MESA & BENNETT: Head of the Goon Squad
Playing Politics

When you see a hockey player on the ice smashed up against the glass, that is often the work of the “goon.” Beloved by fans for their ruthless attacks and entertaining play, goons — players who are usually kept on the roster to exact revenge for dirty hits against their team — always hit back harder. Their message is clear: “Do not try that again.”

If the White House were a hockey team, President Donald Trump would be the goon. He always hits back hard, and his fans love it.

Some of his biggest moments have their roots in long-standing beef. Frustrated with the network’s coverage of his campaign, transition and first weeks in office, Trump tied CNN to swirling reports of false news stories that circulated in the weeks leading up to the election in November. He swung at reporter Jim Acosta during his first news conference since the summer with the ultimate viral epithet: “You are fake news!”

Trump’s goon-like tendencies trace back long before his presidential campaign. In December 2006, Rosie O’Donnell criticized Trump’s decision not to fire Tara Conner, the Miss Teen USA pageant winner who was discovered to have abused drugs and alcohol. He quickly fired back, telling People magazine that O’Donnell was “a real loser” and “a woman out of control.”

Clearly, Trump fits this role, and in the past, it has been fun to watch his antics from afar. Yet, as the president, he continues to throw his weight around to delegitimize his critics and discourage dissent.

Recently, Trump has stared down blowback over his executive order halting immigration from seven majority-Muslim nations. Through protests, denunciations and bad press worldwide, Trump keeps on swinging at his critics. His attacks on renowned media outlets, denials of the legitimacy of negative poll numbers and disrespect toward the judiciary are the goon at work. Relentless in retaliation, Trump is attempting to suppress any and all opposition through brute force.

The success of a goon, however, is measured by impact over time. Not every punch will land, and he might get sent to the penalty box, but, in his mind, that is not really the point. Any time he incites fear, he wins. The other team might be too scared to take that first swing against an outrageous policy — and that is when the goon has done his job.

Trump, being the goon of his own administration, is a rare feat for a president. This is something we have not seen in American politics before; often, the hard-hitter is a member of the White House staff, who uses his or her distance from the president to attack political opponents while preserving the boss’s image.

Trump’s calculus seems to be that assuming the role of the goon himself is more of an asset than a liability, and this message may have carried him to the presidency. Central to his appeal is his “devil-may-care” approach to politics. He removes the gloves of political correctness and starts throwing punches, not afraid to say whatever he thinks. Removing the gravity of each decision he makes, his rough style makes him fun to watch but dangerous to his opponents — just like the goon on the ice.

Try as he might, the president cannot prevent his opponents from taking shots and offering criticism. Democrats need to learn how to beat Trump at his own game: by not running from a fight. If they refuse to be silenced, tactics of fear and intimidation become useless.

In this absurdist comedy of a presidency, opponents of Trump must remain vigilant — especially with a guy in the Oval who is always looking to pick a fight.

Christian Mesa and Aaron Bennett are sophomores in the College. PLAYING POLITICS appears every other Friday.

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