Sunday, October 1, 2017

Us versus Them, or Will the President Outsmart Himself?

                Shortly after two strong hurricanes hit the US mainland and North Korea launched a missile that flew over Japan and claimed to have detonated a hydrogen bomb, our president chose to attack… the National Football League.
                It was a successful attack in that it diverted attention away from the president’s more pressing failures and people were talking about disrespecting the flag and the national anthem (mostly by African-Americans) rather than, say, the president’s failure to get his party to repeal Obamacare, what to do about North Korea, why cleanup after the hurricanes was not progressing faster—especially in Puerto Rico, and all the other issues one would think might keep the leader of the free world busy. 
                It will come as no surprise to my readers that I’m not a fan of our president. I do agree with a couple of the things he’s accomplished, among them approving the pipelines (I’d much rather have flammable liquid transported underground than on poorly maintained rails that take it through crowded cities) and reconsidering the Title IX guidelines promulgated by President Obama regarding allegations of campus rape. But even a stopped clock is correct a couple of times a day.
                When I first heard the president’s attack, which seemed to be an afterthought at an Alabama rally for his candidate for Senate, Luther Strange, just a few days before Strange lost to Roy Moore, who undoubtedly will be an interesting addition to the Senate if he wins the seat, my initial reaction was something to the effect that doesn’t the president have something more important to do than get involved in sports?
                But maybe he doesn’t. David Brooks, who is nominally a conservative and who writes for The New York Times, said in a recent editorial, “[Trump] has a nose for every wound in the body politic and day after day he sticks a red-hot poker in one wound or another and rips it open.”
                It seems David Brooks believes our president is purposefully fomenting disagreement in order to keep us fighting each other rather than paying attention to what is going on in with our government. If we can get distracted by whether NFL players should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem, maybe we won’t notice Tom Price’s reimbursing the treasury $52,000 to repay the estimated $1,000,000 in flight expenses he racked up during his brief term as Health and Human Services Secretary or the tax reform Republicans in Congress are writing.
                I’m going to take just a slight detour here, so please humor me. Regarding the national anthem, most people don’t realize The Star-Spangled Banner became the national anthem in 1931 during the Great Depression. Perhaps Herbert Hoover thought people preferred a national anthem to help feeding their families during our country’s worst economic crisis to date.
                While I’m on my detour, maybe we should question why the national anthem gets played at sporting events. If it’s so divisive, maybe we could just skip it.
                OK. I’m back from my detour. The NFL controversy rages on, but I guess the initial rage has calmed down a bit, so just a few days ago our president started a fight with the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico because the mayor didn’t believe hurricane aid was being delivered quickly enough.
                Maybe the mayor had a point; maybe she didn’t, but did she deserve the president’s take-no-prisoners Twitter attack? Once again, this seems to be an “us versus them” divide and conquer tactic pitting mainland Americans against Puerto Rican (read Hispanic) Americans (and Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship in 1917, so yes, they are Americans) in order to divert attention from this administration’s “Heck of a job, Brownie” moment.
                I think the president is playing a dangerous game. He has a dedicated base who will support him no matter what. He doesn’t have to worry about most of those people. He also has a numerical (if not electoral) majority of people who do not care for him. It’s not likely that anyone in the second category will change their minds about the president no matter what he does. He has to be careful, though, with his base. If he goes too far he risks losing some of them. If he goes far enough, he may well become a real-life example of “Lonesome” Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd.      
                Let’s not be played.

© 2017 Larry Roth

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