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To Trump, Life Is Like A Football Game: Winning At Any Cost

It's tempting to see the FBI's investigation of Trump's Russia ties as his Spygate, writes Steve Almond. But that doesn't capture the enormity of what's at stake. Pictured: Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie poses with New Jersey Generals head coach Walt Michaels, left, and General's owner, Donald Trump, at a news conference in New York, Feb. 5, 1985. An official announcement was made that Flutie signed a multi-million-dollar pact with the USFL team. (Marty Lederhandler/AP)closemore
It's tempting to see the FBI's investigation of Trump's Russia ties as his Spygate, writes Steve Almond. But that doesn't capture the enormity of what's at stake. Pictured: Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie poses with New Jersey Generals head coach Walt Michaels, left, and General's owner, Donald Trump, at a news conference in New York, Feb. 5, 1985. An official announcement was made that Flutie signed a multi-million-dollar pact with the USFL team. (Marty Lederhandler/AP)

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There were many reasons the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act imploded last week, chief among them the fact that Paul Ryan’s long-awaited bill was a huge tax cut for the rich dressed up as health policy. But the effort was also doomed by the new president’s inability to stay on message.

For instance, at a rally last Monday in Louisville, where he was supposed to be building support for the GOP bill, Trump instead went off on a riff about Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who sparked controversy last year when he protested institutional racism by kneeling during the National Anthem.

Trump was eager to take credit for the fact that Kaepernick, a free agent, is yet to sign with a team for next year. “It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” he crowed, drawing roars of approval from the crowd. “Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”

Trump loves to grandstand like this. But it’s no coincidence that he would turn his attention away from the wonky business of the governance to America’s favorite sport. For Trump, football is an affirmation of his much darker worldview: that life is a zero-sum game divided into winners and losers. Your job is to win by any means necessary.

For Trump, football is an affirmation of his much darker worldview: that life is a zero-sum game divided into winners and losers. Your job is to win by any means necessary.

Which brings us to FBI Director James Comey, who is charged with investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.

At his congressional hearing last week, Comey revealed that, as a New York Giants fan, he hated the New England Patriots because of their sustained excellence. “No matter who they play, I’d like them to lose,” Comey revealed, much to the consternation of Patriots Nation.

Comey was trying to make a simple point: The Kremlin’s loathing for Hillary Clinton was reason enough for Russia to support Team Trump. The question Comey is left to investigate is whether Trump, or any of his campaign staff, colluded with Team Russia.

Amid such charges, this talk of football may seem trivial. But it’s not.

Trump is a lifelong fan who has dreamed of owning an NFL franchise for years, and whose inept management helped bankrupt the insurgent United States Football League.

Comey was trying to make a simple point: The Kremlin’s loathing for Hillary Clinton was reason enough for Russia to support Team Trump.

He spoke during the campaign about how much he hates the new rules intended to keep players from suffering head injuries. The refs, he insisted, were a bunch of sissies who were ruining a manly game.

His love of the Patriots should come as no surprise. They're the dominant NFL team, as Comey noted, and Trump worships winners.

To a guy like him, the fact that the Patriots have a history of breaking the rules to win (i.e. Spygate and Deflategate) is probably a point in their favor.

Which brings us back to the FBI investigation that hovers over the new administration.

The central question Comey will seek to answer, in the coming months, is whether Trump’s desire to win the 2016 election was so great that he, and/or his campaign staff, worked with a foreign power toward that end.

It might be tempting to view the FBI probe as a geopolitical version of Spygate. But that comparison doesn’t capture the enormity of what’s at stake here.

The sitting president of the United States, and his minions, stand accused of working with our chief global adversary to subvert our democracy.

Is it possible that Trump’s compulsion to win at any cost is so great that he viewed the election as just another sports contest?

That’s not the mindset of a patriot. It’s the mindset of a traitor.

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Steve Almond Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of 11 books of fiction and nonfiction. He writes Cog's advice column, #HeavyMeddle, and is the co-host of Dear Sugar Radio.

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