Vox journalist Dylan Scott, you will get no argument here: that chart, showing the reported opinions of Trump voters on the NFL, is indeed pretty nuts! The data, compiled by an online survey company called Morning Consult and laid out at the New York Times’s Upshot blog, tells the story of how the opinions of Trump voters turned sharply against the NFL after Donald Trump criticized NFL player protests during the national anthem at a late-September rally in support of the Alabama senate candidate who lost to psychotic Charles Portis character Judge Roy Moore. Where Trump voters had once viewed the NFL roughly as Clinton voters did—around 60 percent favorably, and around 20 percent unfavorably—those percentages swiftly flipped almost upside down.
All this merely because the President, in addressing the protests, famously said:
“The man, and you know this, everyone, they see it, and you see them go [in an effete voice] ‘oh no no’ at the games while the stadiums play our beautiful anthem. And it’s so beautiful, it’s true. Right before the game. And say hello, Mike. That’s... isn’t he great? Congratulations Mike, you just got famous. He’s famous now, folks. Not like so many. Unbelievable, it’s really unbelievable. But you see these, I don’t want to say it. Should I say it? They don’t want me to say it. [Elaborate three-part open-mouthed shrug] You see this son-of-a-bitch do it and it’s during the song. Beautiful song. And so many people say to me, very successful and so nice, they say ‘time for that to go bye-bye.’ And it will be true. It’s so true. The people say ‘bye bye!’ And there’s so many, and we’re going to look at it, and we’re going to look into it, very quickly.”
The statement led to a weekend of increased and increasingly co-opted protest in the NFL, which doubtless served to steepen the polarization of opinion among America’s most road rage-prone septuagenarians. The poll also found that Trump voters reported more strongly negative opinions of athletes who criticized Trump’s statements, with the number of Trump supporters reporting strongly negative opinions of LeBron James, for instance, spiking from 11 to 23 percent.
This does not really tell us anything that we don’t already know, including whether or not the people telling Morning Consult that they are Very Upset About The NFL are actually turning the games off; NFL ratings are once again down year over year, but those sorts of ratings make for a noisy and notably imprecise metric; it’s worth noting, for instance, that all television ratings are declining.
More to the point, the poll doesn’t really tell us anything new about Trump voters or the seething hair-trigger disagreeability of this broader national moment. There is a sizable percentage of the population—dwindling in terms of its percentage of the electorate, but still gobsmackingly huge in terms of absolute numbers—that follows Trump with the avidity and blank loyalty and desperate thirsty self-definition that people also bring to fandom. This is not unique to Trump or Trump supporters, to be fair, or even to partisan politics. In one sense, the story of human history is just people inventing progressively more advanced ways in which to be awful idiots, in groups.
But in another sense this is very much about Trump, and the terrible stupid moment over which he so soggily presides. Among the unenumerated powers of the Presidency is the opportunity to shape the national conversation, and because the current President is a toweringly cretinous television addict, our national conversation is as a result now largely a meta-conversation about whatever it was that he last got upset about on television. In a real sense, the entire nation is presently trapped in President Trump’s Twitter feed, and therefore stuck talking about the things he thinks about. Which is himself, mostly, and also his various defective long-running grudges and gripes.
The rhetorical and practical tendencies of partisan politics tends to amplify the distorting effect of this; the Morning Consult study also found that Trump voters saw many more negative stories about the NFL than did Clinton voters. For all the ways in which the free market fails us, it has decidedly not failed when it comes to providing the opportunity to have a media experience not just shaped by but shaped like Donald Trump and his particular gilded suite of wet-brained passions.
In the end, on this poll and in this moment, the difference is Trump, and the particular and peculiar effects of being devoted to a man like him. People will always align themselves with famous and powerful figures, just out of pure aspirational laziness, but voters that peg their beliefs to Trump’s, and choose to care about what he cares about in the same way that he cares about those things, will naturally find themselves in a shrunken world that narrows by the day. Everything they might once have enjoyed, be it movies or music or professional sports or other people or whatever else, will eventually fall away or be crowded out by the hungry, needy, wheedling bulk of Trump’s whopping self. Nothing can be bigger or better loved than him; nothing is worth understanding or caring about except as it relates to or reflects upon him. There’s no room for the NFL in this worldview, or really much room for anything else.
For all the many things that suck about this, the most obvious is how amazingly boring it all is. But, again, we knew this. He could not have been clearer about the terms. To enter this man’s lonely, gaudy church, you must leave every other thing outside.