Being a sports fan is to realize, at some level, just how silly it all is. You are watching people: bat a ball with a wooden stick; hit a puck while wearing ice skates; try to deposit a small dimple-shaped ball into a hole several hundred yards away; injure each other's brains in a tableau of masculine aggression; slice a ball over a net into an impossible corner for their opponent to reach; use their feet to move a (soccer) ball down a field; or shoot a ball through a hoop attached to a net.
Stepping back, the emotional investment in all of this is amazing. But that's the point -- in the moment there's no stepping back. Perspective is for losers. Let the emotions fly, high five your friends when things go well, hang your head when they do not.
I experienced all of this last weekend, as the Northwestern Wildcats made their first ever trip to the NCAA basketball tournament. The bracket I filled out in advance had Northwestern winning it all -- a ridiculous claim, of course, but it felt good to assert it. They squeaked through in the first round, against Vanderbilt. Then the mighty test, against # 1 seed Gonzaga, awaited.
During the first half the Cats looked terrible, and were down 38-20 at intermission. (For a long time they had only scored 6 points). There were a lot of hanging heads in dismay at the Northwestern alumni watch party.
But then the Cats awakened in the second half, clawing back to within 5 points: 63-58. Here the crucial sequence occurred. Gonzaga goaltended against NU, in what should have been 2 points for Northwestern. (This is not just an admittedly biased fan talking; the NCAA confirmed this after the game). So it should have been 63-60, with momentum clearly on the Cats side.
Goaltending was not called. In response Northwestern coach Chris Collins stormed the court while the ball was in play, causing a (deserved) technical foul. Collins's actions were justified in the moment, I say; sports is about emotion, not logic. But they were costly too. Gonzaga made both free throws on that technical foul. Instead of 63-60, the score was 65-58. The Cats could not surmount that deficit, losing 79-73.
Counterfactuals are the glory of sports. Had goaltending been called, say Cats fans, Northwestern would have been won. Well. Maybe Gonzaga would have responded with a flurry of 3 point shots and won the game that way. We'll never know. This is why Cats fans will say forever that the refs blew their chance at their first ever Sweet Sixteen spot. I'll join the chorus sometimes, while knowing that the real story is more complicated.
Mr. Trump appears to prefer the dictator/tyrant mode. Of course, the United States was founded in exact and complete opposition to such a style. The land of the free and home of the brave cannot exist if there's a boss man on top. Trump's very being in his current role is an affront to the Constitution he swore to uphold.
But since he is in this office, for some reason, here's a fourth grade primer for Mr. Trump: the legislature makes laws; the executive enforces laws; the judiciary interprets laws. The judiciary is independent, for a reason. Politics should not enter the courthouse. A rejection of an Unconstitutional executive order is exactly what should happen. Hopefully this will occur in the case of the proposed Muslim ban.
It can be disorienting to come face to face with authoritarianism, especially in a nation founded to resist tyranny. Our natural impulses to claim that things are normal, that everything is fine, come into play. Nobody wants to admit that our leaders are neofascists bent on destroying all that makes America great.
And yet, this is what we find in the early days of the Trump administration. Lying as state policy is one tool in the authoritarian's quiver, demonizing all followers of entire religions is another. The reason Steve Bannon refers to members of the media as the "opposition party" is because he wishes to advance his ideas using brute force since this is his only tool of persuasion. He can't win on the merits or with facts, so he deploys Trump as a useful idiot instead.
This state of affairs will never end. Trump will not suddenly become presidential. His administration aims to divide and harm, leaving the country at the end as a pale husk of its former self. The only appropriate response is resistance -- today, tomorrow, and as long as Trump remains in office.
Here are three strategies for defeating the hatred and fear and deceit that now emanate from the White House.
1. Remember that there is good in the world. This may seem counterintuitive to put at the top of the list, given the great moral stakes posed by the Trump administration. It feels like there is no time for such flim-flam. But giving in to that impulse, that everything is dark and sinister and deadly, allows Trump and his acolytes to control the narrative. Take some time, each and every day, to breathe deeply and remember just how beautiful the world is. If you can authentically draw upon faith traditions in this pursuit, do so. The point is to remember the goodness surrounding us, as a way to replenish your spiritual reserves. In addition to improving your mental health doing so will lead to more effective resistance.
2. Separate the wheat from the chaff. With a president who thinks in 140 character sound bites, there will always be lots of drivel always spewing forth. Only a subset of that will lead to action. Don't be baited. Look for the actual policy changes, and study those announcements to separate the bluster from the reality. Then decide where to focus...
3. Know you can't do everything. Divide and conquer. Pick one or two issues to focus on, and trust the passion of others to keep the pressure up regarding other outrages. Right now I am supporting a filibuster of any Supreme Court nominee Trump selects, not because of the merits of any given nominee but because this is a stolen seat. Meanwhile I am watching to see what comes of the voting procedures "commission" that Trump has proclaimed -- knowing that anything coming out of the White House on this front will be a sham, the stuff of third world countries and kangaroo courts. If that commission is empaneled I will watch it closely, and align with groups seeking to protect democracy for all. On those days I will really need to follow my own advice in # 1 above.
Give one thing to the Trump administration: it makes no bones about its desire to lie and deceive.
At Trump's inaugural, the crowds were far smaller than for President Obama's triumphant appearance in the same venue in 2009. While Trump was jonesing about the "blood of patriots," the crowd before him thinned out mightily by the time it reached the Washington Monument. President Obama packed the house.
All of this was obvious. There were even logical explanations. Washington DC is a Democratic town, Trump is a (ostensibly anyway) Republican. The event occurred on a Friday, a work day for many. That's especially true given the economic growth over which President Obama presided.
Cool. Did Trump and his team use those arguments? No. Instead they lied and said it was the largest crowd for any inauguration. They did this via a photograph that flipped the vantage point -- showing how the crowd appeared to Trump on the podium, not from the planes above. From ground level the crowd did look thick, of course. It was only from the air that Trump's puny showing became evident.
Surely some cause for embarrassment, but not for outright and easily refuted lies.
Trump's folks now call their lies "alternative facts," in a locution that would make Orwell blush. Of course, obfuscation and misdirection and plain ol' bullshitting is Trump's MO. Enter President Gaslight.
"Gaslighting" is the form of psychological torment that involves challenging readily observed reality, relentlessly, as a way to tyrannize others and consolidate power. It is the tool of aut0crats the world round, and we have just elected one of our own.
It is what you do when you have no positive arguments to offer and no wisdom to lead. It is the path of low character.
But not, fortunately, the path of least resistance. One great thing about our social media age is that it is easier than ever to mock and ridicule those who seek to insult our intelligence and lay claim to our minds. Look for lots of mockery and ridicule henceforth. President Gaslight has a rough road ahead.
Right after Trump's election, I wrote a lot as a way to channel my rage. This seemed more productive than simply not sleeping, which I did not do much of in that first week after Nov. 8.
The weeks rolled by. I resisted all the efforts to normalize, to "give him a chance." Eventually I wrote about other things, without ever believing that Trump was worthy of the post or was in any way a decent human being.
Now we are here, with just 12 hours more until he becomes the President of the United States. Suddenly all those emotions are back. We have a career showman who began his political ascent by peddling the racist lie that President Obama is not an American. We have a business licensing hack who otherwise failed at business and needed his father's help to get started anyway. We have someone who proved that demonization works, that the bully wins, that facts and decency do not matter.
This is what Trump means and this what he stands for. Count me among the permanent resistance.