President Donald Trump doesn’t understand a basic principle that I learned from my mother in elementary school: If you treat people with respect, they’ll likely respect you in return.
Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to blast Megan Rapinoe, a co-captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, after the soccer magazine Eight by Eight posted a video of her saying that if the women win the World Cup, she’s not “going to the fucking White House.” Rapinoe also said she doubted the team—which meets France in the World Cup quarterfinal today—would even be invited.
Trump tweeted, “I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” In a second tweet, he declared, “I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose. Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT!”
Shorter version: Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah.
Put aside the fact that a sitting president has resorted to taunting an athlete who has done nothing but represent this country admirably. In somehow taking offense at Rapinoe’s comments, Trump doesn’t just show his thin skin. He also shows his utter lack of self-awareness of how he sounds to—and what he and his administration have done to—women, LGBTQ people, African Americans, and other groups. The problem is that Trump’s comments about Rapinoe weren’t shocking. This is ordinary behavior for Trump—tearing down members of marginalized communities and then feigning outrage when some in those communities decide to strike back.
Rapinoe is an openly gay athlete, and Trump and his administration have made it perfectly clear that they do not believe LGBTQ people deserve equal protection or consideration. Why would Rapinoe ever put herself in a situation where she would have to put on a fake smile and be in the same room with the man who chose Mike Pence, who has a long history of working against LGBTQ people, as his vice president? There’s a reason her teammates and a number of celebrities vocalized their support of Rapinoe’s comments.
The administration that Trump leads has banned transgender soldiers. Last August, the Department of Labor released a directive encouraging Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs staff to grant broad exemptions to federal contractors who had religious-based objections to complying with nondiscrimination laws. In the first year of his presidency, Trump’s administration told the staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to use the word transgender in official documents. Earlier in June, the Trump administration enacted a policy that prohibited U.S. embassies and consulates from raising rainbow flags to celebrate Pride Month.
So who really should feel disrespected—Trump or an LGBTQ athlete such as Rapinoe?
Sure, Trump posted an odd tweet professing his support for the LGBTQ community at the start of Pride Month. But Trump doesn’t seem to get that his actions carry far more weight than his words. And the overwhelming majority of the time, his words about people in marginalized communities are anything but supportive.
Another case in point: While childishly ranting about Rapinoe, Trump also made it clear on Twitter that he didn’t understand why NBA championship teams have refused to visit the White House. After all, Trump wrote, the black unemployment rate is at an all-time low, and last December his administration passed the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal-justice-reform bill that reduces mandatory minimum sentences in certain cases and gives “good-time credits” for well-behaved prisoners who seek shorter sentences.
Trump just assumed that should be enough to endear him to African Americans, including those who play in the NBA. But as usual, Trump bent the facts to suit his agenda, and black athletes aren’t here for his spin.
In reality, black unemployment, which had peaked at 16 percent during the Great Recession, was in the single digits when Trump took over from Barack Obama. Momentum for criminal-justice reform also began under Obama, whose many criminal-justice reforms included ending the disparity between sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, and a clemency initiative that focused on reviewing and granting commutations.
Trump constantly takes shots at Obama, whom many black athletes admire and still support. Trump has also frequently attacked Colin Kaepernick, and once referred to NFL players as “sons of bitches.” It’s absurd that Trump would even question why most black athletes—on NBA championship teams or otherwise—don’t want anything to do with him.
Besides, sometimes it’s not what is said, but how it is said. Trump hasn’t shown he’s capable of engaging in meaningful dialogue with black people without mentioning crime. Mass incarceration has had a disproportionate effect on African Americans, but black people are also concerned about their lack of access to quality health care, jobs, and education.
When the president has spoken about gun violence in Chicago, he almost never mentions providing better education, or bringing jobs and training to a city where 45 percent of black men ages 20 to 24 are not working or going to school. Instead, he has said Afghanistan is safer than Chicago, and threatened to “send the feds” into the nation’s third-largest city.
In just a few rambling comments this week about women’s soccer, the NBA, black unemployment, and the flag, Trump exposed his own narrow worldview once more—and vindicated Rapinoe’s comments about not going to the White House. Nobody wants to be around a president who thinks not everyone is deserving of basic humanity. Trump’s calling Rapinoe unpatriotic shows he doesn’t understand what patriotism really is. True patriots love a country even when that country doesn’t always love them back.