Regarding Trump’s style of battling publicly with all and sunder, including his own underlings such as Jeff Sessions, I often point to the similar style of Trump’s idol, New York Yankee ballclub owner George Steinbrenner. The George Steinbrenner character voiced by Larry David on Seinfeld was an older, cuddlier version than the one I remember from the late 1970s.
Commenter Yojimbo/Zatoichi, however, points out that Steinbrenner’s Yankees didn’t invent the mode of the team where the owner exchanges insults with the star in the newspapers. Charlie O. Finley was doing much the same thing with the Oakland As in the early 1970s.
One common denominator was the star slugger of both teams was the intelligent, boastful, moody, and talented Reggie Jackson. Another was that it seemed like a post-1960s thing.
It was seen as being related to the major leap in candor in Jim Bouton’s 1970 book Ball Four, as part of the Sixties cultural revolution against hypocrisy and discretion.
In the 1890s, the National League got taken over by brawling big city Irishmen and the game stagnated economically as it became more disreputable, what with all the cursing and fans throwing bottles at umpires and what not. Ban Johnson saw an opening and in 1901 launched the American League to provide a more respectable ballpark experience that would be attractive to middle class families. Johnson’s cleaned-up version of the game was an immediate hit and the AL soon became the dominant league.
Baseball became identified with boyhood and rural innocence, even concocting out of whole cloth an origin story that baseball had been invented in 1839 by a future Civil War hero in idyllic Cooperstown, NY, which is just about the most beautiful small town in America. (Instead, the game more or less evolved into the form we know in New York City.)
Finally, in 1970 washed up pitcher Jim Bouton published his diary of the 1969 season, Ball Four, that frankly (and hilariously) disclosed what relievers really talk about in the bullpen. That book was initially controversial, but it was so funny and in tune with the post-Sixties spirit of the age that it became a classic.
Soon, it seemed in tune with the times for owners to explain to reporters exactly how they felt about their highest paid slugger’s current 0 for 13 slump and for the slugger to explain back what a cheap bastard the owner was.
It was a 70s thing: first the A’s fought in public and still won three World Series and then the Yankees fought in public and still won two World Series. Those two teams won 5 World Series from 1972 to 1978, being interrupted only by the Big Red Machine. The button-downed Dodgers who imposed strict message discipline upon all employees made it to 3 World Series in the 1970s but lost each time.
The more forward looking sportswriters liked to say that in the future everybody would air their dirty laundry in the newspapers and we’d all be better off for it (not least of all sportswriters). It was part of sportswriters’ 1970s theory that they were the new Woodward & Bernstein.
But in the long run, the institutions largely figured out how to control their images through access journalism and this 70s-style open contentiousness mostly faded away. But now Trump is running the White House like he’s George Steinbrenner in 1977.
Trump’s enemies say this obviously represents paranoid authoritarianism, but it’s really post-Sixties, post-Watergate openness.