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Trump’s Ugly Comedy of Hate

The former president has added fictionalized accounts of trans super-athletes to his stand-up routine.
August 12, 2022
Trump’s Ugly Comedy of Hate
Lia Thomas swims to victory in the 500 Yard Freestyle during the 2022 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championship at the McAuley Aquatic Center on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology on March 17, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The other night during his traveling road show appearance in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Donald Trump launched into his shtick about transgender athletes.

“You know the stories [sic] of the swimmer?” the former-president-turned-stand-up-comedian teased the crowd. “Should I tell it? You probably heard it. Should I or not?”

“Yeah!” came the collective response.

Thus encouraged, Trump told the heartrending tale of a “young female swimmer” who happened to be “great, really great” and who was looking to “break the United States record in some kind of an event.” All she needed was “about one-eighth of a second.”

Here Trump paused to acknowledge, truthfully, that this was “a crazy story.” In fact, it was so out-of-bounds his handlers had advised him against telling it. “They don’t want it mentioned,” he confided. “I don’t understand why it’s politically incorrect. But I think that’s why I got elected in the first place.”

At this, the audience erupted in cheers. Crazy. Politically incorrect. Ill-advised. What’s not to like?

“This beautiful athlete,” Trump continued, “looks down to the left and she sees these beautiful young women” against whom she’s been competing for many years, which makes her happy. But then she looks to her right and sees, “right over here, right next to her, is this GIANT PERSON.”

Trump enunciated “GIANT PERSON” with the same peculiar Dr. Nick–like emphasis he gave to the word “Capitol” when exhorting his followers on January 6th, 2021: “We’re going to walk down to the CAPITOL” to “fight like hell.”

In telling this story of the beautiful swimmer, as he has done repeatedly in recent weeks, Trump gives no specifics as to the identity of the trans competitor. But various members of the media—a.k.a., enemies of the people—have surmised that the “GIANT PERSON” to whom he is referring is probably former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who in March became the first transgrender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title.

The Waukesha rally was billed as a campaign event for GOP gubernatorial contender Tim Michels, who on Tuesday won the state’s GOP primary, in no small part due to Trump’s endorsement. But like all things that involve the former president, the rally was really about Trump, replete with delusional references to a stolen 2020 election. He ranted about critical race theory and how children in schools were being indoctrinated by “unhinged Marxist educators.” He vowed to end Biden’s “catch and release” immigration policy (“one of the dumbest programs ever”), restore law and order in Democrat-run cities, and “hold China accountable for unleashing the virus upon the world.” He called out the members of the press: “Fake news is all you get and they are the enemy of the people. We are a nation where free speech is no longer allowed.”

But it was Trump’s take on transgender athletes that most seemed to animate him—and delight his audience.

“He had a wingspan like this,” Trump told the crowd about the giant who suddenly materialized to crush the beautiful swimmer’s dreams, extending both arms as far as they could go. (In other recent tellings of the story, Trump claimed the swimmer had “arms that are 30 feet long.”)

The hapless actual woman swimmer, Trump said, did her best to compete, but ended up not only losing to the giant by 38 seconds but being “badly injured in that race. You know why? Windburn. He went by her so fast that she got tremendous windburn. She’s still trying to recover actually.” Trump added, unnecessarily, “This is a ridiculous thing.”

The issue of transgender athletes is complex, as Bulwark contributor Cathy Young acknowledged in an article in June. While the argument can be made that trans athletes have an unfair advantage, Young noted:

Thomas did not exactly crush the competition: During the NCAA championships, she broke no records and lost in two out of three events, finishing fifth in the 200-yard freestyle race and eighth in 100-yard freestyle. Clearly, it’s not the case that biologically female athletes don’t have a chance against a male-to-female transgender competitor.

At the rally, Trump segued into a companion story he likes to tell about the woman weightlifter who “wanted to break the record by one-eighth of an ounce on each side” of the barbell. He pantomimed how this weightlifter did her best to lift the load, but, despite her parents being on hand “screaming” about how proud they were of her, she could not. As Trump narrated:

She didn’t make it. Just missed, just very close actually. But she missed. And then this person in a male’s body—that’s what you say, you know, because they call it “a person in a male’s body”—happened to come up. And they said, “Have you lifted before?” He said, “not much. I don’t know too much about it.” And he stood over the weights [here Trump mimics the effortless hoisting of a barbell]. He wins! He could have lifted another 200 pounds over his head. We are hurting women very badly.

It was Trump at his comic best—using hyperbole and slapstick to stir up passions among his audience while allowing him to escape blame for saying things that aren’t true. He lies, they laugh. It’s a perfect relationship.

Trump has been telling versions of this weightlifting story for at least a year, including at a rally in Arizona in July 2021, as a pro-Trump outlet gleefully recounted. Internet sleuths have speculated that the weightlifter, whom he sometimes refers to as “Alice,” is New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who in 2021 became as the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympic Games. She did so at age 43, having transitioned in 2012. USA Today reported that she “struggled” at the competition, ultimately failing to register a lift—an outcome far from the blowout victory Trump described.

No one, of course, expects honesty from Donald Trump. His entire life has been one long exercise in gleeful mendacity. But to take complex stories based on the lives of real people and turn them into laugh lines is tawdry even for him. Worse still is his claim that he is doing so to burnish his feminist credentials.

Trump, in his August 5 performance in Waukesha, capped off his trans rant with a story about how he could become “the greatest coach in the history of women’s basketball.” This would be accomplished by going to LeBron James, whom he considers “a terrible person,” and recruiting him to join the women’s team. Let’s let 45 take it from there:

I would have the greatest team in history, they would never lose. They would win every game by 70, 80, maybe 90 points. It’s crazy. What they’re doing to women’s sports is a disgrace. It’s a disgrace, and it’s very unfair to a thing called the Women’s Movement, because I’m a big believer in the women’s movement, and it’s a very unfair thing. So whether it’s politically appropriate or not, I’ll say it—it’s a disgrace what they’re doing, how stupid is it. No teacher should ever be allowed to teach transgender to our children without parental consent.

At this, the audience responded with whistles and cheers.

As a candidate in 2016, Trump promised that he would be a “better friend” of the LGBTQ community than his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. He called the mass shooting at gay club in Orlando, Florida, that year “a very dark moment in America’s history”—words he echoed this week in response to the tragedy of having FBI agents serve a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago resort: “These are dark times for our Nation.”

In fact, as president, Trump did pretty much everything he could to deny equal rights to LGBTQ Americans, including rolling back protections in employment, housing, education, and the military. The nonprofit Human Rights Watch tracked his record in this area in a massive report titled “Trump’s Timeline of Hate.”

Since involuntarily leaving office, Trump has continued to win points with his base by whipping up resentment against LGBTQ people for somehow getting breaks denied others.

At a speech on July 26 before America First Policy Institute, a hardcore pro-MAGA group, Trump declared, “we should not allow men to play in women’s sports,” as the audience burst into what VICE News described as “thunderous applause.”

Trump then praised himself for ignoring the advice of his handlers and going off-script to make this remark. “That’s not written down anywhere,” he told the gathering. “They said don’t do it. And that gets the biggest hand. It’s crazy.”

You could call it that.

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders, former editor and now editor-at-large of The Progressive, is a writer in Madison, Wisconsin.