I doubt the president’s capacity for joy.
He’ll put on a show of self-satisfaction and cruel glee. Yet I don’t believe you can be The Way That He Is without being largely miserable almost all of the time. You see the strain of it on his face whenever he’s obliged to talk to the media or perform the kind of traditional duties he finds deeply boring; at home in the White House (and on Twitter), he vents it openly. I suspect that not even a weekend spent cheating at golf does much to raise his spirits. The closest he gets to something like pleasure — the kind he can savor — is at his rallies. It’s not just that these take the form of stadiums full of people screeching their ultimate fealty. It’s that when a lone protester erupts in the crowd, that dissent is immediately silenced and punished. In fact, time and again, Trump has encouraged a violent response to anyone who dares heckle him.
We may never know how enmeshed Trump is with the personal illusion of his popularity. Whether he understands that the outlier polls he cites, and throngs of red-hats hooting for him, aren’t reflective of how despised he is by a vast part of the electorate, even while facing impeachment. But his decision to attend a World Series game in Washington, D.C., where Hillary Clinton stomped him in 2016, says to me that he does forget, now and then, that he represents only a poisonous minority, not the entire country. Because while he had the foresight not to embarrass himself by trying to throw a first pitch, he seemingly didn’t worry that his presence at a major sports event would occasion nearly 100 decibels of booing, chants of “lock him up” and signs behind home plate that read “VETERANS FOR IMPEACHMENT.” Clips detailing his night of humiliation dominated social media. He left the game early, of course.
There’s no reason to think this bothered Trump’s base that much. They’re the ones out there facing scorn and ridicule every day on his behalf, so they’re aware of the body opposing him; they’ve accepted this as the martyr’s burden of their patriotism (or their trolling). The president, meanwhile, is insulated from that public fury… until he dares to show himself in a space he does not preside over, to those he cannot hypnotize.
Oddly, it wasn’t his admirers who took the most offense at this, but “moderate”-style pundits and “civility”-minded politicians. It’s not worth the effort of collecting examples, as you can already guess what they said: That this is somehow fundamentally un-American. Disrespectful to the office. A bad look in general.
If it’s a question of respect, well, when has Trump shown any for the job? He confesses to crimes while taking every opportunity to enrich himself, his family and his cronies. If it’s a matter of projecting the right image, it’s also safe to say that Trump does far greater damage to our national reputation than anyone yelling their hatred for him — it reminds the rest of the planet that his cultish followers are outnumbered here.
As for the un-American angle? Please. A chorus of jeers at Trump means that, at minimum, we still remember how to exercise the freedoms enshrined in our founding documents. Booing is democracy in its purest form, exactly as loud or quiet as the ferocity of the opinion allows, each person in the nameless multitude choosing to add or withhold their voice. That Trump is always ignoring, downplaying and discrediting this rising sound of revolt is reason to let him hear it in unambiguous force.
You might say, too, that these justifications are superfluous when you remember the president was at a baseball game — where, by tradition, virtually no one is accorded safety from prevailing moods. Fans will boo the other team, their own team, umpires, managers, mascots and the guy who whiffs on a trivia question to win a T-shirt. I’ve booed along with the rabble at a Mets game when “Sweet Caroline” played over the loudspeakers. Anywhere I’ve been charged $15 for a light beer, you can bet I will express approval or disgust at the top of my lungs, with a classic and sustained syllable.
The 40,000 ticketholders at the World Series aren’t going to line up outside Trump’s luxury box for a series of polite, individual debates. They’re going to boo him. That he was too stupid to anticipate this is hardly his biggest problem at the moment, though it also doesn’t say much for his grip on common sentiment. In the reality he’s constructed for himself, the citizens who challenge him are anomalies, whisked away to the parking lot before he even commands it. Finally, he has felt the shadow of that fear — the fear of being alone in the mob.