Much ado about booing
If you wanted a perfect set piece to illustrate a bizarre, incoherent spectacle of politics in the Trump era, you could do worse than examine events surrounding President Trump's appearance Sunday night at the World Series and its reverberations around Washington and throughout the media.
For those Americans who haven't been paying attention: Trump was roundly booed by the capacity crowd at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., on Sunday evening, with the jeering accompanied by chants of "Lock him up!" This has inspired giddy delight in many journalists, pundits, professors, and others who passionately dislike the president and saw the spontaneous protest as a rare opportunity to show the president to his face that the American people view him with disgust and contempt. Meanwhile the event has also inspired anxious handwringing by centrist pundits and politicians of both parties who worry that the reaction displays a troubling lack of reverence and respect for the office of the president.
Both camps are confused. The booing and chanting tell us very little about how "the American people" feel about Trump — and the willingness of thousands of baseball fans to express their displeasure at this particular president is perfectly understandable and justified.
Let's assume it's a good idea for Americans to feel reverence and respect for the office of the president. The fact is that it's Trump himself who's done more than anyone to defile and degrade the exalted character of the office. He has a long history of denigrating his critics as "haters and losers." He makes a habit of denouncing reporters before crowds of thousands as "enemies of the people." He displays flagrant contempt for members of the intelligence community and civil service. He appears to feel greater solidarity for foreign strong men and dictators than he does for those his fellow citizens who support the opposition party. And of course he regularly encourages throngs of supporters at his rallies to chant "lock her up!" about his opponent in the general election of 2016. (This has recently been expanded to a chant of "lock him up!" about Hunter Biden, son of the Democratic frontrunner for president in 2020.)
As long as Donald Trump remains in office, the presidency itself will be sullied in the eyes of tens of millions of Americans who understandably feel like their country has been commandeered by a hostile foreign power. That's the president's fault and no one else's. If he doesn't like being booed outside the confines of his own partisan events, he should start behaving like a president instead of the leader of a right-wing putsch. Likewise, if nervous-nelly institutionalist critics don't like that lots of Americans are willing to express their displeasure at the vile person who holds the office of the presidency, they should direct the entirety of their criticism where it belongs: at the man who desecrates the institution every day.
But that doesn't mean those cheering on the jeers are right to ascribe the sentiments behind them to "the American people." Mistaking a part of the country for the whole of the country, or treating one part's point of view as somehow more legitimate than the views held by other parts, is itself an expression of the populist mentality that gave us, and could keep giving us, Trump.
So, no: America did not "come together to boo Donald Trump at the World Series." A crowd of people who could afford to buy tickets to the World Series in one of the most liberal cities in the country — a city where Trump received a grand total of 4.1 percent of the vote in 2016 — got the chance to express its anti-Trump views to the president's face. That was undoubtedly cathartic for many of those at the game and for many millions of Americans at home. But it probably also insulted and antagonized many millions more.
It should be so obvious that it doesn't need to be said, but in 2019 it apparently does: Both groups of people — those booing and calling for the jailing of the president as well as those who would have stood and cheered for him and were probably infuriated by the crowd's response — are "the American people." We are a single country, a single nation, a single people. This people is deeply, rancorously, polarizingly divided at the present moment. How we might diminish our divisions and the hostility we feel for each other is an extremely important, and exceedingly difficult, question to answer. What should be somewhat easier to do is realizing that no good at all will be accomplished by either side in our national conflict pretending that it is the people, with those on the side rejected, excommunicated, or imagined away.
That's what Trump does on a daily basis, and the solution to Trumpism isn't to reproduce his civil poison on the other side.
Sometimes a bunch of people heckling a jerk is just a bunch of people heckling a jerk.