I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that there was a time when people generally approached the world with a bit more perspective, a greater understanding of proportionality and a keener sense of what’s meaningful and what isn’t than they do in 2023.
Exhibit A is doomed former President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, who was railroaded into resigning this month for audaciously kissing Jenni Hermoso after her Spanish team won the Women’s World Cup in August. Mr. Rubiales’ errant public smooch landed him squarely as news story numero uno on every broadcast channel, front page and website in the world.
And Rubiales’ story—which has since escalated into nationwide protests, the championship team’s coach being fired and government charges against Rubiales of sexual assault and coercion—won’t end until he loses everything.
The global uproar over the Spanish kiss, while clearly not the most urgent item in today’s news, nonetheless reveals much about the state of popular opinion in society, including why the next President of the United States may well be—alas—Donald J. Trump.
Spain’s 1-0 victory over England was its first-ever Women’s World Cup championship and cause for jubilation throughout the country.
On the field in Australia, players piled onto each other and celebrated before and after trophy presentations. Among the most excited was Federation President Rubiales, a former player himself, who in full view of a watching world, embraced the team’s star scorer Hermoso, lifted her off the ground and kissed her on the lips. When the obviously over-the-top display was brought up after the game, Ms. Hermoso acknowledged that she “did not enjoy it, but what could I do.” And on the bus ride back to their hotel, her teammates laughed about Mr. Rubiales’ inappropriate gesture, chanting “beso, beso, beso” as a smiling Hermoso looked on.
Had the story stayed right there where it should have, with an apologetic Rubiales punished by the Federation for his wrong-headed action and Hermoso and her teammates basking in the glow of their superior performance, all would have been right with the world.
But in 2023, in the midst of perpetual polarization, teeming tempers and zealots zeroing in for any fight they can publicize, no dumb deed goes unpunished, and Spain’s beso bandito was dead meat.
Three days after downplaying the incident, Hermoso went public with a decidedly different tune. Egged on by the players’ union, she announced that she had been put under “continuous pressure” to defend Rubiales and had felt “vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out-of-place act without any consent on my part.”
Predictably, in the weeks that have followed the Rubiales kissing catastrophe, the Spanish women’s historic futbol victory has been forgotten in a sea of sexism stories in the worldwide media.
Also predictably, leading the charge is the ever-crusading New York Times, which has averaged a story a day about Spanish soccer sexism: “Spanish Soccer Official Apologizes, Sort of, For Kissing World Cup Winner,” “Pressure Mounts on Spanish Soccer Chief Over Nonconsensual Kiss at World Cup,” etc., treating Luis Rubiales as the second coming of Harvey Weinstein.
The truth, of course, is a lot more nuanced than the media hysteria promulgated by the kiss. No one questions the fact that Mr. Rubiales is a boor, whose spontaneous public display of affection was completely inappropriate and grounds for suspension. Nor is there any doubt that the history of Spain’s women’s soccer program is fraught with sexism and should be corrected. Nor, for that matter, is there any question that the FIFA governing board of international soccer, which also suspended Mr. Rubiales, is, itself, the most corrupt sports body in the world. And finally, no one doubts the sincerity of many of the observers who labeled Rubiales’ action as “offensive.” It was offensive.
None of that is in doubt.
But what’s dubious is that throwing not only the book but also the entire library at the Spanish soccer federation President for this one boneheaded action is not only blatant overkill but also emblematic of the so-called “wokeism” that permeates today’s media and society, where we conflate every questionable affront into a prime example of sexism, racism or bigotry.
And that leads us directly to the growing possibility that Donald—shudder—Trump could be reelected President.
According to most polls, Republican primary candidates’ calls for “a culture war on wokeism” haven’t particularly resonated with voters. Most Americans just don’t seem to care that much about fighting things like critical race theory or transgender healthcare or abortion services for women.
But they do care about common sense. And they particularly resent establishment elitists dictating how the rest of us ought to think about such abominations as out-of-touch octogenarian politicians clinging to power or accusations of police racism for every split-second judgment they’re forced make or even the ruination of a man’s career for one cringeworthy kiss.
Common sense is a value treasured by people who think for themselves and aren’t driven by any particular ideology. These are the very people—in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona and Georgia and Michigan—who will ultimately determine the next President of the United States.
Between now and election day, the more examples these people see that society is losing its collective mind—like the overblown brouhaha over the Rubiales’ kiss—the more likely they’ll be to vote for an anti-establishment disruptor as President, no matter how odious, arrogant or divisive that individual might be.
So, if you think there’s no way that Donald Trump could ever be reelected President, wake up.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He's the author of the Pearson text “The Practice of Public Relations,” now in its 14th edition, and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation" and "Idea Wise.” He may be reached directly at [email protected].