President Trump won the white working-class vote in 2016 despite being the GOP candidate arguably most removed from white working-class voters. This is in part because Trump has taken on the role of a leader in the culture wars that the demographic regularly fights. But in his latest comments on football, the president reminds us that his outlook is often most consistent with those of the elites that he claims to despise.
When “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan asked the president whether he would allow his youngest son, Barron, to play football, Trump said:
"It’s very, it’s very tough question. It’s a very good question. If he wanted to? Yes. Would I steer him that way? No, I wouldn’t.
“I just don’t like the reports that I see coming out having to do with football — I mean, it’s a dangerous sport, and I think it’s really tough, I thought the equipment would get better, and it has. The helmets have gotten far better, but it hasn’t solved the problem. So, you know I hate to say it, because I love to watch football. I think the NFL is a great product, but I really think that, as far as my son — well, I’ve heard NFL players saying they wouldn’t let their sons play football. So. It’s not totally unique, but I would have a hard time with it.”
Trump’s view isn’t unique — and is pretty consistent with trends from parents from the president’s demographic groups. Families that are white and wealthy are increasingly removing their sons from football over concerns about safety.
Some conservatives pushed back on Trump speaking ill of one of the country’s greatest athletic traditions — especially among Midwestern white conservatives looking to the Manhattan billionaire to champion traditional notions of Americana.
Others noted that Trump once again appears to reject an interest or value that many of his most loyal supporters consider close to his heart.
Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith tweeted: “By steering his son away from football, Trump is speaking to a larger trend that we are seeing with whiter, wealthier families. ... The sport and its extreme health risks are being relegated to the poorest and the blackest.”
A University of Michigan survey found that about 44 percent of black boys play tackle football while 29 percent of white boys play the sport.
The Atlantic’s Alana Semuels wrote about how high school football is growing in the states with the highest shares of black people but declining in states that are predominantly white. She also noted that the percentage of black players in college football has increased since 2000 while the number of white players has decreased, and that black adults are more likely to support youth football than white adults. She wrote:
“This divergence paints a troubling picture of how economic opportunity—or a lack thereof—governs which boys are incentivized to put their body and brain at risk to play. Depending on where families live, and what other options are available to them, they see either a game that is too violent to consider or one that is necessary and important, if risky. Millions of Americans still watch football; NFL ratings were up this season. That a distinct portion of families won’t let their children play creates a disturbing future for the country’s most popular game.”
White working-class voters still largely back Trump, although at lower rates than they did before the midterm elections and government shutdown. But that is in part because they continue to view the president as an advocate for a way of life and values they feel are constantly under attack from the left. If Trump becomes increasingly vocal about his lack of support for their traditions, he could see their support erode further — and that could be disastrous for a president whose overall approval rating has consistently been low.