So we have more evidence that a master of the dog whistle occupies the White House and that black athletes are a favorite target.
The president, Donald J. Trump, took out after LeBron James on Friday in a way that felt instinctive, as the hound dog pursues the hare. The N.B.A. star had criticized Trump, in measured tones, in an interview with CNN last week. When the anchor Don Lemon asked James what he would say if he were sitting across from Trump, James offered a thin smile.
“I would never sit across from him,” he said.
At 11:37 Friday night, after the interview had been rebroadcast, Trump replied with one of those tweets that offer an X-ray of his ego, psyche and soul. “LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made LeBron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”
There was a breathtaking quality to this attack, and not just because white men demeaning the intelligence of black people is one of the oldest and ugliest tropes in American history.
James had appeared on CNN not to criticize this thin-skinned and choleric president but to talk of growing up poor with a single mom and of trying to pay back those who helped him by underwriting a public, noncharter school for at-risk youth in his hometown, Akron, Ohio. His foundation also committed tens of millions of dollars to help provide college scholarships for Akron public school graduates.
James will give every child in this school a bike and a helmet. He is a biking enthusiast for reasons that extend beyond cardiovascular benefit: From James’s earliest childhood days, when he lived in a tiny apartment just up an embankment from Cuyahoga Valley railroad tracks, the bike stood as a symbol of freedom. It allowed him to pedal out of his down-at-the-heels neighborhood and explore a larger world.
The bike and sport gave him freedom, he told Lemon, and allowed him to meet and befriend white kids and to see a world laden with possibility. “I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them,” he said of white kids, “and they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends.”
You wonder how Trump could listen to James saying all of this and take away nothing but offense and pique. Then again, it’s difficult to know where the line between genuine annoyance and political calculation stands for a man who so willfully stirs the coals of class and racial resentment.