Stay In Your Lane

May 7, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Chris Cillizza at CNN pretends to be baffled by Donald Trump’s tweet about the Kentucky Derby. In case you missed it, the horse that crossed the finish line first, Maximum Security, drifted out at the quarter pole, bumping into one horse and impeding another.

Here is the crucial ten seconds showing Maximum Security (in the lead, pink silks) moving out and then back in.

The jockeys of the two horses to his right claimed a foul, and the stewards upheld the claim. They disqualified Maximum Security* and awarded first place to Country House.**

Our Handicapper-in-Chief objected.

(The original tweet had the first mention of the race as “the Kentuky Derby.”)

“Donald Trump’s ‘Kentuky Derby’ tweet makes literally no sense,” says the Cillizza headline. It’s referring to the part about political correctness affecting the stewards’ decision to disqualify Maximum Security.

The PC-DQ connection makes perfect sense to Trump, also to his followers, and to me. Political correctness is all about rules, specifically rules that aim to protect the less powerful against those with more power. These rules limit what the powerful can do and say. Trump likes “rough and tumble.” He decries rules that limit how rough cops can be with people they arrest. He’s upset that police have to be “too nice.” He scoffs at NFL enforcement of rules that protect players. “Too soft.” I could imagine that in an earlier era, he would have had a similar macho reaction against batting helmets or rules against beanballs and spitballs.

It’s not that Trump is against rules and their enforcement. If he owned (or had bet on) the horse that Maximum Security impeded, he would have been screaming for a DQ. But Trump treats rules not as abstract principles to be applied in a universalistic way. For him, rules are just another tool. If they help, use them. If they hinder, break them and denigrate those whose job it is to enforce them —  the courts, the FBI, even Bob Mueller, the straightest of arrows. Trump accuses them all of using their position in a personalized, biased, and self-serving way —  that is, of sharing his own transactional attitude towards rules.

Have Trump’s attacks on these institutions undermined the public’s confidence? The General Social Survey shows no obvious trend in that direction.

Nevertheless, journalist Michael Lewis, in his new podcast series, sees the Trumpian view of rules and their enforcement as a more general trend in the US. His podcast “Against the Rules” argues story by story that Americans have become less willing to stay in their lane and accept the authority of traditional rule enforcers. The initial episode, which Lewis reports mostly from the NBA,  is called, “Ref, You Suck,” a more succinct version of what our president said about the stewards at Churchill Downs.

 * Trump has consistently argued that the US is in grave danger from outsiders — Muslims, Central Americans, immigrants generally — and that we must increase our spending hugely to defend against these dangers. Still, I’m sure that it’s purely coincidence that the horse he thinks should have gotten the roses is named Maximum Security.

** Sondheim lovers should have been backing Country House, which is also the title of a song cut from the original version of Follies, put back in for some later versions. It’s a husband-wife dialogue about the kinds of problems that don’t usually make an appearance in Broadway songs. (A good version — Julie Andrews, Stephen Collins — is here.) The horse paid $156 for a $2 win ticket. My mother, whose handicapping system gave much weight to names, would have had her money on the winner. Of course, since “Country House” is a show tune, she probably would have be it to show. 

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