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Rosenblum writes: "Nothing says America like Super Bowl Sunday, the annual gladiator pageant of patriotic zeal, beloved by all but sports-scorning grinches and chickens with amputated wings. Pandemic and civil war be damned. As in old Rome, bread (at least pizza) and circuses prevail."

Sen. Ted Cruz. (photo: Susan Walsh/AP)
Sen. Ted Cruz. (photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

"The Stupidity, It Burns"

By Mort Rosenblum, Reader Supported News

11 February 21


UCSON – Nothing says America like Super Bowl Sunday, the annual gladiator pageant of patriotic zeal, beloved by all but sports-scorning grinches and chickens with amputated wings. Pandemic and civil war be damned. As in old Rome, bread (at least pizza) and circuses prevail.

Last night was classic. Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, at 43 the stuff of legends, skunked the 25-year-old Kansas City kid, Patrick Mahomes, who gamely threw passes despite an injured foot against an overpowering defense. The Buccaneers creamed the Chiefs, 31-9.

Big bruisers’ eyes moistened at the outset as a singer belted out that line in “America the Beautiful”: “… and crown thy good, with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” The theme was unity, from Joe and Jill Biden’s opening words to the $11 million-a-minute commercials.

Bruce Springsteen, selling Jeeps with scenes of down-home America, spoke home truths: “Fear has never been the best of who we are, and as for freedom, it's not the property of just the fortunate few, it belongs to us all.… We need that connection. We need the middle.”

The Super Bowl celebrates that bedrock concept we learn as kids: sportsmanship. Referees enforce rules set in stone; cameras keep them honest. Cheaters – players or officials – are reviled and punished. All share a concrete reality, and no one gets to declare alternative facts.

Late in the game, a Tampa Bay player taunted a dejected opponent with two fingers shaping a “V.” Old-pro CBS announcers were horrified on air. Moments later, a referee dropped his flag: 15 yards lost for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”

But as the game recedes into record books with no lasting impact on America and the world, we face the most important trial in history. That fair play stuff is beyond hypocrisy. Off the field, perfidious politicians harp on that vital word, unity, to mask the exact opposite.

Paul Krugman summed up in a New York Times column what Biden – and the rest of us – are up against:

“Some, perhaps most, of the opposition he’ll face will come from people who are deeply corrupt. And even among Republicans acting in good faith he’ll have to contend with deep-seated cluelessness, the result of the intellectual bubble the right has lived in for many years.”

Along with gun nuts, QAnon crazies, and such arriviste deviants as Josh Hawley, we have two-term senator Ted Cruz, who covets the Oval Office. At Harvard Law School, Alan Dershowitz called him “off-the-charts brilliant,” and Cruz has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court.

Remember 2016? Trump told reporters that “Lyin’ Ted” slept around, suggested that his father helped kill John Kennedy, and tweeted a distorted picture of Cruz’s wife next to a pinup photo of Melania. Cruz blasted Trump as a pathological liar, a rat, and a crook unfit for office.

Now, lusting after another shot at the presidency, Cruz grovels like a beaten cocker spaniel. The election was confirmed all the way up to the nine referees on the Supreme Court. The sore loser’s mob stormed the Capitol to lynch the vice president. But hey.

Cruz smirked when Biden rejoined the Paris climate accords to confront humanity’s greatest challenge. “He’s more interested in the views of citizens of Paris,” he said, “than in the jobs of citizens of Pittsburgh.”

Krugman quoted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s reply: “Do you also believe the Geneva Convention was about the views of the citizens of Geneva?” And, referring to Cruz but also so many others in Congress, he added: “The stupidity. It burns.”

But Cruz is not stupid, only reprehensible, repugnant, and willing to say anything that appeals to the base that votes for faithless legislators and governors who allow that fringe at the top to amass fortunes, putting their own livelihoods, and lives, at increasing risk.

Kevin McCarthy must be stupid; there is no other explanation. He recently dismissed the threat of QAnon conspirators, saying, “Q-on, or whatever. I don’t even know what that is.” If that’s true, he’s too dumb for office. If not, how can the Republicans’ House leader be dumb enough to say that?

The list is long. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a physician who opposes Obamacare and champions fossil fuels, sniffed indignantly when asked on Meet the Press if he would vote to impeach Donald Trump. “I will consider the evidence as an impartial juror,” he said.

But he followed with a what-about soliloquy of bad faith. The Clinton trial required truckloads of evidence, he said, but Democrats offer only a video. Clinton’s charge involved a consensual act with an intern, with no one else present. We all heard Trump try to subvert the Georgia election, then instigate the worst insurrection since the 1860s.

The problem is FMT, a new shortcut in our lexicon: Fear of Mean Tweets. Trump has been kicked off social media, sulking in silence down in Florida, and yet Republicans still cling desperately to his name, shamelessly seeking his benediction.

Hypocrisy was clear in an overwhelming vote to keep Liz Cheney as the Republican Senate caucus leader in spite of her stinging call for Trump’s impeachment. The reason is clear: balloting was in secret.

Watergate was a parking ticket compared to Trump’s high crimes. Richard Nixon resigned to keep a shred of dignity. Back them, Jonathan Schell noted in The New Yorker: “In a democracy, certain forms of truth do more than compel our minds’ assent; they compel us to act.”

That still applies to sports. When Tom Brady was accused of helping his team get to the big game in 2015 by deflating footballs to make them easier to catch, Deflategate cost $22 million over two years, and culprits were punished. Trump’s infractions are in a bigger league.

The Super Bowl trophy is named for Vince Lombardi, who once observed: “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society.” And Sunday’s game was all about unity, diversity and looking large.

Amanda Gorman, the young black poet who lit up Biden’s inauguration, delivered a pre-game tribute to American heroes, off and on the field: “Let us walk with these warriors, charge on with these champions, and carry forth the call of our captains,” she intoned. “We celebrate them by acting with courage and compassion, by doing what is right and just, for while we honor them today, it is they who every day honor us.”

A wider world plays a different sort of football based on strategy, without gladiator gear or physical contact. In democracies and demagogies alike, leaders are focused on the Senate, not the Super Bowl. The trial will determine if they still recognize the America they knew.

Mort Rosenblum has reported from seven continents as Associated Press special correspondent, edited the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and written 14 books on subjects ranging from global geopolitics to chocolate. He now runs

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