarding whether or not he and they would honor the invitation to the White House customarily afforded to the champions of their sport. After it became apparent Curry and the Warriors would not be attending, Trump assailed them on Twitter and disinvited them—you know, despite the idea they already said they weren’t going. YOU CAN’T QUIT—YOU’RE FIRED! DO YOU HEAR ME? YOU’RE FIRED!
What was especially significant about this turn of events regarding the NFL’s repudiation of Donald Trump’s off-color language is that admonishment came not only from those players who assumed the distinction of being the target of the President’s ire and their coaches, but from those individuals who had previously indicated their support for Trump during the presidential campaign. Rex Ryan, who appeared with Trump at one or more campaign stops in New York state (Ryan previously coached both the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills) and is now an analyst in ESPN’s employ, indicated he was “pissed off” by Trump’s comments and that he “did not sign up for” the kind of shenanigans in which Trump was engaging. This line of discussion, however, prompted some curious reactions on social media and even from his fellow on-air personalities (for example, see Randy Moss’s face when hearing Ryan reveal he voted for Donald Trump). A number of critics highlighted the notion that Rex Ryan evidently signed up for a man leading the country who has denigrated Asians, the disabled, environmentalists, the LGBT community, members of his own party, Mexicans, Muslims, veterans, and women—but calling football players a name was where he drew the line? Especially when, based on their size, these players are relatively more capable of defending themselves?
Psychologically speaking, it is perhaps unsurprising that Rex Ryan would react in this manner to the hissy-fit President Trump threw over players kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. Tough talk and rhetoric is all well and good—until someone starts talking about you or someone you care about. Transcending the NFL and people who get paid to render their opinions on sports, however, Ryan is not the only person whose support for Donald Trump has ended with disillusion and distancing oneself from the so-called “leader” of the nation. After Trump’s response to Charlottesville and his condemnation of white supremacy were deemed to be—how shall we say this?—insufficient, his business councils were disbanded when CEOs couldn’t leave fast enough to separate themselves from his hate. When companies aren’t merely dissolving their working relationships with the Trump family, they are scaling back or outright terminating their business relationships with their litany of brands, in part thanks to targeted campaigns by members of the Resistance such as the #GrabYourWallet movement. As you might recall, months back, Donald Trump threw a whole different hissy-fit at Nordstrom for its announcement that it was phasing out his daughter Ivanka’s products from its stores—HIS DAUGHTER! WHAT A BUNCH OF MEANIES! Like with Rex Ryan and his support for Trump’s agenda up until the point of belittling rank-and-file football players for expressing their personal beliefs, all was well and good until Trump’s behavior threatened these organizations’ bottom line. As the saying goes, money talks and bullshit walks. In this instance, rather, people walk when Trump’s bullshit costs them money. After all, wouldn’t you?
If any of the above were isolated incidents, there wouldn’t be much here to discuss. Plenty of CEOs are dicks. Plenty of political leaders are dicks. Why shouldn’t Donald Trump—CEO-turned-President—be one of them? Ah, but Pres. Trump is not your average dick. The embodiment of rich white male privilege, Trump has never had to deal with meaningful consequences for his actions; even in business, some creditor or his daddy was there to bail him out. As the putative leader of the free world, meanwhile, Donald Trump is in a position that beckons diplomacy and restraint, two skills in which it is very clear at this point the man lacks proficiency because he has never had to hone them. Accordingly, for all those individuals who feel compelled to entertain Trump’s invitations to help him elaborate his policies, whether because of respect for the office of President of the United States or because they think they can manipulate him into serving their own interests, it is worth considering whether or not they truly understand what they’re getting themselves into.
Matthew Gertz, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, helps explain trying to work with Donald Trump at perhaps its most essential by keeping a running account of dealings with Trump in which #45 has publicly tried to debase or discredit the other party. Or, as Gertz, terms it, “If you try to work with Trump, he will humiliate you.” The list of instances of Trump throwing someone under the bus, getting into the driver’s seat, and backing over them again is far too long to regurgitate here. (If you really want to peruse Gertz’s ever-expanding Tweetstorm on the subject, suggested clicks are here and here.) That said, there are still, um, “highlights” to be had by which we can get a better sense of just how ill-fated any partnership with Donald Trump is owing to how self-aggrandizing this man is. Here is just a sampling of “working with Trump” looks like:
- Trump passed over Mitt Romney for the office of Secretary of State, taking him out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and essentially having Romney publicly express his confidence in Trump as a repudiation of his earlier misgivings.
- After Paul Ryan informed Trump he didn’t have the votes to make the GOP version of “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act go through, Trump still wanted a vote. In subsequent talk of tax reform, Trump and his administration sought to take a more hands-on approach to the issue—and cut Ryan out of the picture in the process.
- Trump regularly contradicted members of his administration and his aides regarding whether he had planned to fire James Comey as FBI director or whether he relied on the advice of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein before doing so.
- Disregarding the advice of members of his business councils, Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement.
- There was this time when everyone around Trump’s table was praising him out loud. Super creepy and weird.
- Sean Spicer felt he had to resign over the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director—who lasted less than two weeks in that role.
- Scaramucci, for that 10 days in his tenure, sold his business and had his marriage dissolve. Congratulations, Mooch!
- Steve Bannon had his supposed role in helping Trump get elected diminished by Trump himself, suggesting Bannon came onto the campaign late. Bannon was gone shortly thereafter.
- Jeff Sessions has basically eaten shit over the issue of Russia. Heaps of it.
And now there’s the whole NFL thing. People like Rex Ryan and Tom Brady and owners like Jerry Jones (Cowboys) and Robert Kraft (Patriots) lent Trump their support in advance of the election, and to satisfy his base and distract from other issues like health care and North Korea, Trump picked a fight over kneeling for the National Anthem, one which only serves to magnify the race problems that he and the League face. Thanks for your contributions, guys! Perhaps beyond being momentarily “pissed off” or “humiliated,” Ryan and Co. don’t really mind so much. After all, they got the President they wanted—or at least got the man they thought they wanted—and from the appearance of things, a conservative agenda for the White House is in place, the economy is humming along, and “America first” is our raison d’être. By the same token, however, perhaps there is just a twinkling of a spark of regret from these Trump backers that they helped create a monster. Probably not, but—what can I say?—I’m an optimist.
If non-politicians may be looking on at President Trump’s tenure with a sense of buyer’s remorse, what might congressional Republicans be experiencing? Their own embarrassment or shame? Such a question implies that these lawmakers can possess these emotions, or genuine feelings altogether. (Like Trump re Mexicans, I assume some members of the GOP in Congress are actually good people.) One individual who seems to lack the ability to express actual human sentiments is Mitch McConnell the Toad-Man, a guy who has overcome having a neck pouch to become Senate Majority Leader. Vis-à-vis Trump, McConnell has toed the party line on elements of the President’s agenda where their goals have aligned, trying to push through health care reform legislation even Donald Trump himself, the Grinch Who Stole the Election, could recognize was “mean,” exercising the “nuclear option” to require a simple majority to confirm conservative justice Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, and arousing feminist ire around the country by silencing Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Floor for trying to read a letter from Coretta Scott King believed by Warren to be relevant to the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.
In the latest chapter of the Donald Trump-Mitch McConnell relationship, the two men were perhaps strange bedfellows in the Republican Party primary in the special election for the vacant Senate seat created when Jeff Sessions was sworn in as Attorney General. Trump, McConnell, and most of the GOP establishment backed Luther Strange, an attorney and the interim junior senator from Alabama so appointed when Sessions became part of the Trump administration. Roy Moore, the challenger, is—well, Roy Moore is a special individual. Former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore’s greatest claims to fame—or, perhaps, infamy—are refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from outside his courthouse, thereby signaling his intentional blurring of the lines of separation between church and state, and his order to probate judges to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. So, yeah, more of that whole church-state business. For these incidents, Moore was twice removed from his role as Chief Justice by the Alabama Court of Judiciary, and based on his experience and penchant for inflammatory conduct and remarks, he was likely considered a liability by Republican leaders. Again, though, in the current political climate, Moore may just as well be seen as a godsend by many of his prospective constituents, and in the deep red state of Alabama, he looks to be in a great position to be an elected successor to Mr. Sessions despite his apparent craziness to a national audience. What’s more, despite McConnell’s signaling that he intends to work with Roy Moore should he be elected, many—including Moore himself—probably see his primary victory as a rebuke to McConnell’s brand of politics and a movement to oust centrist, ol’ fuddy-duddy Republicans like him.
Rich Lowry, writer for the New York Post, devoted a recent column to matters of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Roy Moore, and the GOP’s handling of an evident insurgency within its own party. Hearkening back to the larger issue with which we began—the issue of working with Trump—as Lowry sees it, the party establishment still doesn’t understand how to do so, creating problems for both sides. Lowry explains:
The result in Alabama will render Trump even more up for grabs everywhere else. Is he going to simply move on and work with the congressional leadership on the next big priority, tax reform? Is he going to exercise the “Chuck and Nancy” option? Is he going to double down on his base and resume afflicting the comfortable of the GOP establishment as he did in the primaries? All of the above? Does he know?
Trump’s problem isn’t that he threw in with the establishment, as his most fervent supporters believe; it’s that he threw in with an establishment that had no idea how to process his victory and integrate populism into the traditional Republican agenda.
One of the many causes of the failure of ObamaCare repeal is that Republicans didn’t emphasize the economic interests of the working-class voters who propelled Trump to victory (and Trump showed little sign of caring about this himself). Out of the gate, tax reform looks to have a similar problem— the Trumpist element is supposed to be a middle-class tax cut, but it’s not obvious that it delivers one.
This gets to a fundamental failing of the populists. House Speaker Paul Ryan isn’t supposed to be the populist; Trump is. But the president and his backers haven’t even started to seriously think through what a workable populist platform is besides inveighing against internal party enemies, igniting cable TV-friendly controversies and overinvesting in symbolic measures like The Wall.
If the populists don’t like the results, they should take their own political project more seriously, if they are capable of it.
A success on taxes would provide some respite from the party’s internal dissension, yet the medium-term forecast has to be for more recrimination than governing. Whatever the core competency of the national Republican Party is at the moment, it certainly isn’t forging coherence or creating legislative achievements.
It’s no great surprise that Donald Trump and his cronies don’t have much of an idea about what they’re doing; concerning matters of domestic and foreign policy, Trump is a veritable Magic 8-Ball—shake him, wait a few moments, then shake again and see whether or not you get a different response. On the side of the Republican leadership’s veteran wing, however, this failure of party brass to respond to the needs of past voters and potential future voters is an ongoing concern somewhat mirrored in the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between moderates and liberal progressives. The main difference, of course, is that, on the left, progressives seek to take centrist Dems to task for overvaluing corporate interests and not going far enough in seeking policy-based reforms, while Trumpist populists seem more concerned with the right’s refusal to embrace cultural elements of far-right conservatism. Germane to the Republican Party or not, it strikes the observer that Mitch McConnell and other GOP members of Congress greatly overestimated their ability to corral, handle, wrangle, or otherwise work with Donald Trump, much as they overconfidently thought they could ram the Graham-Cassidy Bill down our throats, underestimating we, the people, in the process. Thus, if you believe I believe that the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell deserve a shred of sympathy for making a deal with the Devil, you would be sorely mistaken.
There’s no working with Donald Trump because he is a capricious, spoiled, man-baby with no room for other people’s considerations aside from his ego. Moreover, he is a known con man and liar who has exhibited a willingness to step on and over anyone who is an impediment to his desires, and for those who think that he will fulfill their own desires, they would be advised to wait for the other shoe to drop. Or, as Matthew Gertz might put it, wait to be humiliated.