Donald Trump vs. LaVar Ball

by Jim Geraghty

Happy Thanksgiving Week! Making the click-through worthwhile: A qualified defense of Trump’s tweet about LaVar Ball, how we’re outsourcing our thinking about political figures, and the ugly truth about Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones.

A Ball Goes Out of Bounds

A minute, qualified, half-defense of Trump’s otherwise inexcusable Tweet about the three UCLA players who were arrested in China and ultimately released.

If you don’t watch much sports television or listen to sports radio, you may not know who LaVar Ball is. He had a short, unspectacular career in professional sports, and is the father of at least one, and perhaps two or three potential basketball superstars, his sons Lonzo (currently a highly-touted rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers), LiAngelo (currently a freshman at UCLA), and LaMelo, currently playing at Chino Hills High School. One suspects that if they ever made a gender-reversed basketball-focused reboot of the musical Gypsy, LaVar Ball would be Mama Rose, determined to push his sons to the heights of fame and fortune, no matter the cost.

Since his son Lonzo became a star, LaVar Ball has become an increasingly outspoken and high-profile sports personality, boasting that his son is better than NBA MVP Stephen Curry, contending that he himself could defeat Michael Jordan one-on-one, and that he expects his sons to make a billion dollars in endorsements over the course of their careers. There is, ironically, something Trump-like in his wild bombast that makes the national sports media turn their heads and instantly need to react.*

It’s also worth noting that LaVar Ball is something of an idiot, making his sons’ entry into the realm of professional basketball much more difficult, with the perpetual potential of a camera-hogging, controversy-courting, expectation-raising maniac of a father following them throughout their careers.

The UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team was invited to China for a tournament last week. Chinese police accused LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill, and Cody Riley of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store near their hotel in Hangzhou, China. As the Los Angeles Times Bill Plaschke summarized:

The three UCLA freshman basketball players didn’t steal items from just one Chinese store, but three stores. Their loot was discovered only after police searched bags in the team bus and hotel. They were released back to the United States not for lack of evidence, but through the intervention of two presidents.

Yes, the players are young men, and young men do foolish things, but “don’t commit multiple acts of shoplifting in China” does not seem like an excessively harsh rule. A quick refresher: China is not a free country. It may be a wonderful place to visit, with many amazing sights and friendly locals, but it is not a free country. Visitors should not expect that shoplifting will be treated as a minor crime, or that their status as college basketball players will protect them from the legal consequences. The players embarrassed their team, their school, and their country.

During his two-day visit to China, President Trump asked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to help resolve the situation. (Note that this is a case of the president of the United States not intervening to help a group that is unjustly imprisoned or suffering human rights abuses, but asking for leniency in a case of invited guests who indisputably committed a crime.)

During an interview with ESPN — where LaVar Ball seems to spend roughly half of his waking hours these days — the father examined the burning embers of a potential international incident and promptly poured gasoline on everything:

“Who?” LaVar Ball told ESPN on Friday, when asked about Trump’s involvement in the matter. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

“As long as my boy’s back here, I’m fine,” LaVar Ball told ESPN. “I’m happy with how things were handled. A lot of people like to say a lot of things that they thought happened over there. Like I told him, ‘They try to make a big deal out of nothing sometimes.’ I’m from L.A. I’ve seen a lot worse things happen than a guy taking some glasses. My son has built up enough character that one bad decision doesn’t define him. Now if you can go back and say when he was 12 years old he was shoplifting and stealing cars and going wild, then that’s a different thing.”

You can’t begrudge Trump for grumbling that Ball is an ingrate — first denying that Trump had anything to do with the release, and then downplaying the seriousness of the crime. (Try the “I’ve seen a lot worse things happen” defense in a Chinese court and see how far that takes you.)

Out of all the people Trump has denounced in his little rants on Twitter, LaVar Ball probably had it coming a lot more than most. Perhaps it was an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment, but his son just embarrassed the country and created an international incident; a little humility, gratitude, and graciousness would be appropriate right now. And I’d bet a decent number of sports fans are tired of seeing Ball as the ubiquitous hey-look-at-me outrage-generating chatterbox of the basketball world.

Now, should President Trump be tweeting his easily-understandable irritation with Ball? No, and this is why Twitter is dangerous in his hands; his initial, gut-level reaction is instantly broadcast out for all the world to see. Accounts of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton show us that Trump is not the first temperamental, uncouth, or easily-angered figure to sit in the Oval Office. But those presidents weren’t given the technological freedom to vent their feelings to everyone on the globe without editing or preparation.

*None of this is to say that a lot of dads don’t relate to Ball’s irrepressible-to-the-point-of-insufferable pride in his children. Have I mentioned that my older son is already a green senior belt in karate and my younger son is the unstoppable dynamo of the youth soccer Authenticity Woods Blue Clump (when he’s actually paying attention)? Clearly, they’re destined for greatness, let me show you roughly thirty-thousand photos from my phone . . . 

We’re Outsourcing Our Thinking

We’re outsourcing our critical thinking. From a CNN panel this morning:

If Jesus Christ gets down off the cross and told me Trump is with Russia, I would tell him, ‘Hold on a second. I need to check with the President if it’s true.’

Maybe Trump colluded with Russia, maybe he didn’t. But if you don’t consider Jesus Christ to be a reliable witness . . .  if a guy can turn water into wine, heal the sick, walk on water, cater giant crowds with a couple loaves and fishes, and return from the dead, I think He’s likely to also have sufficient dominion over time and space to have clear perspective on an international conspiracy.

From this morning’s Boston Globe:

Over the last week, the Globe called dozens of evangelical pastors in Alabama and elsewhere who had supported Moore before the allegations emerged, gleaning from a list of names posted to the Facebook account of the candidate’s wife.

None of the nearly 10 pastors reached by phone said the allegations of sexual misconduct changed their views about Moore. Several said the allegations made them more proud to vote for the former judge.

Repeatedly, the pastors attempted to discredit Moore’s accusers in personal terms, with some dismissing their emotional stories as “crocodile tears” and “fake news.”

“I don’t know how much these women are getting paid, but I can only believe they’re getting a healthy sum,” said pastor Earl Wise, a Moore supporter from Millbrook, Ala.

Wise said he would support Moore even if the allegations were true and the candidate was proved to have sexually molested teenage girls and women.

“There ought to be a statute of limitations on this stuff,” Wise said. “How these gals came up with this, I don’t know. They must have had some sweet dreams somewhere down the line.

“Plus,” he added, “there are some 14-year-olds, who, the way they look, could pass for 20.”

“You’re asking me to believe them,’’ Raddish said, “when their own mother didn’t have enough red blood in her to . . . go and report this? Come on.”

Yeah, why didn’t those mothers go down to the local district attorney and report that their daughters were being inappropriately sexually pursued by . . . the local assistant district attorney? “Sir, your right-hand-man is pulling a Humbert Humbert, I’m sure you’ll get right on investigating and prosecuting this, even though the successful prosecution will create a giant scandal in your office and make you look like an idiot for hiring him, and I’m certain you will, in no way, shape or form, attack the credibility of my daughter and publicly bring up every embarrassing fact possible to ensure no one believes her, in order to protect yourself, your assistant and public faith in your office, right?”

Now, if those pastors had simply said, “the paramount goal of my political effort is to end the abominable human toll of abortion, and my conscience requires me to vote for the candidate who brings this country closer to that goal . . . ” well, it would be a little easier to understand. We could argue about whether it’s the right choice, but it would at least be more logically consistent.

Our Alexandra DeSanctis points out the ugly truth about Democratic Senate candidate in Alabama Doug Jones – he doesn’t believe in any legal restrictions on abortion:

Jones: I am a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body, and I’m going to stand up for that, and I’m going to make sure that that continues to happen. I want to make sure that as we go forward, people have access to contraception, they have access to the abortion that they might need, if that’s what they choose to do.

Todd: You wouldn’t be in favor of legislation that said “ban abortion after 20 weeks,” or something like that?

Jones: No, I’m not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose. That’s just the position that I’ve had for many years, it’s the position I continue to have.

May the best man . . .  eh, never mind, just vote already.

ADDENDA: Hey, it was a good weekend. Mugabe stepped down, Charles Manson’s dead, and Hillary Clinton’s back to ranting about the vast right wing conspiracy:

“Our body politic’s immune system has been impaired, because there has been a concerted effort, starting with the creation of the Fox network.”

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty