Cast your mind back to 1982. The time is the NCAA Basketball Championship. The game pits the Georgetown Hoyas, coached by the brilliant John Thompson, against Dean Smith’s Carolina Tar Heels. The Hoyas’ star is the new phenom center Patrick Ewing.
As the game opens, Carolina puts up a shot. The seven-foot Ewing soars to the rim and knocks it down. “Goaltending!” the ref calls. Not once, not twice, but three more times, the same thing happens.
Goaltending. Goaltending. Goaltending. Goaltending.
The first four shots by Carolina were blocked by Ewing. Not legally blocked, mind you. But Ewing’s point wasn’t to block the shot and keep the Tar Heels from scoring. After all, goaltending awards points to the other side. Ewing was scoring FOR Carolina. The center was following a bigger agenda set by Coach Thompson: to intimidate. Fluster the Tar Heels. Throw them off their game. Rattle them. Leave them worrying whether any of the rules of the game applied any more.
It was a sight to behold, one I’ve never forgotten—I was graduating from UNC law school at the time, and I was glued to the TV, yelling for Carolina. Yet, even I was impressed by Ewing.
Of course, Georgetown didn’t win. Nope. Carolina did. Led by a freshman shooting guard named Michael Jordan. Jordan threw up the game winning shot, he made it, and Ewing lost.
I keep thinking about the intimidation game each time Trump signs a clearly unconstitutional, or merely outrageous, Executive Order. Trump’s end game is not to successfully pass a legal order. It is to intimidate. Throw off the opposition. Leave the other side sputtering at the audacity of it all—do the rules mean nothing to you?
Trump’s opposition whoever they might be—Democrats or a new coalition—can’t play this game. They can’t sit around with their mouths hanging open, staring at the juggernaut soaring through the air to swat down the liberties they hold dear. They can’t sputter about freedom of speech and church and state and the free press. Nor can Trump’s Republican “allies” whine about how this simply isn’t the way things are done.
The opposition has to hold to its game. They have to keep playing ball. In this arena, that means grinding through normal politics to elect people who will defeat Trump.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign proved that Trump can’t be beaten by pointing out how terrible he is—every Clinton ad was premised on showing what a total lout Trump was. The ads succeeded—Trump is a lout. And he’s President. Now he’s governing the same way he campaigned, a scorch-the-earth approach that relies on flustering his competition by saying asshole things, lying, constantly pushing the envelope. If everyone stays focused the temerity of it—marching and protesting or simply howling when Kellyanne Conway offers up another whopper (or worse, assuming she’s a bimbo who doesn’t know any better)—we are playing his game, and we will lose.
Time for all of us to make like MJ and play the game best as we know how.*
*I have no idea who Michael Jordan or Patrick Ewing voted for as President of the United States; this is an analogy 🙂