I’m writing to you as a fellow White guy. I’m getting older but I can still remember lacing up my cleats in football and trying hard—and unsuccessfully—to dunk in front of the home crowd in basketball. I had to try. I still have my hiking boots, though they are more like a memento than something I wear. I’m writing because I’m confused and need you to help me understand this Trump love of yours.
When I played sports, we were taught not to find excuses when we lost or when we didn’t play our best. The idea was simple: I’ll do better next time. We were taught to respect our opponent, especially if they had played a good game. The way Red Sox and Celtic fans cheered for Jeter and Magic when they retired and how Yankee fans will cheer Big Papi next week.
We respect quality and effort. We hate people who don’t give it their best. We love that Brady works his rear end off. We love the hustle guys, like Dustin Pedroia. We hate the guys who trot to first base or who give up on plays. We hate guys who focus on their individual statistics at the expense of winning for their team. We love team-first players because… because they represent us. At least, they represent the best in us, the people we want to be.
We aren’t the naturals who make it to the big leagues. We have to hustle. We have to depend on our teammates. And we love our teammates. When we are playing, there is no closer bond. The closeness is visceral. Truth be told, that’s one of the only place we can express that closeness without being considered a little less than the men we want to be. At least that was true when many of us were growing up.
We like guys who keep their own counsel and don’t have to be told all the time how great they are. What a drag those guys are, with their faces always in the TV camera, their insincere smiles begging for praise. And when the praise isn’t forthcoming, they do the work themselves. They boast and preen. They are braggarts because they are needy. They lack inner strength and faith in themselves.
Most of all, I think we respect courage. The ability to take on something that’s hard, where we might fail, where we have to rise to the big moment. Watching guys like David Ortiz, bases loaded in the ninth inning in the World Series, we kind of know we wouldn’t rise the way he did. But we dream of it and we admire it. Guts. That’s what he has. That’s what the cops that we love following on TV have. Guys like Frank Reagan in Blue Bloods.
We respect Frank Reagan not because he would take a bullet for a friend, though he would, but because he’ll wrestle with morally complicated issues. Should he do the ‘right’ thing or should he favor his son. Should he take the easy way out to please the public or risk public opprobrium to do what he most believes is right. He struggles, he stays awake at night, he consults. He does everything in his power to follow his ethical compass. He’s not a poll watcher. That takes courage and we admire him for it.
We would like to knock bullies on their rear ends. We’ve all known them on the playground and at work. Too many colleagues and especially too many bosses are bullies. They pay us and they think it gives them the right to push us around, yell at us, belittle us. We know that, in different circumstances, we could show them a thing or two. We have heard like everyone else the line “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” We’d like to help with the fall. We know that bullies are cowards. But when do we get to be in places where we can force them to show their true colors.
We despise cheats. Look at those guys who hit hundreds of home runs with the help of performance enhancing drugs. Keep those guys out of the Hall of Fame. Right? Look at Spy Gate. When Belichick and the Patriots stole signals from other teams, it turned the whole country against them. Think about the basketball players who flop when you brush them with your pinkie. They get fouls and points that way. They are despicable. Right? They’re not our kind of guy.
These are all forms of lying. Lying is not what men do. We face the music. We’d rather not cheat—that’s not what men do, either—but when we do and when we’re caught, we face up to it. We like guys who, when they are wrong or when they let us down, they say something simple like “my bad.” Then we’re done with it. Guys who can’t admit they’ve failed are cowards. They are weak.
Weak is not losing. It’s losing without trying—for fear of losing. Weak is when we can’t admit our own limitations. Weak is when we can’t depend on others, just like point guards depend on big guys for rebounds and big guys need the guards to get them the ball in good position. I just read that Derrick Rose, once one of the premier talents in the National Basketball Association, said that his job was now to support Carmello Anthony. Rose had carried teams by himself until he began injuring his knees. He’s still good but not great anymore. He could demand to be treated as the top guy, he could let his ego rule, but he wants his team to win. If that means recognizing his limitations and changing his role, he’ll do it.
I can’t speak for combat experience, but I can well imagine that guys who have been to war wouldn’t have much time for a person who only values himself and his own success, who lies and cheats and bullies, a buy who has no guts. This is what puzzles me the most. How could guys with these values connect with such a blowhard and a coward as Donald Trump.
Imagine how people would react to Donald Trump if he were to say that he doesn’t know that much about public policy but he’ll try to learn and he’ll surely depend on others to help him.
Imagine if Trump, upon being thumped by Clinton in the Debate, were to say that he lost fair and square and admires her abilities. He could even say that debating isn’t leadership but still admit she’s a better debater than he is.
Imagine if Trump said that he exaggerates a great deal, probably because he’s afraid that the bare facts won’t pump him up enough.
Imagine if he said he is, in fact, thin skinned, gets hurt pretty easily, and then gets angry when he feels attacked. He’s sensitive guy but he’s trying to stop that from ruling him.
Imagine if Trump were to admit that he’s like lots of other people: biased against people of color because he doesn’t trust them. It’s hard, after all, to trust people he doesn’t know—really doesn’t know—and who look angry when he’s in the room.
He’d be a different guy and some people might give him a second look.
But there’s no chance that Donald Trump will fess up to the truth—because he is a coward. That’s what’s underneath. He lies, cheats, bullies, brags, and preens like an insecure little boy in search of a big blond mother to make him whole again. That won’t happen either. He won’t feel whole because he is looking outside, not inside, for the sources of his anxiety and fear and neediness. That makes him both pathetic and dangerous. Dangerous because he will do almost anything to try to reclaim his absent manhood.