Coming Up On Five Months Ago

knight and trump

Nearly five months ago I posted on my blog that I thought the best way to understand Donald Trump’s appeal as a political force was to look back to the phenomenon that was Bob Knight as an active college basketball coach. In the midst of what some are calling a “meltdown” of Trump’s presidential campaign, I return to that point from early March 2016. I stand by it.

I started out as a fan of Knight’s and then wasn’t. That evolution took a few years back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I certainly admit that when I held up my beer as I ran through the Main Library on the night of Indiana University’s national collegiate basketball championship in 1987, I did so as as a follower of Bob Knight. I celebrated sincerely.

I was a personal witness to his touching and sensitive treatment of an impoverished local husband-and-wife and, in nearly the blink of an eye, his scathing and bullying conduct toward an overweight student. Both in public.

Over the course of the next several years the weirdness mounted. Knight did or said this ridiculous thing, one by one, until finally I just had to give it all up and say that whatever positives there were about the guy, the negatives outweighed them. I know some of you will fundamentally disagree with that conclusion. I respect your opinion.

When Knight talked about graduation rates, he made sense and was strikingly compelling. When Knight talked about ethics in recruiting, whether by he, his staff, or alumni, he was captivating and persuasive. When he raised money for good causes, he was charming and engaging. When he ruminated on his favorite subject–history!–he was interesting and intelligent.

But when he veered into practically anything else, he crashed. Women, rape, discipline, personal interaction, social manners, his approach to leading youth, and more, Knight was amazing in his ability to offend decency, propriety, and common-sense standards of a reasonable life.

It was the world’s perfect fit when Knight endorsed Trump in the run-up to the Indiana Republican Primary.

I didn’t have the same period of good feelings toward Trump that I had with Knight. I absolutely had the same view of the handful of settings and topics where I thought he was saying things that needed saying and challenging things that needed challenging. However, a handful isn’t nearly enough. Day after day we’re seeing Trump stumble and sneer and shout his way through topics and issues of which he has no understanding or, worse, a totally ridiculous and hammer-headed understanding (in my view).

Knight retired from coaching before lapsing into a much worse version of Woody Hayes’s exit from coaching. That was fortunate.

Slightly more than three months remain until the election. That’s a loss less time than the five months since my aforementioned blog post. We’ll see how Trump turns out.