Ramping up the rhetoric

September 24, 2017



Steve Klinger


If I say nothing else positive about Donald Trump, I have to concede the creep sure knows how to get headlines. But his latest attacks may contribute to his undoing, as he has chosen now to take on the institution of sports in America, apparently since he doesn’t feel he has his hands full enough with a growing international nuclear arms crisis, a skunk-pissing contest with Kim Jung Un, and the gathering clouds of an independent legal investigation casting serious shade upon the West Wing.


Trump’s latest attempt to pander to his hardcore base targets professional athletes who kneel during the singing of the national anthem before games, as virtually everyone in the civilized world knows by now. He has doubled down in proclaiming that such athletes should be fired for disrespecting the flag, completely ignoring the obvious truth that such actions are manifestations of free speech, protected by the U.S. Constitution. Even players and team owners in the NFL who disagree with this protest tactic largely united behind their African-American athletes this week and rejected Trump’s exhortations.


It is more than a curiosity that the athletes he is attacking are primarily African-Americans, and this on the heels of withdrawing an invitation to the White House for NBA All-Star Stephen Curry, as a member of the league champion Golden State Warriors. Curry, too, is (part) African-American.


It is as if Trump, when he gets into his bubble of inflaming the crowd at carefully selected venues (usually in the South) just wants to ratchet up the feedback loop to increase his adulation and fully embraces appealing to his crowd’s baser tendencies. We’ve seen it time and again, and even saw a new twist last week at the most inappropriate of venues, the United Nations General Assembly, as he chose to fire up his base over any higher goal such as projecting even a shred of global leadership before an international body, its esteemed members guests on American soil. Never mind that he bombastically threatened the lives of at least 25 million people, he scored political points with his most ardent supporters and even got to toss in his rocket man epithet.


From a domestic perspective, the assault on athletes has different ramifications, as it reprises his appallingly divisive comments after the violence in Charlottesville, where Nazis and white supremacists inflicted death and great bodily harm on counter-protesters but Trump equated violence from the right with that from the left. As NBA icon LeBron James astutely pointed out, sports should and do bring us together. To politicize sport figures is to divide us all over again and Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric must not be tolerated.


But the problem goes deeper. Trump, in this latest broadside, seems to be testing the waters for a sinister attempt to seize powers far greater than those granted him by the Constitution. By blatantly choosing a superficial standard of patriotism over clearly codified civil liberties he is in effect daring us to take sides so he can take stock of his supporters and his opponents. Although the march toward authoritarianism has thus far been incremental, have no doubt that when Trump feels the moment is right he will seize upon an event of terrorism (or perhaps fabricate one) to declare a national emergency and proclaim that a wide number of civil liberties (including dissidence and public gatherings) are summarily suspended. Should other measures fail him, do not be surprised if he starts a war to impose his version of the shock doctrine.


Another way this could transpire is if Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation finds him culpable or there is any move to impeach him. The fanatic base to which Trump appeals will then be called upon to defend him against the “fake” media and the “dishonest” judicial or legislative system he describes as being on a “witch hunt” to discredit him and prevent him from implementing his agenda. He would have played that card (along with the “voter fraud” card) last November against “Crooked Hillary” if he had lost the election.


So by making increasingly racist, authoritarian and outrageously provocative statements on a regular basis, Trump quite likely is rehearsing for the confrontation that seems unavoidable as his list of enemies grows and Special Counsel Mueller digs deeper.


I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m not, the soul of this nation hangs in the balance.


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