This was Trump’s worst week in office. By far. His approval rating dropped down to 37 percent—a historic low. His lie about Obama wiretapping him was debunked by the FBI. That same FBI told us that it is currently investigating Trump’s connections with Russia, and it may have found evidence indicating that Donald’s campaign communicated with Russia to coordinate the release of info damaging to Clinton’s campaign. Democrats announced that they’re going to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination. And the all important Trumpcare bill failed in a way that was a royal mess and made the Republicans look like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
I struggle to think of what’s going right in this White House. The old man arrives at the office on time most days. There’s that.
But put aside all of the important news swirling around right now. I refuse to let it distract me from the Trump thing that offended me most this week. Health care is crucial, but sorry, I can’t let this one go: Trump’s verbal attack on Colin Kaepernick way back on Monday from a podium in Kentucky at a rally where he said, “There was an article today, it was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that?”
So much to unpack there. We see Trump gracelessly celebrating what he thinks is Kaepernick’s downfall. We see Trump cock-blocking an American in the process of trying to get a job. We see Trump sneering at how Kaepernick has used his right to free speech.
We see Trump calling for Kap to be disciplined by his fellow one percenters as if he were telling the other masters how to handle their property when they get out of line. Can you hear the faint echo in the background of Trump’s words—‘We gon’ teach that boy a lesson!’
We see Trump using Kaepernick as a symbol of what’s wrong with this country, a strawman he can pound on to show his people he takes no mess from the blacks. He’s very Boss Hogg that way. To Trump, Kaepernick is a villain who forced politics into the glorious NFL, and he’s someone who dared challenge the authority of the almighty police. But in reality Kaepernick’s transgression was this: in a way that did not take anything away from the games themselves, he silently and briefly protested against black people being killed by their government. The NFL employs some men who viciously beat up their wives or girlfriends but the real enemy of the people is Kaepernick because he wants justice for black people? Kaepernick would have a better chance of getting signed if the issue was him beating up a woman.
We also see Trump quoting an anonymous source about a month after excoriating media for using anonymous sources. The article he’s referring to was a post on the sports blog the Bleacher Report. Its title was “Colin Kaepernick Sentenced To NFL Limbo For The Crime Of Speaking His Mind.” I’m sure they left out that title when they told Trump about the story’s anonymous GM who said the “fear of a tweet from the President was a factor for about 10 percent of NFL teams, which would be three to four squads.”
So he’s wildly misstating the facts—as he typically does—so much so that he’s essentially disseminating fake news and showing an overly grandiose sense of his own power. The bully pulpit is loud but does anyone think any games put on by the mighty NFL would not be sold out or rabidly watched on TV because of a tweet from Trump? Please. But Trump’s still in campaign mode. He’s still speaking to his people and only to his people and trying to fire them up at any cost. He’s using Kaepernick as a convenient villain to show who he stands with. Presidents are supposed to represent the entire country but this one can only hear his most ardent supporters. He has no willingness in reaching out to the other side. He has no interest in mollifying the millions of Americans who are scared by him. If you think differently than he does, then Trump doesn’t care about you.
This is a problem in a diverse nation. You can’t say one particular American is the quintessential American—this is a nation characterized by it consisting of a broad array of people, some of whom are at virtual war with one another. We are a nation that has been produced from variety and the resulting tension between opposing groups fighting over rights. America is the result of both Trump and Kaepernick. But Trump thinks only he and his folks are legitimate or real Americans. We are a bipolar nation that has learned to distrust and demonize the other side. That’s why both Kap and Trump are heroes to some and heels to others. In September of 2016, as the NFL season was in its first weeks and Kaepernick’s protest was resonating, he had the #1 selling jersey in the NFL. And at the same time he had people burning his jersey.
We see similar split with Trump. His overall Gallup approval rating is 39 percent but his approval rating among Republicans is 86 percent, a historic high. His base remains happy. How is this possible? He has not accomplished much of substance so far. The Muslim ban is failing to get through the courts, Trumpcare is failing to get through Congress, his budget isn’t going to get through, either. But then again he has accomplished something.
The Presidency has an almost spiritual component—the man in the Oval has his persona, his perspective, his priorities grafted onto the soul of the nation. His supporters feel affirmed by his success. He is a symbol of the nation and those who feel invested in his success feel personally affirmed as if his win means their worldview and way of life are right. Obama’s rise made many of us feel better about being Americans. But while we reveled in that joy, there were others who felt left out. Trump has given them a boost, he’s made them feel central again.
The last eight years the White House was sympathetic to Kaepernick and Trayvon Martin and Jay-Z. Now the White House is sympathetic to the police and the Patriots and Fox and Putin. So even though he cannot (yet) produce a significant legislative victory, Trump’s already given his folks something powerful—he’s given them their swagger back. Just by his mere presence in the White House he is making whiteness great again.