Littwin: To understand Trump’s NFL feud, you have to know that he wins even when he’s losing

For those keeping score at home, Donald Trump is winning.

I know. He just got killed on the latest Obamacare-repeal attempt. And he looks like a fool, if a madly dangerous one, in his brinkmanship game he’s playing with the Little Rocket Man and his North Korean nukes. He’s hard-pressed to explain why he has basically ignored storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and why, when he finally broke his Twitter silence on the devastation, he hit the island territory for not paying its debts. (We know who has a history of not paying debts, but that’s for another column.)

Yes, Trump seems to be losing. He remains historically low in the polls. He can’t get anything passed in Congress. He admits he might have picked the wrong candidate in the Alabama Republican primary, endorsing the establishment candidate over the Trump-based favorite, Roy Moore, the crazy Ten Commandments guy who thinks there are American cites ruled by Sharia law.

But Trump is winning. It just depends on what your definition of victory is. If it’s appealing to the base, and only appealing to the base, Trump is probably ahead.

But if it’s keeping the culture wars burning — regardless of which side is ahead — then Trump is definitely winning.

And so we go to the latest chapter, the unlikely move to slam those mostly black football players who are protesting racial injustice by taking a knee during the National Anthem. The issue was last season’s issue, but Trump brought it back to life because, well, he needed it. He was in Alabama Friday night holding a rally for Luther Strange in the Republican primary. He’d been forced into supporting Strange by Mitch McConnell and other Republican losers. He knew that’s not where the base was. Going after Colin Kaepernick was where the base was.

So he resolved an uncomfortable situation by going to his comfort zone, which was to slam someone or something unpopular with the base. A protest by black people would do. He ignored the cause of the protest — racial injustice — and substituted patriotism and the flag. He got the intended roar of approval and then went further, calling for owners to fire the sons of bitches. More roars. And then he went further still, hitting the NFL for cracking down on hard hits that cause brain damage. More roars?

The reaction was, well, huge — and, of course divided. You saw it. You saw the kneels, including those by 32 Broncos. You saw the locked arms. You heard the boos.

Trump said arms were locked as a show of national solidarity. Yes, it’s what he said. Trump tweeted about the boos and the “great anger.” Yes, he wants people angry. He said the NFL ratings were down over the weekend because of his tweets. They were actually slightly up after counting the Cowboys game on Monday Night Football. You heard from Broncos fans vowing to sell their season tickets because Broncos players were brave enough to kneel. According to one report, the Broncos say no season-ticket holder has actually asked for a refund.

It’s not like Trump is hiding any of this. Speaking to a group of conservative leaders at the White House Monday night, he said enthusiastically of his NFL commentary, “It’s really caught on. It’s really caught on.”

It’s not so shocking that he did this. After all, this is the birther candidate who, long ago, entered into the culture wars by calling for the execution of the since-proven-innocent Central Park Five. But that he went there so soon after Charlottesville, when he claimed there were very fine people marching with neo-Nazis, seemed a little extreme, even for Trump.

Of course, Trump insists that the controversy is not about race, but about patriotism. To believe that, you have to believe that the hyper-nationalistic-fighter-jet-flyover NFL is somehow promoting subversive behavior. But he gives the game away by winkingly praising mostly white NASCAR. And by tweeting that even if he had disinvited Steph Curry and the reluctant NBA champion Warriors from visiting the White House, the National Hockey League champion Pittsburgh Penguins were coming.

You don’t have to be to great at arithmetic to know that picking NASCAR and the NHL over the vastly popular (whatever the ratings) NFL and NBA is not a mathematically correct choice. But Trump isn’t out to necessarily win the culture wars. He just wants to keep them going.

It’s time to remind everyone that this is not what presidents generally do. The great James Fallows has written a piece for The Atlantic on how Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, two presidents not unused to division, handled the Tommie Smith-John Carlos raised-fist protest at the 1968 Olympics. According to Fallows’ research, they said exactly nothing. They didn’t exploit the controversy, knowing how dangerously raw emotions were.

Look, you can blame racism on ignorance and fear. I don’t question Trump’s ignorance on policy. But in the matter of racial politics, he knows as much as George Wallace knew.

Someone tweeted poll numbers from the 1960s on freedom riders and sit-ins and demonstrations in general. The American public overwhelmingly rejected those protests. But we just passed the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, when nine kids faced violent mobs who were trying to stop them from integrating Central High. Eisenhower sent in the troops to enforce the law. What do you think Trump would do if faced with a similar situation?

It’s never easy to know what Trump would or will do, which is what makes him so dangerous. Even as he was tweet-bombing the NFL, he still found time to bump up the North Korea crisis by tweeting that Little Rocket Man and his foreign minister “won’t be around much longer” if they continued their provocations. Let’s just say that most world leaders probably weren’t diverted by the NFL story. According to The New York Times, global reaction to Trump’s tweet ranged from nervous disbelief to sheer terror.

You can’t blame the world for being nervous. I’m guessing that at least half of Americans wake up each day feeling the same way.

Photo by Daniel Spiess via Flickr: Creative Commons. Denver vs. New England 2011


  1. The big problem is, no matter WHAT this SOB does, WE LOSE. Until republicans start thinking about the COUNTRY more than their own GD party, we will continue to lose. When does this “winning” that Two Scoops promised happen? So far all I see is the bottom of the toilet bowl, and it’s a quick slide once you start down it.

    Thanks, republicans. You are why I think we need a SANITY test before voting is allowed.

  2. Elections have consequences.

    “Hiding news that doesn’t fit an ideological or a partisan agenda is perhaps the worst form of media bias. And it’s one more reason the public holds the press is such low esteem.” – Investor’s Business Daily

    “(Mr. Trump) won’t be president. He was sliding in the polls before the video, and the video now means that he has no way to climb back. Which independent voter, which suburban woman, which Main Street Republican on the fence is going to vote for Trump now?” – Mike Littwin

    Magical thinking: The belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes, or desires can influence the external world. It is common in very young children. –


    “For those keeping score at home, (President) Donald Trump is winning.” – Mike Littwin

    Mr. Littwin may finally be getting it! Not completely, of course, but he’s moving in the right direction.

    Nothing in America is as hallowed as the stars and stripes and, by extension, the National Anthem. Those who choose the anthem as a protest platform have already lost the argument. Those who have to explain why they are protesting have already lost the narrative. And those who believe they can support the military while concurrently kneeling during the National Anthem have lost their minds.

    You cannot look at the American flag without thinking of those military members who have sacrificed so much to keep it there. Although there are some on the left who view the American flag as little more than kindling. The American flag, the National Anthem, our military and patriotism are inextricable. Those who believe they can protest during the National Anthem while still claiming to be pro-military are on a fool’s errand.

    Mr. Littwin believes with absolute certainty that the reason behind the NFL players kneeling protest is obvious and singular: racial injustice and while it may be obvious to Mr. Littwin it’s not as obvious to others. This from

    “The players are simply protesting systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality, and the criminal justice system. The national anthem is just the vehicle for the protest.”

    When you have to explain a joke it’s no longer funny, when you have to explain exactly why you’re protesting it is. A muddled message leads to a muddled result.

    While Mr. Littwin’s enlightenment is encouraging, although probably temporary, there are still things he seems, well, confused about. He says “black football players are protesting racial injustice by taking a knee during the National Anthem. The issue was last season’s issue…” Last season President Trump wasn’t in the White House so is Mr. Littwin saying that so-called “racial injustice” was a problem he inherited from Barack Obama?

    Then Mr. Littwin claims “(President Trump) ignored the cause of the protest — racial injustice — and substituted patriotism and the flag.” It wasn’t President Trump who chose to use the National Anthem as a protest vehicle it was the NFL players. They chose the venue, they chose the platform and they chose the time. In a poll conducted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a plurality of those surveyed — 37 percent — strongly disagreed with protesting players who chose to kneel during the national anthem, while 27 percent strongly agreed.

    Mixing political protest with the National Anthem and the NFL is an untenable situation which will quickly wear thin on fans who only want to watch football as well as players who only want to play. And the optics of NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem will never be erased and, in the end, be counter-productive to any social issue the protests were designed to mitigate.

    But the optics of Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva standing with hand over heart during the playing of the National Anthem will also never be erased. The former Army Ranger earned a Bronze Star with valor during a combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. While Villanueva supported the right of those who chose to kneel he chose not to.

    And Mr. Littwin ignores the irony of black NFL players protesting racial injustice in a league that is 70 percent black while the US Census reports that only 13 percent of the country’s population is black.

    This is what Bloomberg has to say on the NFL vs. President Trump:

    “The current commotion has, in totality, the opposite effect, reducing the NFL to the role of a sick patient looking for a proper diagnosis, a scofflaw institution deserving public shaming by the commander in chief. The reversal — from heroic savior of Sundays to something in need of saving — is proving difficult to shake off.”

    November 08, 2016

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Green light a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Special Operations Warriors Foundation

  3. Mr. Lopez’s comments aside, great job, Mike. Those of us who believe in America’s justice and compassion, not just is “greatness”, are appalled at this ignorant oaf of a POTUs who continues to stumble us towards the brink of war. Thank you for your sharp insights.

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