Why does the emperor turn the circus against him? In conventional narratives of authoritarianism, sports are a tool of reinforcing uncritical patriotism and keeping entertainment wedded to the heights of performative nationalism. Yet Donald Trump, a man seen as representing the ruddy faces of America’s red state white male fathers, who all tune in to sports to avoid politics, has made the players of the sport a symbol of counterculture. Colin Kaepernick, now dozens of others, have made kneeling for the national anthem a symbol of the players against the masters, the black men asked to blow apart their bodies on the field instead turning toward the flag and rejecting its false promises. How did we get here?
Donald Trump, of course, rejects the idea that institutional racism exists. That is no surprise. The average black household makes only 57 dollars for every 100 dollars earned by a white household. The racial determinism of birth has not vanished, yet fantasies of unmarred opportunity are peddled to black Americans, who remain traumatized, institutionalized, by the restless limbs of poverty, and the dark face of their ancestral losses, codified in the present, pulsating beside their heads as they sleep, the idols of a misbegotten journey into America, those fearsome Medusas. Rapper Montana of 300 has called America “hell’s heaven”. Indeed, it seems right to call this place hell’s heaven. I would not want for an instant to live in a country without free speech, as the rising Chinese bulwark of Sino-futurism seems destined to blot out that sun, along with all privacy and individuality. And yet it is clear that we are still living in hell.
If you have lived for this long on Earth, and have not seen that evil is more powerful than good, and that it is not in your individual power to change that, then I do not know what to say to you. Those who have internalized this evident reality find themselves scorched by a black truth, literally a black truth, the fact of inequal circumstance and a rotten inheritance, the bag handed down for generations containing only ash and the small skull of one slain demon, slavery, and segregation, only to find that these institutions were mere formal structures given to the eternal law. That is how Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about race – as an eternal law of fallen man’s suffering. The black person, then, is the most beloved by God. In Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Fear’, the skull-shatteringly cruel voicemail at the end of the song reveals the cosmos of Job – God is only punishing you unduly because he loves you. You, who are tested the most, are promised the Kingdom of Heaven, because this Earth is hell.
It would take 228 years for the average black family to earn the same generational wealth as the average white family. In light of that fact, for a black man in professional football, having succeeded against the odds, but maintaining knowledge that he is part of a select few, and that millions of black men just like him are swatted down by the same hand of the Bodhisattva that raised him up, a bad conscience is sure to develop. In that instance, a symbolic rejection, a knee upon the field, comes when you are expected, in spite of all this, to honor the image of a sanctuary within a sanctuary.
One wonders what Donald Trump is thinking when he tests the limits of our collective patience time and time again. For a generation that coined the microaggression, we have now been punished with this eternal prodding, each day a new thing to make the ‘sane and rational center’ go absolutely mad. Perhaps that center never once existed. Donald Trump, in participating in the politicization of sports, has accelerated the demise of that center. Now, no sport is free from political structure. An eternal war is waged in all sectors of life, a cultural sickness removed from economic reality, a stupid world where Tom Brady represents white nationalism and the Atlanta Falcons were trying to overthrow white supremacy for just a brief flashing moment in February of 2016.
It is a world woven purely of symbols, where economics is pushed into the absent and impossible past. Even Donald Trump, the President himself, is impotent, flailing meaninglessly at symbols in his unfocused outrage at all that offends him. And meanwhile, beside it all, the tension of a North Korean war sinks deeper and deeper into the unconscious, sublimated away, because we know we are powerless to prevent or act upon such a situation. Perhaps this weekend’s news cycle, of September 23rd and 24th, encapsulates the image of a humanity at the brink moreso than any other moment: a society agitating for nuclear war spends its weekend waging war over symbolic protest.
Asking who politicized culture first would be a waste of time. Culture has always been political, but now for the first time this observation has ceased to be radical. The days of manufacturing consent are long behind – it is more acceptable in the mainstream to despise the President than to support him. Sports, to many, is more a field of radical politics than the actual machinations of governance. A celebrity President means exactly what it appears to mean – it is no longer possible to be ‘woke’. There is only being compassionate and wrong, or cruel and closer to an approximation of what is really going on.
The crisis of the 21st century is a crisis of human agency. Everywhere, where the biological and genetic origins of our souls manifest, the left, obsessed with mercy and compassion, cries. They claim that homosexuality is innate and material, a fact of birth, but then when an artificial intelligence can decide one’s sexuality with a simple face scan, they are horrified at the authoritarian implications of their own ideas.
There are no ‘free thoughts’. Every thought pushes back against you in its own way. You are eternally thinking against yourself, crucified in an incomplete world. What now? Is the death drive stronger than life?
I surmise you will need more than a grain of faith to survive this century.