- There's only one play in the Donald Trump playbook, and that was more apparent than ever as he took on Stephen Curry and LeBron James this weekend.
LeBron's response was perfect. Our President doesn't deserve any more intellectual engagement than what he got on Saturday morning from the best basketball player in the world. LeBron kept it short, honest, and accurate. He gave Trump exactly the respect he deserves.
Steph Curry was good, too. That's how this began. On Friday afternoon he told ESPN's Rachel Nichols that he would vote against visiting the White House. Later, the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps asked him what it would mean to skip the White House visit, and Curry had this to say: "By acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country, what is accepted, and what we turn a blind eye toward. ... We’re all trying to do what we can using our platforms, using our opportunities to shed light on that. ... I don’t think us not going to the White House will miraculously make everything better, but this is my opportunity to voice that.”
Saturday, after a portion of Curry's Media Day comments aired on our government's new agenda-setter, Fox & Friends, Trump responded 20 minutes later rescinding Golden State's invitation to the White House. Great.
I enjoyed what Curry had to say. His message was measured but firm. In the video of his answer you can see him carefully searching for the right words, and by the end, he captured exactly what it would mean to skip out on the White House, and why it's important. Curry has no illusions about magically solving our problems with one decision, but he understands there is real value in telling the world that the Trump presidency—as Curry put it, "what he's said, and what he hasn't said at the right times"—will not be tolerated.
And then LeBron came along to explain why this is intolerable, and it was flawless. "U bum" is the perfect way to capture everything Trump has been over the past nine months. "U bum" is what we needed this weekend.
Because of course, sandwiched between Curry's statement Friday afternoon and LeBron's message to Donald Trump Saturday morning, there was a rally in Alabama. Trump spoke, and he addressed athlete activism directly:
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects the flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out, he's fired. Fired!' You know, some owner is gonna do that. He's gonna say, 'That guy disrespects our flag. He's fired.' And that owner—they don't know it. They don't know it. They're friends of mine, many of them. They don't know it, they'll be the most popular person for a week. They'll be the most popular person in the country.
"When the NFL ratings are down massively, massively. The ratings are down massively. Now the number one reason happens to be that they like watching what's happening ... with yours truly. They like what's happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really, beautiful tackle. Boom! 15 yards! The referee gets on television, his wife's sitting at home, she's so proud of him. They're ruining the game! They're ruining the game. That's what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.
"But do you know what is hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on the game and see players taking the knee when they're playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it's one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway."
This was Trump at his Trumpiest. Calling for private employees to be fired and blurring ethical lines for the executive branch? Yes. Treating TV ratings as our culture's definitive metric for success? Of course. Always. Appealing to macho cliches that sound slightly off-kilter coming from him? Definitely. Only a weirdo would be out here calling an illegal hit "beautiful". Oh, and that vague misogyny where he mentions the referee's wife sitting at home? Again. Trump. Fake Macho Weirdo. And of course, all this came while he was mocking a group of predominantly black athletes seeking social justice, a message that alienates minorities and progressives while emboldening his white, rural supporters, all while cloaking itself in just enough patriotism to keep things from veering into overt racism. That was the Trumpiest part of the whole thing.
I just hope everyone understands that this weekend of Presidential Hot Sports Takes was yet another example of the only thing this President actually does well.
Trump is an expert at seizing on stories that will inflame both sides of the cultural divide. Two weeks ago it was ESPN, this week it's the NFL and NBA, and next week maybe it'll be Hollywood. The stories he amplifies are almost never related to policy or progress, because the man has nothing to sell on that front. If he's not overstating a threat from cultural elites and boldly promising to ignore their politically correct calls for decorum, Trump has almost nothing of value to offer anyone.
Why else do you think anyone in the White House cared what Jemele Hill had to say? There is only one play in the Trump Presidency playbook: exaggerate the differences across our culture, divide us all, and trick supporters into resenting the opposition just enough to forget that Trump has accomplished nothing.
Granted, it should be concerning to everyone that "making liberals angry" and "ridiculing the concept of oppression and social inequality" plays as well as it does with Trump's base. Likewise, while Trump picks pointless fights with Jemele Hill and NFL players and Steph Curry, it's easy to forget that the executive branch is supposed to play a critical role in government. Between incompetence and inattention, there will probably be brutal costs to our nation's infrastructure when all this is over. But those are bigger problems that will require complex, carefully calibrated responses.
If the question is Trump, himself, we need not overthink it. He is a hustler with only one hustle, and not a single suit that actually fits. Steph Curry was right that his time in office should not be condoned, and if you're wondering why, LeBron James nailed this for everyone.
Trump is here to make the whole country angrier, because that's the only way he knows how to succeed. The President is a bum. Visiting the White House used to be an honor, and it's not anymore. I can't wait until that changes.