Super Bowl 50 wasn’t even close. At the end of the night on Sunday, the 17-2 Carolina Panthers lost to the 15-4 Denver Broncos by a whopping 14 points. The loss was a bitter one for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. In a post-game press conference at the team’s training facility, the visibly irritated Carolina QB refused to remove his hood, sat purse-lipped and with arms folded, and scowled at the reporters tasked with writing the season’s postmortem.
“I’ve been on the record saying that I’m a sore loser,” said a morose Newton. “Who likes to lose? You show me a good loser, and I’m going to show you a loser.” Soon thereafter, the sulking quarterback stormed off the stage in a huff.
In a modern America that seems allergic to unambiguous victories, there will be millions who understand where Newton is coming from. In the real world, there are no participation trophies; no accolades for second place. Donald Trump’s vacuous slogan, which posits that the nation “does not win anymore,” is not entirely without merit. President Barack Obama entered office with no higher ideal than to cut the nation he was elected to lead down to size. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism,” Obama contended in April of 2009. Exceptionalism is not a shared concept. It is fundamentally binary. Exceptionality is, well, the exception to the rule. “I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world,” the president then added. His first outing as the commander of a global military coalition over the skies of Libya, however, was characterized by the absurd and self-defeating doctrine of “leading from behind.” At almost every turn, the president has sought to hand to foreign nations the reins of authority that America once held and of which Obama was allegedly so proud.
The idea that the world’s uncontested superpower, a frontrunner in trade and economic development, the only nation on earth capable of projecting sustained force and toward which the globe still looks for direction (despite Obama’s best efforts) “doesn’t win anymore” is self-indulgent, mopey fatuousness. The United States has proven remarkably resilient to the efforts of those who would render the world’s indispensable nation just another power. Just because Trump backers are justifiably starved for a commander-in-chief who refuses to apologize for his country’s prohibitive dominance, it should not give them license to excuse ugliness and poor comportment.
The hundreds of thousands of South Carolinian fans of the North Carolina-based team should be ashamed of its quarterback; not because he had the audacity to seek victory and because he was disappointed in himself when he failed, but because he behaved like a child. Newton’s conduct at that press conference was abhorrent. The notion that a “good loser” is a loser nonetheless is a mentality that is antithetical to sportsmanlike conduct. It is not conducive to team-building or comity. It is the foot-stamping tantrum of the maladjusted. Parents in the Palmetto State now have the unenviable task of teaching their children that Cam Newton, an athlete whom their offspring likely looks up to and whose actions they aspire to emulate, was wrong and that his behavior was ugly. These burdened adults should be cursing Newton under their breath for abdicating his role as a model for their state’s children.
If South Carolinian parents are lucky enough to convince their kids that infantile paroxysms of self-pity are poor form, they will have permanently contradicted themselves and scuttled that life lesson if, in nine days, the state hands Donald Trump another victory. Trump’s behavior has been worse than Newton’s by several orders of magnitude. It is the duty of responsible adults to demonstrate to the next generation that his behavior does not deserve to be rewarded.
This is a vulgar man who calls his distinguished GOP opponents names that respectable publications dare not print, and who contends that his victories are in part due to his unapologetic tastelessness. This is a man who calls female reporters “bimbo” and writers with whom he disagrees “dummy” and “loser.” This is a man who called the upstanding Erick Erickson a “total lowlife” and “a major sleaze and buffoon” for having the gall to criticize him. This is a boorish man who appeals to crude slang to imply that the act of failing at one’s charge is the equivalent of being on the receiving end of unwanted sexual intercourse. This is a man who takes to his Twitter account to litigate the pettiest of grievances against any individual or organization that scrutinizes his past, as they should any prospective leader of the free world. This is a man who routinely uses four-letter words on national television and the stump. This is a man who lies brazenly and habitually, and who refuses ever to admit any misstep lest he shatter the fabricated aura of his own infallibility. This is a man who broke the news to his second wife that he was divorcing her by leaking it to a newspaper and leaving that revelation on the bed for her to read when she awoke. This is a litigious man, a trifling man who – as a private citizen – tried to wield the power of the state to crush his enemies, even if they happen to be septuagenarian widows. Imagine what he would do with the legitimate use of lethal force?
In nine days, South Carolina’s Republican voters will head to the polls. Many thousands are likely to vote in favor of behavior they would recoil to see in their friends and family, or in their children. Maybe they believe that theirs is a vote of protest, but if New Hampshire demonstrated anything it is that Donald Trump can win the presidential nomination and the White House. This man can become the President of the United States. He could dominate our culture and our discourse for four long years, if not more. He could become the figure to which the nation’s children look toward and aspire to model themselves after. This man could redefine our culture and recast it in a coarse and loutish mold. South Carolina should look to its children and see in them the future that they want for this nation – not solely in macroeconomic or geopolitical terms, but in a cultural sense, as well.
The anxiety that this administration has invited over seven directionless and stagnating years is reflected in the strength of a candidate who promises that America will soon be “winning” again. But winning what? If that means sacrificing basic human decency, the price of such a pyrrhic victory will not be worth the reward.