The Presidency Deserves Respect—Even When the President Does Not
When President Donald Trump made an appearance at Game 5 of the World Series, he was met with a cascade of boos and chants of “Lock him up!” and “Impeach Trump!” from the crowd. On Tuesday, Peter Wehner argued that the institution of the presidency is not synonymous with the occupant of the office, and that in certain circumstances, we should show respect for the office rather than disdain for the officeholder:
“More than enough institutional wreckage is going on just now,” he wrote. “It would be helpful if more of us didn’t contribute to it, even in small ways.”
My wife told me that, for the first time in years, she felt a little patriotic after the World Series booing. After college, she spent a year teaching English in Thailand and saw what it looks like when certain speech is off-limits. Watching a stadium full of people voice their displeasure with the chief executive to his face without fear of governmental reprisal is a truly amazing experience when you’ve lived in a country where an offhand remark about the king can land you in prison.
The American version of free speech is often pilloried by those who say it is far too lenient. At the World Series we saw how incredibly powerful it can be.
Unfortunately, I needed Peter Wehner’s article to remind myself that no one wins in a “race to the bottom.” I have been shaken and bruised by Trump’s policies and rhetoric, which seem filled with animosity toward those that he defines as “other,” and have struggled to contain my deep frustration with a White House that is so publicly committed to xenophobia, racism, and sexism. However, as Wehner rightly points out, that is no license to encourage the bullying tactics that I have found repugnant in this administration. His article is a critical reminder that we must guard the tenet that civility holds democracy together, no matter how strongly our views differ or how offensive the speech of the current president might be.
In more normal times, with a less vituperative president, I would agree with Peter Wehner. But why are those of us who oppose this president being asked to “respect the office” when the man who holds it so obviously does not do so himself? The office deserves respect only when its holder also treats it with respect.