The United States women’s soccer team won the World Cup final on July 7 with a splendid shutout against the Netherlands. President Donald Trump said last week that he will fete the team in the White House, despite his annoyance with Megan Rapinoe, a star player who said in graphic and emphatic terms that she would not accept Trump’s invitation.
I hope the whole team will decline, as well.
This probably sounds like spite. But a congratulatory visit to the White House would merely reinforce the idea that everything in our republic is fine. It’s not. And every American citizen should consider her obligation to avoid supporting the illusion that the Trump administration is a normal state of affairs for our nation.
This has nothing to do with policy. Trump was duly elected, and he has the right to implement policies in response to traditional conservative principles: tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of business and industry, the installation of conservative judges, less support for the social safety net and so on.
Many Americans disagree with these principles, but the principles themselves should not undercut the honor of a visit to the White House that many victorious sports teams have enjoyed in the past.
But those “normal” days are gone. The fact that the president of the United States would engage in a Twitter spat with a soccer star — or with Alec Baldwin or Bette Midler or Arnold Schwarzenegger — speaks volumes about the abnormality in the Oval Office.
Imagine the women’s soccer team’s visit to the White House. The players are capable, accomplished and empowered. Many of them are unabashedly outspoken. Some of them are probably Trump’s “type.”
Trump, on the other hand, has been credibly accused of sexual abuse and assault by a score of women, and he has a history of bragging about it. At the least, he is sexist and condescending to women. Why expect these young soccer players to meet with such a man and pretend to be honored. There’s nothing “normal” about such a meeting and plenty that is just cringe-worthy. No woman should be expected to endure it.
And none of us should fail to notice how abnormal things have become otherwise. There’s nothing normal about embracing and encouraging foreign autocrats while alienating allies with whom, up until now, we have shared healthy liberal values. Other presidents have lied, but Trump sets records. And most concerning of all, many Americans find his disengagement with the truth more and more acceptable.
Of course Trump tried to obstruct justice; all you have to do is read Volume II of the Mueller report. The evidence should be shocking, but abnormality is stealthy and before long it begins to look normal.
One way to make all of this abnormality more acceptable is to divert our attention away from it, which is the effect of hosting sports teams for friendly visits to the White House or mounting extravagant displays of military might on the Fourth of July.
Trump’s “Salute to America” ignored the majority of American history, during which presidents, legislators and citizens were wary of strong standing armies. In 1847, President James K. Polk struggled to convince a divided legislature to supply him with enough troops to continue the Mexican War, an unalloyed land grab from a hapless Mexico. A tall, lanky young congressman from Illinois rose in the House to accuse Polk of appealing to the martial spirit in order to obscure his own misdeeds. His name was Abraham Lincoln.
He charged Polk with seeking “to avoid the scrutiny of his own conduct…by fixing the public eye upon military glory — that rainbow that rises in showers of blood — that serpent’s eye that charms but to destroy.”
Sure, the July 4th flyovers were cool. But they were out of character with America’s traditional celebration of its independence rather than its military power. And for Trump they served as an opportune distraction from the abnormality of his administration.
May the victorious women’s soccer team not allow themselves to be used in the same way.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas.