Grace at Melbourne — and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The phenomenal 2017 Australian Open tennis finals demonstrated pure grace in every sense. Not just with the sublime and timeless poetry in motion of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Venus and Serena Williams on the court. Their comments during the trophy ceremonies and after-match interviews choked me up with their kindness, kindliness, respect, courtesy, conciliation and consideration.
Maybe you saw. Serena, speaking of her beloved sister and rival, said, “She’s the only reason I’m standing here today, and the only reason that the Williams sisters exist.” Roger said, “Tennis is a tough sport. There are no draws, but if there were, I would have been happy to share it with Rafa. …. I would have been happy to lose.”
Tennis champions are unique models in professional sports for how to be gracious both in victory and defeat. Touring amateurs and pros often know one another, travel together, and work out together, and sometimes rivals team up to play doubles together. Above all, they know that grace is the difference between champs and chumps. Great tennis coaches teach prodigies and pros alike that grace is part of the game, even if emotions sometimes take over and expletives — often directed at oneself — ensue and rackets are broken in frustration.
The Aussie final and inherent grace of tennis was a whiplash juxtaposition to the harsh alt-reality of Trump’s Washington. The new Administration — backed by the lockstep GOP Congress and alt-right/alt-facts troll media — doesn’t just eschew grace. It seems to thrill in stomping on it. Maybe Trump and team assume they’re giving supporters what they voted for, a completely different White House that regards grace as elitist. I hope I’m wrong.
Where GOP icon Ronald Reagan was about cheer, grace and morning in America, this White House, unlike any other in my near 60 years, seems hell-bent on vengeance, believing that “to the victors go the spoils,” and delighting in sticking it to the “losers” and picking every fight and scab it can find.
Nothing wrong with policy differences. That’s democracy. But there’s a spite, a meanness, to this gang that doesn’t even fake grace to embrace and govern for all Americans. It seems to relish in slamming and provoking the defeated, inspired not by Lincoln’s call to our better angels but Insane Clown Posse’s “In Yo Face.”
Maybe the Trump inner circle has taken President Obama’s “bucket list” routine at the 2015 White House Correspondent’s Dinner not as a joke but as guidance. (“After the midterm elections,” Obama quipped, “my advisers asked me, ‘Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?’ And I said, ‘Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list. Take executive action on immigration? Bucket.’”)
Given its lack of experience (and sense of humor), maybe Trump’s posse thought the Obama routine was a model, a cheat sheet, for what presidents are supposed to do, even as the GOP reviled his “officious” executive actions. And so, just a week out of the gate, Trump launched his bucket list:
Blow up sensible immigration policy, demonize and hurt innocent families, and insult the entire US and global Muslim community — in a way that worries even Dick Cheney? Bucket.
Destroy trade and diplomatic relations with our closest global allies and trading partners and throw our role in the world into confusion and disarray? Bucket.
Make sure Obamacare fails by cutting off funding and outreach to help people sign up who need healthcare? Bucket.
Worry farmers, communities and families affected by pollution, flooding, violent storms and other climate disasters? Bucket.
Declare war on the serious media that does its job and doesn’t bow and scrape to Trump? Bucket.
Issue sloppy, confusing, unvetted Presidential executive orders written in haste by inexperienced staff, surprising your own hand-picked cabinet officials who are responsible for making them happen? Slam-dunk bucket!
The Trump bucket list goes on, with too many daily insults to decorum, intelligence, common sense, informed policy and yes, grace, to keep track of. It’s like this insane clown posse is trying to make a mess and entropy is some kind of grand strategy too brilliant for anyone to understand. Or maybe the Trump posse is counting on people to cut some slack because everyone is so new and just learning the job. Whatever the rhyme or reason, we’ve seen high school student governments work smarter than this band of vindictive naifs.
It would be understandable, though troubling, were the Trump regime simply taking on the mantle of mandate, carrying out the will of the people. Many did want Trump to blow up the status quo. Even if they didn’t know what the new status should be and trusted he’d figure it out because he said so, and he’s a smart businessman.
But, whatever this president and his alt-right/alt-facts echo chamber say to excite his base, this administration does not have a national mandate. Even the craven GOP knows Trump is no Ronald Reagan and worries about hitching its wagon to a star that’s turning out to be a big exploding ball of gas.
Aside from Trump’s 3 million popular vote loss (and classic loser response that the winner cheated), he sports the lowest initial job approval rating, and the highest disapproval rating, in presidential history, Gallup reported. More than half the country — more than who voted for him — thinks Trump is doing a bad job. Buyer’s remorse?
Anyone who rejects the polls, the facts, the critics or common sense, anyone who still believes the nation is foursquare behind Trump and his clown posse, probably knows he or she is grasping at dwindling straws. Good luck with that, but know you are also letting this posse screw up the country, and making you its hand puppet.
Trump die-hards, go ahead and think you won a presidency and new Washington that will lead our nation to a better place. Go ahead and harsh (still!) on the Democrats and liberals you defeated. Go ahead and believe the alt-right/alt-facts folks who make good money and maybe live better than you do by indulging your darkest beliefs. Go ahead and snark at protesters and anyone who challenges the Trump administration and its demand to shut up and suck it up like losers should do. (But think about how you would react if — gasp! — President Hillary Clinton demanded that you shut/suck it up.)
Real winners have the grace to embrace those they won against. They know that winners and losers often exchange places, so it’s best if we respect one another for the good of the game. Roger and Rafa and Venus and Serena know this, as winners do, and proved it again at Melbourne. Sometimes a tennis lesson is more than a tennis lesson.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington, DC, communications professional and writer.