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June 19, 2019

Why the Eagles should visit Trump’s White House

May 29, 2018
The Pats went (Susan Walsh/AP)

I’m a Philadelphian, and a love my hometown Eagles: their fierce grit, their down-to-earth charm and their unlikely victory in the Super Bowl earlier this year.

I’m also a professor and a journalist, and I loathe President Trump: his vulgarity, his dishonesty, and the casual way he flouts the ideals of reason, civility and tolerance that are, or should be, at the heart of our democracy.

And that’s why I think the Eagles should go to the White House and meet with Trump. Anything less will echo our boorish President, all in the guise of resisting him.

Trump has invited the Eagles to join him on June 5, which has unleashed a predictably polarized debate online. His supporters want the Eagles to go to the White House, of course, while opponents say that doing so would implicitly endorse, or normalize, the President.

The issue has gotten even more charged since last week, when the NFL announced that players who kneel on the field during the national anthem will be subject to fines. That elicited a rare note of praise from Trump, who infamously called protesting players “sons of bitches” and suggested they should be fired.

So would players who go to the White House be giving an implicit thumbs-up to Trump? Hardly. Instead, they’d be demonstrating precisely the kind of democratic decency that the President himself has done so much to undermine.

Remember, we’re talking about a guy who routinely dehumanizes his opponents. Americans who disagree with Trump aren’t simply people who see life in a different way. They are, to Trump, lower than life itself.

Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough aren’t just TV hosts who criticize Trump; they’re “Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe.” Actress Rosie O’Donnell is “crude, rude, obnoxious and dumb.” Fired FBI director James Comey is a “nut-job” and a “slime-ball,” rather than a government official with a different vision of how government should operate.

The list, which is literally thousands of names long, goes on, and on, and on.

Worst of all, Trump has described human beings from outside the United States as sub-human. Mexicans who come across the border (other than “the good ones”) are rapists; people in Haiti live in a “shithole”; once they come here, Nigerians never want to “go back to their huts.”

Oh, and I almost forgot: journalists are “enemies of the people.”

The founding faith of America is that people of equal knowledge and decency can reason from the same set of facts of different conclusions. But Trump doesn’t seem to understand that. If you like him, you’re “terrific”; if you don’t, you’re a loser, a dummy, a moron, a slob. You shouldn’t even exist.

How do you deal with a democratically elected leader who shows so much disdain for the norms and habits of democracy? It’s very tempting to fire back with the same bile and invective as Trump displays.

So you wear a T-shirt comparing him to Hitler, complete with a Photoshopped pencil-thin moustache. You dismiss all 62 million people who voted for Trump as racists, cowards or ignoramuses. And you put a bumper sticker on your car with a cartoon of Trump and the caption, “Not My President.”

But he is your President. Saying otherwise doesn’t make it so. It’s magical thinking, the substitution of fantasy for reality. And it sounds a lot like, well, Donald J. Trump.

So does the routine vilification of anyone who supports him. A third of Hispanics who cast ballots in 2016 voted for Donald Trump. And if you say they’re all racists — well, again, you’re behaving in the same dismissive and ignorant manner as Trump.

For the Eagles to turn down Trump’s White House invitation would be Trumpian at its core. It places him beyond the moral pale, which is just what he does to his opponents. And it plays directly into the hands of the President, who will surely use it to stoke his base. I can hear Trump already: See how much they (always “they!”) disrespect us? It’s a disgrace!

Would going to the White House give Trump a propaganda advantage, allowing him to boast of his support among Eagles players? Not if they play their cards right. They could release statements declaring that they differ with the President, but that they’re willing to meet with him. That’s what people in democracies are supposed to do.

Or, taking a page from the Golden State Warriors, they could visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture before going to the White House. When Trump disinvited the Warriors, following their last championship, they pointedly went to the Washington museum “to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion,” a team statement declared.

If the Eagles went to the museum and the White House, that would signal their support for political as well as racial diversity. And it would illustrate their wish to communicate across all of our differences, even when our President can’t — or won’t. The biggest threat to American democracy is Donald J. Trump. And the second biggest threat is that the rest of us will imitate him.

Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author (with Emily Robertson) of “The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools.”

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