Chip Kelly, Donald Trump, and the awesome power of delusion
People desperate for a win are far too easy to bamboozle. The Eagles' Chip Kelly was exposed in 2015. But what about Donald Trump?
"They will justify any action, explain away any contradiction, and dismiss any criticism because they are so personally and passionately invested in him."
Chip Kelly, right? You know -- the guy who traded away or let walk (over two seasons) his two elite wide receivers, then also traded the franchise's career-record running back, got rid of his top-performing offensive lineman, built his squad around a career-underachieving, injury-prone quarterback...yet still got picked by more than one expert as bound for the Super Bowl! Or maybe we're talking about Sixers' recently downgraded GM Sam Hinkie and The Process that so many of us (sigh...yes, me too) trusted until we watched a team with no veteran ballhandlers or clubhouse leaders lose 30 of their first 31 games.
But no -- that quote at the top actually comes from the veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz, trying to explain why the Donald Trump phenomenon continues to confound the experts as 2015 comes to an end with Manhattan's short-fingered vulgarian lapping the rest of the weak and feckless GOP field. In the end, however, it's not really about Trump...or Chip Kelly or Sam Hinkie. It's about us, or at least people like us, when they're desperate and they've almost lost all hope, and they're looking for someone to say that he or she has the answer. A very wise man once said it better: "Still at the end of every hard day people find some reason to believe..."
That's why if anybody in the world can wrap his or her arms around the Donald Trump Experience, it's the Philadelphia sports fan. After all, you look at a team like the Philadelphia 76ers and they're like a dribbling version of the city's (and America's) blue-collar working class: In a slow decline for years, stagnant, watching the rich of the NBA consistently get richer. No wonder we were willing to put all our faith in Hinkie and his scientific-sounding but basically untested "Process" of stockpiling 2nd-round draft picks like a Glenn Beck listener hoards gold and "survival seeds," while drafting 7-footers on crutches year after year -- and never thinking once about the psychological effect that losing 30 games in a row might have on 19- and 20-year-olds.
Chip Kelly is an even bigger mystery. His meteoric rise in the ranks of college coaching and his fast-paced offense certainly made Kelly an intriguing pick to coach the Eagles...but not a lock to be the second coming of Vince Lombardi. But a first-year division title -- partly from that initial surprise of Kelly's offense that other NFL teams would eventually figure out, partly with the players he'd been bequeathed from the Andy Reid era -- cemented Chip's reputation as a "genius." That suspension of disbelief is partly to be expected from fans of a storied and arguably beloved (in our own weird way) franchise that has never once won the Super Bowl -- but it wasn't just the guy in the proverbial 700 Level who fell for this shtick.
It's shocking to go back just four months and see all the big-name NFL pundits who -- having watched Kelly lose or get rid of Jeremy Macklin, Shady McCoy and Evan Mathis with little or nothing in return -- nonetheless predicted the Birds would go from not making the playoffs in 2014 all the way to Super Bowl 50, baby! We're talking pundits like ESPN's Adam Schefter and Peter Schrager of Fox Sports, not to mention some Philly-based writers.
And if football brains were so bamboozled by Kelly and his Eagles, what chance did America's beleaguered, BMW-driving Beltway pundit class have in understanding the rise of Donald Trump and his irresistible appeal to a certain class of angry, frustrated, white, middle-class voter?
I know what you're thinking at this point, that's it's a little crazy to compare a crypto-fascist presidential hopeful to a couple of local sports guys. And in a lot of ways, you're right. (For example: Trump could trust science a lot more, Hinkie a little less.)
But here's the similarities. They present themselves to a confused and desperate public as Leaders -- as people who look with almost surreal confidence at a seemingly intractable problem and who reassuringly say they have A Plan. Even if that plan falls apart on the most casual inspection from the reality-based world. With Trump, someone like Democratic senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders seems to have a better handle on his appeal than the folks who get paid to analyze politics for a living. Here's what Sanders said earlier today on CBS' Face the Nation:
"Many of Trump's supporters are working-class people and they're angry, and they're angry because they're working longer hours for lower wages, they're angry because their jobs have left this country and gone to China or other low-wage countries, they're angry because they can't afford to send their kids to college so they can't retire with dignity. What Trump has done with some success is taken that anger, taken those fears which are legitimate and converted them into anger against Mexicans, anger against Muslims, and in my view that is not the way we're going to address the major problems facing our country."
Exactly. Except that at the end of the day, the big difference between the bamboozling of a Chip Kelly and that of a Donald Trump is that Kelly's flaws are laid bare for the world on any given Sunday (or Saturday night). But when Trump's lies are exposed by the media and the political elites, that only makes Trump's fans love him even more.
Alas, football is not a democracy. And while Philadelphia fans would never give Kelly another term. the only vote that matters seems solidly in Chip's corner.
Politics still is a democracy, or so they say. But will enough voters actually see through Trump in 2016 in the way that we finally saw through Chip Kelly in 2015? Don't bet on it. No one ever went broke underestimating the sweet power of mass delusion.