All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday and I’m trying to get the mailbag done before my family heads out for a rafting trip in the Colorado mountains — side note, we’ve had an amazing time in Denver and in the Vail area, I absolutely love it out here.

But before I dive right in on this — cool news, we’re doing an Oukick VIP event next Friday July 26th in Nashville. Details are up on the Outkick message board and you can RSVP there to ensure you’re able to come.

You can sign up for Outkick VIP here and get a free autographed copy of my new book.

With that in mind, here we go with the mailbag:

The most common question I’ve gotten all week has been about Trump’s comments directed at the four Democratic congresswomen and the “send them back” chant. I haven’t written about this  on my vacation because it’s too big of a question to dash off a quick comment on Twitter about so here goes with my in-depth thoughts. 

First, and this is a broader question I’ve written on quite a bit over his presidency and his presidential campaign, how much method is there to Trump’s Twitter madness? In other words, how planned are Trump’s tweets? Is he playing chess or checkers with Twitter? Because it often seems like Trump’s Tweets are incredibly rash and Trump later attempts to justify the intent of his Tweets only after there’s a negative blow up in reaction to them.

That matters in a big way here because the Democratic party was in the midst of a internecine conflict between Nancy Pelosi and the four left wing congresswomen over the direction of the party, which began with a Maureen Dowd column. (Last week Dowd even took AOC and woke Democrats to task by writing, “That did not merit A.O.C.’s outrageous accusation that Pelosi was targeting “newly elected women of color.” She slimed the speaker, who has spent her life fighting for the downtrodden and who was instrumental in getting the first African-American president elected and passing his agenda against all odds, as a sexist and a racist.

A.O.C. should consider the possibility that people who disagree with her do not disagree with her color.”)

We were in the midst of an important identity politics battle in the Democratic party when Trump sent his Tweets. To me, the smart political move here was for Trump to stay out of the way and let them battle it out in a public manner.

Instead, Trump took all the oxygen from that conflict with his Tweets — and the subsequent crowd reaction at his North Carolina rally — and made himself central to this conflict. Now Trump has since argued that this attempt with the Tweets was to ensure that the Democratic party had to embrace the four Congresswomen rather than attempt to exclude them, but is that really true? He could have made this argument much more explicit on Twitter without the negative blow up.

For instance, what if Trump had Tweeted: “The Democratic party is in the midst of a Civil War, will they repudiate the divisive and racist rhetoric of the far left wing directing their party or will they continue to protect them and embrace their hate for America’s history and current (magnificent) direction of your president and his great party that loves America?”

That Tweet, which is written in characteristic Trump bombast, essentially creates the same dilemma for the Democrats without the explosive reaction to his Tweets.

My biggest issue with Trump so far — and why I haven’t been able to fully embrace him — is I think he’s an inarticulate expression of an important conversation about identity politics that our nation needs to be having. And I appreciate the fact that he’s willing to stand up to the far left wing of the Democratic party when many in our country run and hide because they’re afraid of being attacked as racist or sexist or misogynistic if they disagree with someone other than a white man’s opinion. But I question whether there’s a coherent strategy behind his inclination for political combat — his behavior often appears slapdash, incoherent, and utterly unpredictable, which are three characteristics I don’t want associated with my president.

As for the Tweets themselves — I don’t think a president should suggest that Americans who have lawfully entered this country and become citizens should be sent back to the country they’re from or that it should even be suggested they should simply because you have political disagreements. In fact, I think that’s a ridiculous thing to say and that it detracts from your larger political message. There’s a big difference between attacking the ideas of people you disagree with as opposed to the identities of people you disagree with. I think the focus should be on ideas, not identities.

I do think, however, that it’s the case that we’ve never lived in an era when people who rip America and its history are more praised. I have said many times that I believe every person who rips America should have to serve a year overseas in the peace corps in a third world country to see how good we actually have it here. I think a big part of American criticism by Americans is a failure on behalf of the critics to see what the rest of the world is like.

The American story is not perfect — no country’s story is — but America is and I believe always will be the most successful experiment in freedom and democracy in world history. No one has ever lived in a freer and more wealthy country in world history. No matter what your current life is like, every single one of us should wake up every morning and thank the good lord that we had the tremendous fortune to be born in this country.

That’s the part of Trump’s rhetoric that I agree with, in an era when everyone wants to focus on what America does imperfectly, Trump, rightly in my opinion, believes America is truly great. Now what I disagreed with was his notion that he had to make America great again. I never have believed America wasn’t great. But at least Trump’s MAGA goal is predicated on the notion of American exceptionalism as opposed to American awfulness, which is ascendant in many parts of our media and coastal society today.

Fifty years ago we set foot on the moon for the first time.

In theory, this anniversary should be a moment of tremendous celebration for our country. Yet look at what the New York Times and the Washington Post wrote about the trip to the moon.

Sadly, this denigration of America by our media is all too common. Indeed, as the country has unmistakably become better and better, the media’s negativity has become more and more pronounced. And the Tweets above are symptomatic of what the four Democratic congresswomen would say.

I mean, just look at what Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, one of the Democratic quad said here:

Her direct quote: “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.”

This is the very essence of identity politics, which I believe is the biggest threat our country faces today — the idea that your beliefs should align with people who look like you do. And that if they don’t, you’re a traitor to your race or your identity.

What Pressley said is 21st century racism, plain and simple and direct, and most people in the media ignore her comments because she’s a black woman.

Imagine if Trump said white people should all support him and think the same because they are white. The media would lose its mind and immediately brand his comments as racist. Yet Pressley says the exact same thing and no one even blinks.

I believe this is incredibly fertile terrain for Trump. There’s a great majority of the American population that abhors identity politics and I think Trump should attack the idea of identity politics not by attacking the identity of these women, but by attacking their ideas. That’s a powerful difference from what he’s done so far. He’d still get attacked as racist for doing it — when a white man disagrees with a minority he’s going to get attacked as racist no matter what he says — but I believe he’d win that battle in the marketplace of ideas because identity politics are a cancer to our country.

As is, and this is why I said Trump is an inarticulate voice for a conversation that our nation needs to have, what Trump is doing is battling identity politics with his own brand of identity politics. Essentially it appears to me that he’s trying to create a race-based battle as opposed to an ideas-based battle. And that leans into the obsession of the media, which is to pronounce everything Trump says or does as being racist, and it doesn’t weaken the fever-pitched hold identity politics has on our nation, it strengthens it.

Of course the mainstream media only pronounces Trump’s actions as racist while never condemning anything racist that’s said by other races, but Trump could make that argument and I think the nation would see his point without using as charged of language as he has been. In other words, my fear is Trump could lose the battle of ideas here because his language choices aren’t sophisticated enough to win an important battle our nation’s president needs to win.

Right now there is a large portion of the Democratic electorate which believes white men are evil. (Including, amazingly, some white men like Beto who are running for president of the country as Democrats). The truth of the matter is you can say things about white men that you can’t say about any other race, sex or ethnic group. While it’s tempting to get drawn into that battle — which Trump can’t seem to avoid — what I believe we need is someone who defeats the ideas behind the idea that white men are evil as opposed to creating a competing form of identity politics predicated to a large degree on white grievance.

We need to elevate the conversation, not denigrate it.

Again, this may be complicated, but it’s fundamentally antithetical to American culture, I believe, to judge someone based on their race or gender. That’s a battle Trump should be engaging in, the attempt to fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. to judge individuals based on the content of their character not the color of their skin. I’m not sure Trump is the voice to lead this battle — I’m not sure he’s willing or able to rise to the level of discourse it requires — but I’d like to hope he could rise to that level of discourse. I’m just not sure he’s willing to do it.

I wish Trump had responded to the “send her back” chant from his supporters by shouting down the chant and pivoting to the points I made above. He could have said, “My Tweets weren’t as articulate on this issue as I’d hoped and I can tell by your chanting that I didn’t do a good job making my argument. So let me be clear, I don’t disagree with the four Democratic congressmen because of their race or where they were born, I disagree with them because their ideas are wrong.”

I’m not sure that’s a pivot Trump is capable of making, but it’s a pivot that would lead me to support him in 2020. Because this needs to be a battle of ideas, not a battle of identities.

I also got this question a ton, which I’m distilling as follows:

“How would you handle Dan LeBatard’s comments on Trump and his ripping of ESPN’s policy on politics that has been implemented by new president Jimmy Pitaro? What’s going on here?”

First, LeBatard is very talented in writing, radio and TV so I always admire people who can do all three of these things well. I think he’s a unique talent.

Having said that, what LeBatard said on Thursday about Trump and ESPN’s policy on politics was far more egregious and outspoken than anything Bill Simmons or Jemele Hill ever said. That’s because LeBatard made his comments on ESPN’s radio and TV airwaves, not simply on a Twitter feed or a podcast.

As a general rule I make my comments on politics on this website, on my Outkick the Show broadcast, and on my Twitter feed. To me, those are platforms that I own. That is, you may not agree with my opinions there, but I own my company and I own my Twitter feed. But I don’t go on Lock It In and analyze politics on FS1 and I don’t go on my national radio show and just randomly discuss a political issue that has no connection to sports at all.

I actually think ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro’s directive as it pertains to politics has been smart. That directive, succinctly explained, is ESPN won’t talk politics unless politics directly intersects with sports. He implemented that directive because embracing politics — in particular left wing politics — was bad for ESPN’s business.

And he has said many times that he has the data to prove that.

Jimmy Pitaro doesn’t believe that people tune into ESPN radio because they want to know what Dan LeBatard — or anyone else — thinks about Donald Trump’s latest Tweets or the potential conflict with Iran or the tax code. In that, I believe, he’s correct. And, again, he has the data to reflect that this is bad for ESPN’s brand.

In sports, when a new coach comes in and takes over sometimes the existing star players don’t want to run the new coach’s gameplan and I think that’s what we’re seeing here. LeBatard disagrees with Pitaro’s positions and that disagreement has spilled over from private dispute to public conflagration.

Now, and this is significant, it may simultaneously be good for LeBatard’s brand and bad for ESPN’s brand. In those situations, the president of a network has to protect the overall brand of the network over the individual talents on that brand.

Jemele Hill created a mess by saying Donald Trump was a white supremacist, but, and this is significant, she didn’t say it during SportsCenter. She didn’t use ESPN’s broadcast arm to share her political opinions; she made her comments on her own Twitter feed. LeBatard went on radio and TV with his opinions on Trump which weren’t remotely connected to sports. And he didn’t only do that, he ripped the political policy implemented by the president of ESPN on ESPN’s airwaves.

And he did it by espousing the common world view of left wing identity politics, which we discussed above.

In so doing, LeBatard put his bosses in an awful position. If they suspend him — he didn’t show up for the first hour of his show on Friday and didn’t address the controversy he created at all — then the woke media loses their minds and LeBatard becomes a martyr, but if they don’t do anything then there’s a precedent that ESPN talent can go on their shows, which are airing on television and radio across the nation, and say whatever they want about their political opinions.

So ESPN executives are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

They’ve worked for months to erase the idea that ESPN is a left wing political organization and then, boom, with one viral segment LeBatard drags them right back into the political mess. What’s more, it reiterates yet again that ESPN favors left wing politics.

Can you imagine if another talent at ESPN opened a show today by ripping AOC for her political opinions? The same woke media that is praising LeBatard would be outraged. Of course this won’t happen — ESPN talent only rips Republicans — but the precedent being set by LeBatard’s actions is that any talent at ESPN can simply go on the air and share their political opinions on radio or TV, even if those opinions have nothing to do with sports.

Again, it’s good for his brand — he’ll be fine — but awful for ESPN’s brand.

Furthermore, while LeBatard is entitled to his own views, did he really say anything that unique? Anything that a huge number of the president’s media critics haven’t said already? Of course not. What’s more, does anyone in his audience disagree with his opinion? It isn’t brave to preach to the choir, to tell people what they already know you believe and want to hear from you. I’m all for the marketplace of ideas, but in order for the marketplace of ideas to work you have to speak to people who disagree with you, engage in a legitimate battle over which direction for our country makes the most sense. Far too often right now people are just speaking to their segmented silos of media agreement, one echo chamber after another.

That’s all LeBatard did here.

Now the only question that remains is what was LeBatard’s goal? Did he plan this attack on ESPN as a means of negotiating an exit or did he just get carried away on his radio show and end up going farther than he anticipated? If he wants out, I’m sure ESPN would be fine letting him go. The question is this — would anyone pay him what ESPN pays him now?

In particular, would former ESPN president John Skipper, LeBatard’s long time ally at ESPN, be willing to sign LeBatard’s show for DAZN? If so, this might have been a calculated decision to hasten an exit. It’s an exit, by the way, which would allow John Skipper to get revenge on ESPN by hiring away one of their top woke talents and bringing him to DAZN. (Which is why the subplots on this controversy are so fascinating).

Of course the intriguing question about that move would be this — does LeBatard’s audience care enough about his opinions, sports political or otherwise, to pay $10 a month to hear him share them on DAZN? Or does LeBatard only have a national audience because of the platform ESPN provides him?

Ultimately, as with most things in a capitalistic democracy, the market would decide the answer to that question.

But my general position is this — when high-paid talent starts publicly feuding with management, it’s generally not because things are going great behind the scenes.

This feels like a marriage that is destined for a divorce.

Now that I’ve spent several thousand words sharing my opinions with you here, I figured the only way to close out was with this video for Top Gun 2, which should have you ready to run through a brick wall by the time it ends.

God Bless America.

And Maverick.

And Goose, RIP.

Okay, I’m off to float a river with my family.

Hope y’all have great weekends.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.