On that dreary and tempestuous January day, amidst a sea of red baseball caps, the resonant clings and clangs of the U.S. Marine Band, spiritual invocations, and the fateful recitation of “I do solemnly swear,” the ominous shriek of the starting whistle could be faintly heard: Let the games begin.
It seems strange that on a day customarily governed by tradition and a nationwide, apolitical reverence for the peaceful transition of power, we all became involved in a certain nefarious and illusive Trumpian game of sorts—one in which the arena spans the globe and we, as Americans, stand, at times, as his pawns, his teammates, his opponents, or his spectators. In this game, however, there exists only one outcome for President Trump: victory.
The Trump mindset views all the realities—dare I say, facts, both alternative and real—of the world through a dichotomous lens in which everything and everyone either is either a winner or a loser. Everyone from international terrorists to conservative intellectual Bill Kristol to former President Barack Obama, Politico, John McCain, and Chuck Todd have been deemed “Losers!” while both the right-leaning National Review and the left-leaning Huffington Post were said to be “losing” through his infamous tweets. In 2015, then-candidate Trump tweeted that Hillary Clinton “is a lose cannon,” and while his improper spelling of “loose” was likely a mistake—a result of his tendency to churn out condemnatory tweets like clockwork—the principle of others’ losses and pitiable inferiority compared to his ever-winning, infallible superiority still holds for his political rival, “Crooked Hillary,” as much it holds as for anybody.
In this Trumpian world, each day represents a new round in his game of extreme triumphs and failures. And, each day, Trump sets the ordinary rules of sportsmanship not into place, but into chaos. As the “failing” New York Times’ David Brooks (who President Trump has, unsurprisingly, branded “the dumbest of them all”) notes, the president “has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible.” In this new game, the rulebook of presidential etiquette, common decency, and common sense have been flagrantly discarded along with the authority of an honorable, rule-abiding referee committed to upholding the principles that bound our society, and our political leaders, to higher ethical standards. For, the Republican leadership that sheepishly conceded to his reactionaryism, narcissism, and severe dearth of moral introspection, solely for the sake of party, utterly failed in their greater responsibility to this country as designated referees—as arbiters of the implicit laws of concern for the public good that would have preventing the U.S. from becoming a battlefield for President Trump’s war-like game in the first place. Now, in “his savage regime, public life is just a dog-eat-dog war of all against all,” with everyone—family, friends, political allies, and even entire classes of Americans—pitted against each other.
Perhaps the zealous American love of sport drove us to elect a president who thinks in terms of all-or-nothing triumph over ever-changing opponents and considers winning the White House as just another conquest in his perpetual capitalist venture. Yet, we can look to President Trump’s most common pastime—his golf game—which he practices during all the unoccupied time he has seems to have while serving as leader of the free world. Apparently, the president “plays the game on his own terms”—with an air of arrogance about his golfing skill, of superiority over his golfing opponents, and of apathy for the traditional rules of the game, especially those against cheating. In the words of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), “The president never loses.”
The conundrum remains: why would nearly the majority of Americans vote for such a person who bends the rules of the game to ensure his victory, in much the same way that golfers and non-golfers alike continue to join him to play a round at any one of his 19 golf clubs around the world?
Alas, the entertainment factor of President Trump himself and the novelty of his candidacy—from his unapologetic brashness to his rejection of the political establishment on both aisles—provide just as much amusement and sense of rooting for a cause and a team as does the fanatical American sports culture. The notion of winning has been glamorized—from the seemingly relentless pre- and post-election rallies, the contentious yet mobilizing slogans—from “Make America Great Again” to “Lock Her Up” to “America First”—and the sense of exclusivity that the “Trump Train” has come to embody. As the president himself has said, or tweeted, rather, “When you are in a war, or even a battle, losing is not an option!” For his supporters, the cause of victory—of making America “great again” and returning the United States to its lost Golden Age—necessitates a ruthlessness in the game of President Trump’s creation.
But the hard truth is that President Trump’s daily plays in his game that spans global society do not constitute winning or losing moves. Rather, they elicit the threat of nuclear war with North Korea; the disparagement of the American national status abroad by the invention of an African country and by the shoving of other foreign leaders to take center stage in a picture; the profoundly destructive (and deadly) polarization of our society; the denigration of our federal judges who uphold the supreme law of the land against executive orders that violate it; the infringement on the constitutional rights of individuals, including those of NFL athletes, to freely express themselves; the vilification of the press as the “enemy of the people” and the undermining of their rights to publish the “unpresidented” realities of the White House, now gilded with the scandal and recklessness of President Trump’s childishness.
His game forgets that human societies, and especially the American society most corrupted by his game-playing, should be impelled by the degree of prosperity that they obtain collectively, not in stark terms of victory and defeat and by the polarization of individuals, groups, or causes into enemy, opponent camps. President Trump has proven akin to the leader who orders his exhausted and destitute troops to fight on in a war in which defeat is imminent, simply for the sake of winning—and for the preservation of his own pride—rather than concede and surrender to save the lives of those who believe in the motivation for prosperity over the comparably hollow notion of victory.
Perhaps John Donne was wrong in saying that no man is an island—for, this man, none other than the president of the United States, starts his own games and plays on his own team with his own rules—thereby carelessly abandoning the mainland civil society from which his island diverged and drifted away. And, perhaps President Trump will have caused his own demise, with the casualties of the game including the Republican Party itself and the moral and political health of the nation.
The question remains: when will the Game of Trump end?