It is President Trump’s own fault that he got so lustily booed at the World Series game in Washington, D.C., Sunday night. When you publicly refer to people as “human scum,” they are likely to return the favor.
Trump looked surprised when his appearance at Nationals Park (where the Houston Astros won yet another game) was greeted with catcalls and chants of “Lock him up!” After all, earlier in the day he had announced the killing of Islamic State monster Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a daring U.S. Special Operations raid. Surely, he must have felt, he deserved kudos for that.
And indeed he does. Here they are: Sincere congratulations for ridding the world of a sadistic butcher who richly deserved his fate.
The problem is, though, that one battlefield success did not erase 33 months of presidential behavior that many if not most Americans consider outrageous and worthy of impeachment. The smile and wave that Trump offered those baseball fans did not rescind the vicious, snarling rhetoric he spews on a daily basis, including his recent description of Republicans who oppose him as “human scum.” The flicker of vulnerability that played across Trump’s face when he heard all the booing probably softened few hearts, if any.
This is not a reality show like “The Apprentice” in which all is forgotten between episodes and alliances are formed or abandoned in the blink of an eye. Trump may not recall the abuse he heaped on perceived adversaries last week, last month or last year. Those on the receiving end, however, definitely remember.
I agree with those who say that the office of the president deserves respect even if the person occupying that office does not. But I add a caveat, which is that the president himself must understand his relationship with the American people, which is one of service: He works for us. Every president I have met has spoken of how humbling the job is. Trump appears to see humility not as a gift but as a weakness. If the president will not humble himself, the people must do it for him.
We have been here before. Back during the Nixon administration, it was possible to drive right past the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. As Watergate reached its crescendo, protesters would stand on the sidewalk holding signs that said, “Honk if you want him impeached.” Motorists sent up such a cacophony that some were given $5 traffic tickets for “excessive noise.”
That’s the thing about democracy. People have a right to tell their leaders what they think of them. If your constituents believe you have betrayed their trust, they will let you know.
If Trump was genuinely unprepared for the hostile reception, it might be because he is accustomed to the adulation of the crowds at his political rallies. The red baseball caps that the crowd wore Sunday night did not say “Make America Great Again.” They bore the curly “W” of the hometown baseball team and were worn mostly by residents of Washington and its suburbs, which constitute a Democratic stronghold. It has been a long time since Trump exposed himself this way in hostile political territory, and it may be a long time before he does so again. My guess is that he will put it down to eternal hostility on the part of “the swamp” or “the deep state.”
And that is a shame. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” says the King James version of the holy book Trump claims to read. We’ve seen no evidence of self-awareness from Trump, but we must keep hope alive.
There are those who will argue that treating Trump in this manner is a political gift to him; that it will fire up his loyal base by giving evidence to support his narrative of being unfairly victimized, in this instance by elite coastal baseball fans. My view is that Trump is going to inflame his base one way or another, no matter what his political opponents say or do. He obviously has no respect for the traditional boundaries of civic debate. Those who seek to defeat him will not do so while ever-so-carefully walking on eggshells.
Yes, it is a sad day when the president of the United States cannot attend a World Series game without getting booed. It is also a sad day when the president mocks the Constitution, bulldozes all political norms and commits a host of impeachable offenses. This may not be how we would like things to be, but it’s how they are.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.