Yesterday I was in the same space as the President of The United States. I could see him with my own eyes. Instead of feeling awe or joy at the thrill of seeing one of the leaders of our nation in person, I just felt sad.
It seemed his presence required a response, a performance to sate some need, or to speak out. A few around me boo’d, then seeking to find like-minded fans caught one another in an embrace. Still more began a chant of “USA, USA, USA” Other just woo’d.
We all knew what this moment was about, a symbolic set of alternative clips to offer a “both sides” perspective to the World Series and MMA games when he was boo’d and encouraged to be imprisoned.
The cheer’ers rejoiced, having felt they got what was needed. The President waved and smiled, pumped his fist in the air, and nodded. Later tweets would go viral suggesting this is how people responded in “real america”.
I was just sad.
Sad, because I wanted this moment to be about a storied contest between two college football juggernauts. Sad because there’s already a thin veil separating sport between the inexhaustive battles of politics. And I was sad because I was raised to revere the office of the president, with all the trappings of a lower middle class midwestern suburban well-educated privilege to boot. In that moment in the stands I was hit with the realization this was probably the closest I might ever be to a living president, and all I wanted to do was Boo. That made me sad.
I was sad because this individual seems to degrade the dignity of his office with every exhaled screed and rage-induced tweet. Recent analysis of his social media reflects that he is often in attack mode more than any other style of communication. And yes, I grew up watching and studying the “great speeches” of former inhabitants of that seat of power. I am a believer that the presidency is a kind of symbolic extension of America, who we are trying to be in this moment, and the person occupying that office has a duty to guide and lead the country through their awesome ability to set the secular tone for the country. Both Conservative and Liberal occupants have managed this at various moments. Trump does none of this.
I’ve also seen the memes. The one’s that draw correlation between Bama’s poor first quarter performance and the presence of Trump in the stands. The one’s which connect the inaudible boos and the loud cheers with why we somehow deserved to lose. Like all memes there’s a kernel of truth to it. Like all things Trump touches, he becomes the nucleus around which we all must orbit. Walking around the filming of college game day everything was tinged with a new political weight. Trump / Saban 2020 signs abounded; Script A’s filled the usual places on all the MAGA propaganda, even LSU fans walked about with purple “Make America Great Again” hats. The spectacle of the tailgates, my favorite part of college football, seemed to take on new meanings as it felt more like we were camping out at a Trump rally, then attending a sporting event at my University.
Then there was getting into the stadium. Justifiably security is tight to get into the stands when there is “the leader of the free world” in attendance. We got into line for gates 34–41 on the north side of Bryant Denny about 12:30 after rumors abounded that if you were not in the stadium by 1:40 you wouldn’t get in. As me and about 2,000 of my closest friends pressed into the worlds worst bottleneck. I began to feel people push me from behind. A few men in Bama Maga hats pushed shoulders into backs, and one man slid his foot between me and the guy I’d been standing in a throng with for about an hour and a half. I heard him say to his female companion, “Come on if we just push all the way through we can just get in. They can’t stop all of us.” This man thought he could overpower secret service agents and TSA folks trying to check everyone entering. 2.5 hours later we got into the stands.
It’s been said that we treat politics like sports teams, that we root for our preferred squad and cheer for losses by our opponents. Only Bama losing doesn’t mean that millions of people will lose their healthcare, or that we’ve decided that bama fans must hate America and can never be trusted. The simile seems ill compared, and it doesn’t help me deal with the malaise from attending yesterday’s event. Bama would go on to lose after a hard fight back from what felt like certain failure. And all the while, there he was. I was shocked he stayed well into the 3rd quarter. He’d appear again during “We Will Rock You” as the lights turned red. The comparisons in my mind kept coming.
I hope and pray that the next occupant of the White House will learn to restore that sense of dignity to the office. I hope that this is not the last time I’m in the space with The President of The United States, and I hope next time I am given ample reason to cheer “USA”.