CLEVELAND — Donald Trump did it again. He’s the rat you can’t get out of the pantry. Here we are at the NBA Finals, trying our best to shut up and dribble (or to write about dribbling), and once again Trump has jammed politics into the games.
A lot of fans urge athletes, coaches and writers to “stick to sports.” But how can we when the president of the United States refuses to stick to politics?
On Tuesday, as Americans were going to the polls in an important primary election, Trump disinvited the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from the White House. It resonated here in Cleveland, because the president had sent out a similar disinvitation (I wonder if he mails cards or sends e-disinvites) to the Warriors after they won the NBA title a year ago.
The circumstances were similar. Woke sports team wins championship. Word circulates that some of the players will not attend the traditional White House visit because of their disdain for the president’s stance on major issues of race and social justice. President pre-empts his embarrassment and tells the team it can’t come. Nyah-nyah-nyah. More ice cream for Donnie!
The athletes who are openly anti-Trump seem to have acquired a certain fatigue on the subject. They don’t want to shy away from an opportunity to focus the conversation on those underlying social issues. But man, they’re sick of talking about this guy.
“What else do you expect Trump to do?” Warriors forward Kevin Durant asked before practice at Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday. “When somebody says they don’t want to come to the White House, he disinvites them so the photo op don’t look bad. We get it at this point.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s typical of him,” Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James said of Trump. “I don’t know. I mean, I know no matter who wins this series, no one wants the invite anyway. So it won’t be Golden State or Cleveland going.”
History will remember Donald Trump as the great divider. America was fracturing long before he rose to political power, but he profited from the rift like no one before him and, sensing an opportunity, has done everything he can to make the chasm wider. Trump doesn’t care if 70 percent of the country despises him, as long as the other 30 percent buys his hats and cheers for him at rallies.
Strangely, a lot of this division has centered on sports. The football stadium and the basketball arena used to be among the few places where we could forget, or at least ignore, our politics, our religion, our social status for a couple hours. Now the games have become litmus tests. Who is standing? Who is kneeling? Who will be invited to the White House? Who won’t?
But Trump isn’t just a divider. His other major contribution to American history is as the great enemy of normative behavior.
This, by itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Slavery was once a societal norm. So was spousal abuse and homophobia. Sometimes norms should be undermined. But Trump is doing it at lightning speed, and with no underlying purpose other than to enrich and flatter himself.
Previous presidents might have found it unacceptable to openly enlist Russian hackers to dig up dirt on their campaign opponents, as Trump is suspected of doing with Hillary Clinton. None of our modern national leaders has courted open racists, and none since Nixon has suggested that the president is above the law. Until Trump. He tries to sell merchandise through the White House website. He breaks deals with longtime allies and cozies up to dictators. He uses somber occasions like Memorial Day to promote his accomplishments in office.