Trump’s rabid attack on the World Cup team is as transparent as it is absurd

It’s hardly surprising that Donald Trump singled out Megan Rapinoe

Noah Berlatsky
Monday 07 August 2023 16:12 BST
Former President Donald Trump went after the US women’s soccer team and specifically called out Megan Rapinoe
Former President Donald Trump went after the US women’s soccer team and specifically called out Megan Rapinoe (Getty Images)

The US Women’s World Cup Soccer team lost in an unexpected early round defeat to Sweden this weekend – and Donald Trump, as he is wont to do, decided to make it all about him and his relentlessly bleak vision of an America in decline. Most presidents try to offer a message of optimism and uplift. They look for US victories to cheer on, in sports and most other realms. Trump, in contrast, revels in evidence of failure, loss, and despair. He is a politician who thrives in misery, like an orange dung beetle wallowing in filth.

Trump shared his joy at the athlete’s defeat by posting a rabid attack on the women’s team, claiming that their loss was “emblematic of what is happening to the our [sic] once great Nation under Crooked Joe Biden” and attacking the players for being supposedly “openly hostile to America.” He concluded, “WOKE EQUALS FAILURE. Nice shot Megan, the USA is going to Hell!!! MAGA”.

It’s hardly surprising that Trump singled out Megan Rapinoe, not as the team captain who missed a penalty shot, but as someone who has openly criticized Trump in the past. Rapinoe preemptively said she would not visit the White House if the team won the tournament in 2019– which they did.

Trump, the pettiest president who ever lived, never lets go of a grudge.

What is striking about the attack, however, is how quickly Trump slides from a soccer defeat to a sweeping jeremiad about the US sinking into the abyss. Obviously, his argument doesn’t make logical sense. Rapinoe’s politics were liberal and anti-Trump in 2019 when she won – it’s not like Joe Biden’s victory magically turned the women’s soccer team into losing leftists. But Trump has never cared much about logic. His rant is pure emotion, and that emotion is a kind of resentful glee. He’s a confused preacher reveling in the good news that God is going to smite his enemies. “The USA is going to Hell” and Trump is standing on the edge of the abyss looking down and smiling.

Trump’s been rubbernecking the end of days for his entire political career. His inaugural address in 2017 painted America as a blasted wasteland; “Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories, scattered like tombstones the landscape of our nation.” He promised to put an end to “American carnage.” But at the same time, he clearly reveled in his speechwriter’s poetic images of “the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs,” embracing the role of bargain basement TS Eliot showing us fear in a handful of foreign aid.

In 2017, Trump hadn’t been president yet, so he could easily dump on his predecessors and promise that his mere presence in office would end the plague of frogs and Clintonism which he claimed was afflicting the nation. Now, though, in 2023, his first presidency is behind him. You’d think that he’d be eager to talk about his accomplishments in office and boast how his past victories will lead to future triumphs. People like to feel good, politicians like to make people feel good.

Trump’s administration actually had at least one real, solid, accomplishment he could boast about. His Operation Warpspeed program, a public/private partnership to develop a Covid vaccine, was a major success. The NIH estimates that Warpspeed moved Covid development and distribution up 5 months and saved perhaps 140,000 lives. That’s the kind of can-do victory of American technology and investment that presidents would usually cheer on enthusiastically.

Not Trump, though. In part, he said that he has avoided touting Operation Warpspeed because the GOP has turned into a conspiratorial anti-vaxx party, and he doesn’t want to irritate his voters.

But perhaps he also hasn’t made it central to his campaign because he just feels more comfortable channeling rage, misery and fear. Talking about a collective, bipartisan government effort to save American lives - initiated by Trump, implemented in the early days of the Biden administration - is not the Trump brand. He and his followers want to vent resentment by scapegoating immigrants, or trans people, or women’s soccer players. They don’t want to talk about how, if we work together, we can help each other to make a better world.

There really is a lot to be pessimistic about in the United States. Life expectancy in the country is dropping; gun violence is out of control; women are facing a reproductive health crisis that constitutes a massive human rights violation. The bipartisan refusal to honestly grapple with the ongoing Covid threat is a painful illustration of what happens when politicians refuse to address or acknowledge real problems.

But this doesn’t mean we want or need leaders to celebrate the nation’s failures. Trump constantly seeks ways to sow division and fear, he relishes every setback experienced by…well, anybody who isn’t Donald J Trump. He roots for chaos and sorrow because he is a bottom feeder, eager to gobble power and lives if we’d all only sink to his level. Trump understands that only cartoonish despair can pave the way for his cartoonish politics of hate.

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