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Why it's unsurprising to see Trump condemn US Olympic athletes

The Olympics tends to inspire at least some degree of patriotism, with American fans cheering on American athletes. With Trump, however, it's different.
Image: United States v Australia: Bronze Medal Match Women's Football - Olympics: Day 13
Team United States celebrate after scoring their side's fourth goal during the Women's Bronze Medal match against Australia at the Olympics, at Kashima Stadium on Aug. 5, 2021 in Kashima, Japan.Francois Nel / Getty Images

When the United States' women's soccer team lost to Sweden a couple of weeks ago in an early Olympic match, American fans were naturally disappointed. Donald Trump was not.

Not long after the setback, the former president headlined a far-right event in Arizona where he publicly mocked his own country's athletes. "Wokeism makes you lose," Trump said at the gathering, adding, "The U.S. women's soccer team is a very good example of what's going on."

As the Republican celebrated the team's loss -- he even said, "Americans were happy" to see the team lose -- the conservative audience loudly booed the athletes.

And while it's true that booing is a common part of sports, the Olympics tends to inspire at least some modicum of patriotism, with American fans cheering on American athletes representing the United States at the international games.

But in 2021, things are ... different. Trump helped drive the point home yesterday with a written statement deriding the women's soccer team after it won its bronze-medal match in Tokyo.

"If our soccer team, headed by a radical group of Leftist Maniacs, wasn't woke, they would have won the Gold Medal instead of the Bronze. Woke means you lose, everything that is woke goes bad, and our soccer team certainly has.... The woman with the purple hair played terribly and spends too much time thinking about Radical Left politics and not doing her job!"

The former president's statement added that he wanted to see "Patriots" replace "the wokesters" in future games.

There was no shortage of ridiculous dimensions to the Republican's condemnation. We could note, for example, that the U.S. Women's National Team won the 2019 World Cup, and the athletes' political beliefs didn't stand in the way of their success. We could also note the two teams that will play for the Olympic gold are Canada and Sweden -- countries that many U.S. conservatives would perceive as liberal.

But more important than the details is Trump's twisted approach to patriotism: the former president envisions a dynamic in which Americans root not for their country's athletes, but rather, for conservatives and against liberals. If some of the women soccer players are on the left, the Republican believes they deserve to be derided and mocked for their beliefs -- and their setbacks on the pitch should be celebrated and blamed on their politics.

These world-class athletes may be representing the United States on a global stage, but the failed former president believes they should nevertheless be "replaced" by Americans who think as he does. Being conscious of discrimination, injustice, and inequalities in society, according to Trump, "means you lose."

While it's clearly an unsettling perspective, it's also a predictable one: Trump never saw himself as president of the United States, so much as he considered himself the president of those who looked, thought, and spoke like him. The Republican was far less interested in being a national leader, and more committed to being a tribal one.

He may see our Olympians wearing the "USA" label, but Trump believes he's entitled to decide who counts as "real" Americans -- and women soccer players with progressive political beliefs fail to meet his standards.

There's no modern precedent for anything like this. Prominent American political leaders traditionally would've faced a fierce backlash for attacking U.S. athletes while they represent their country at the Olympics.

But in 2021, Trump is unafraid, confident that his political allies will cheer him on, even as he refuses to cheer on his own country's athletes.