Much of Anderson Cooper’s hourly show on CNN on Tuesday night was spent in an interview with Megan Rapinoe, the biggest star on the World-Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team. The pair discussed that success, with Cooper admitting that his knowledge of sports was perhaps not as robust as it could be. Eventually, he asked Rapinoe about her broadly publicized dismissal of a post-victory visit to the White House.
No one she’d spoken with on the team planned to accept an invitation from President Trump to visit the White House, she said.
"I don't think anyone on the team has any interest in lending the platform that we've worked so hard to build and the things that we fight for and the way that we live our life,” she explained. “I don't think that we want that to be co-opted or corrupted by this administration.”
Cooper said that there was a good chance that Trump, a cable-news aficionado, might be watching. Did she have a message for the president, if he was?
Rapinoe thought for a moment and then looked at the camera.
"I think that I would say that your message is excluding people,” she said. “You're excluding me. You're excluding people that look like me. You're excluding people of color. You're excluding, you know, Americans that maybe support you.”
“I think that we need to have a reckoning with the message that you have and what you’re saying about ‘Make America great again,’ ” she continued. “I think that you’re harking back to an era that was not great for everyone. It might have been great for a few people, and maybe America is great for a few people right now, but it’s not great for enough Americans in this world, and I think that we have a responsibility, each and every one of us, you have an incredible responsibility as, you know, the chief of this country to take care of every single person, and you need to do better for everyone.”
“It was a very oppressive place — and that’s not to say that it was the worst place in the world,” Rapinoe said. “I think that’s one of the things that a lot of people go to. No one is saying that they want to leave America, but I think as one of the great countries in the world, and for sure we want to see ourselves as that, we need to constantly look within and challenge ourselves to be better so everyone else can be better around us.”
That interview came during the 8 p.m. hour. At about the same time, over on Fox News — a network Trump was much more likely to have been watching — Tucker Carlson was presenting his own assessment of the problems with America.
“The Democratic candidates for president are on the road this week telling voters that the United States is an awful country,” Carlson said, coming back from a commercial break. “Of all the lies these people tell — and there are many — this is the most absurd,” he continued. “In fact, the United States is the kindest, most open-minded place on the planet. The U.S. has done more for other people and received less in return than any nation in history by far.”
He singled out the example of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who immigrated to the United States from Somalia as a refugee when she was a child. She became a citizen and, last year, was elected to Congress.
"Ilhan Omar has an awful lot to be grateful for, but she isn't grateful,” Carlson said. “Not at all. After everything America has done for Omar and for her family, she hates this country more than ever.”
He quoted from a recent Washington Post article profiling Omar. Greg Jaffe and Souad Mekhennet wrote that in a presentation Omar made at an event earlier this year, she offered one version of the story of America. In it, the United States “wasn’t the bighearted country that saved her from a brutal war and a bleak refugee camp. It wasn’t a meritocracy that helped her attend college or vaulted her into Congress. Instead, it was the country that had failed to live up to its founding ideals, a place that had disappointed her and so many immigrants, refugees and minorities like her.”
The article continues, quoting Omar.
"I grew up in an extremely unjust society, and the only thing that made my family excited about coming to the United States was that the United States was supposed to be the country that guaranteed justice to all,” she said to an audience of high school students. “So, I feel it necessary for me to speak about that promise that’s not kept.”
Carlson didn’t include the part of the story that Omar relayed about her frustration at the arrest of a woman who stole bread to feed her grandchild. Carlson instead stopped reading after the line about how Omar felt that the United States had disappointed immigrants and minorities like her.
“If anything, that’s an understatement. Omar isn’t disappointed in America; she is enraged by it,” Carlson said. “Virtually every public statement she makes accuses Americans of bigotry and racism.”
He quickly went much further.
"Ilhan Omar is living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country,” he said. “A system designed to strengthen America is instead undermining it. Some of the very people we try hardest to help have come to hate us passionately.” He claimed that the United States was perhaps “importing people from places whose values are simply antithetical to ours” — behavior that he claimed had doomed ancient Rome.
"So be grateful for Ilhan Omar, annoying as she is,” he said. “She’s a living fire alarm, a warning to the rest of us we better change our immigration system immediately. Or else.”
At about the same time, a few cable networks apart, Rapinoe and Carlson were inadvertently staking out two poles in America's broad political fight.
Earlier this month, a survey from the Economist and YouGov dug into partisan views of patriotism. Democrats were less likely to say without qualification that they were proud to be American and more likely to say that one could criticize the country while still being a patriot. Republicans were more likely to see actions like refusing to serve in a war or burning a flag as disqualifying someone from being considered a patriot and more likely to express pride at being an American.
That pattern plays out in the comments on Fox and CNN. Rapinoe — a representative of the United States on an international platform — presented a view of the country as improving but not perfect. Carlson presented frustration at injustices and problems in the United States as an example not only of Omar being insufficiently grateful but as a purported example of how immigrants are a threat to the United States.
Omar’s and Rapinoe’s frustrations aren’t dissimilar, but it seems safe to assume that Carlson doesn’t consider Rapinoe — white, not Muslim, famous — as a “living fire alarm” we must immediately heed. Carlson’s presentation of Omar as a hostile outsider who demands unrealistic change in the United States collapses once you recognize that the differences between her complaints and Rapinoe’s are superficial ones tied to the nation of Omar’s birth. By contrasting Rapinoe’s comments with Omar’s — America can and should strive to be better — the racial and religious bias in Carlson’s commentary is made obvious.
As Carlson was disparaging immigrants like Omar, Cooper was asking Rapinoe about having in the past knelt during the national anthem.
"Can you see a day where you don't — where you do put your hand over your heart and sing the national anthem?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m very hopeful for that, absolutely,” she replied. “I mean, I think it’s going to take a lot of years and a tremendous amount of work by this country, but I’m absolutely hopeful for that. . . . It’s going to take a tremendous amount and maybe we — you know, maybe in my lifetime, likely in my lifetime we don’t get there, but that hope still persists.”
“I think that if we’re not striving for that,” she continued, “then we’re sort of just in this dead space.”
A fire alarm in its own way.