Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

To Boo or Not to Boo: That Is the Question


Like you, I am both pleased and thankful that American Special Forces took out Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the most wanted murderer on the planet. Although he undoubtedly will be replaced by yet another fanatic mastermind, for the moment Isis is both headless and flat broke.  In watching and listening to the president’s speech/press conference about al-Baghdadi’s demise, I  found myself comparing his presentation to that of President Obama at the time he announced the death of Osama bin Laden. Obama’s 1,383-word report took just under 9 minutes to deliver, and consisted of precisely 9 uses of the word “I” or “I’ve.”  It was anything but a “victory lap.”  By comparison, President Trump’s 7,728-word announcement - including a brief Q and A - lasted 48 minutes, 15 seconds, during which he used the words “I,” “I’ve,” “me” and “my” more than 125 times. 

(n.b. For what it’s worth, the picture above shows the ‘situation room’ during both the al-Baghdadi and bin Laden strikes. One is obviously posed - the president and his men are looking straight into the camera; in the other the president and his men and women are looking at a screen. In the top photo, neither the computer nor phone cables are plugged in to anything; that on the bottom shows a fully operational cyber table.)

One of the other major differences between Obama’s announcement regarding the death of bin Laden and Trump’s about al-Baghdadi was tonal: while the former’s was as solemn and matter-of-fact as a Yom Kippur confession, the other’s was far more akin to a victory lap - a rookie running back spiking the ball and receiving a 15-yard penalty for taunting the opposition. As the Washington Post’s Max Boot noted, “President Trump has a preternatural ability to turn any occasion, no matter how solemn or important, into a ridiculous, risible spectacle. . . . When he began to ad-lib about what happened near Idlib, Syria, he treated the world to his usual blend of braggadocio and bluster — dishonest and distasteful in equal measure.  

Among other things, ‘45 managed to insult Democratic congressional leaders by not informing them of the upcoming raid (although he did notify both Russia and Turkey) and offer a minute-by-minute account of al-Baghdadi’s final moments worthy of an obsessive compulsive.  The only problem with this accounting (“. . . he died like a coward . . . whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.”) was that there was no audio, so how did he know what Baghdadi was saying? When asked about this, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Mark Milley pointedly refused to confirm those details.

One of the eeriest, most ear-scratching aspects of this past Sunday is what occurred that night . . . when the POTUS attended the World Series game between the hometown Washington Nationals and the American League champion Houston Astros: upon seeing ‘45 up on the stadium, Jumbotron, a sizable percentage of the fans booed him and shouted “LOCK HIM UP!!” over and again.

The morning after the boo-fest at Nationals Park MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and his wife and co-anchor Mika Brzezinski (who are by no means Trump supporters) said it was “un-American” and “disrespectful” for the crowd to have acted in the manner they did. Quickly, more than 10,000 tweets including the phrase “sorry Joe” began trending on Twitter as users defended the actions of onlookers at Nationals Park on Sunday night. “The misrule, cruelty and infantilism of this administration is such that some sense of an enduring ethos is actually redeemed when we the people openly express our contempt,” wrote author and TV writer David Simon. “Dissent is the most American thing there is -- and to get clean, we need as much as there is on display.”

Scarborough took to Twitter after the segment aired to defend himself against his critics.

“So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: When crowds chant 'Lock her up” toward Hillary, it is illiberal and anti-American. (I agree). But when crowds chant the same toward Trump, it is suddenly a fulsome exercise of sacred First Amendment rights. What hypocritical clowns,” he tweeted.

He added that those who “think that democracy is strengthened by calling for the arrest of political opponents” are as “ignorant and illiberal” as the president himself.

“Delete your account and read some civics,” Scarborough fired back. “Stop embarrassing yourself.”

And so, to boo or not to boo . . . that is the question. This is no simple thumbs up/thumbs down question. To me, it is a real challenge:

On the one hand, I myself have a deep and abiding respect for the office of the President. Indeed, over the past 230 years, it has been occupied by 44 men (Grover Cleveland having served 2 non-consecutive terms) whose backgrounds, personalities, accomplishments and shortcomings were as varied as the nation they led. And whether or not they be blue bloods or tailors, slave owners or abolitionists, professorial or plainspoken, they managed to share one common trait: a deep-seated respect for both the Constitution and the Office they held. And up until recently, this has been an utterly true statement of fact. Sadly, this statement of fact now contains an asterisk . . . which reads “*except for Donald J. Trump.“ For in his words and actions, his demeanor and psychological makeup, he has shown himself to lack that one telling trait which has bound all the nation’s chief executives together.

But one can blithely argue - and correctly so - that his asterisk represents the failure of the man himself, and not the office he holds. If one accepts this argument, then the boos and catcalls (“Lock Him Up!”) even if unintentionally directed at both the man and the office are, in my humble opinion, wrong.

On the other hand, one can say “Enough already! He’s besmirched the presidency, abused his power and turned the White House into just another Trump, Inc. subsidiary. He gets what he deserves!” Although one can certainly understand and perhaps even accept the emotional anger this response engenders, it pushes the swamp well beyond the Anacostia River and perfectly-named “Buzzard’s Point” all the way to America’s collective front porch. This response, although again, understandable, is tantamount to fighting stink with stench, inhumanity with incivility. 

So what are we to do?  To boo or not to boo . . . that is the question.

Personally, I would never join with those shouting “LOCK HIM UP!! LOCK HIM UP!!”  It is both a waste of time and a further degradation of the office.  Seems to me we are better off using our energy to VOTE HIM OUT.  Then too, perhaps we can take chapter out of the book of the sixties’ protests.  I remember a day long ago when then-California Governor Ronald Reagan came to a meeting of the university Board of Regents on campus.  Now mind you, this was at the height of the anti-war, anti-draft  “Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30” era.  And so, when the governor entered the campus, we formed two long, long lines of greeting . . . a cortege of complaint.  As he entered the line, likely wondering if he were about to be screamed at, pelted with eggs or what have you, a unique form of protest ensued: we all, one by one, turned our backs on him, thereby forcing the Governor of California to cross the quadrangle surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of silent backsides.  We opted for silent humiliation in lieu of cacophonous insult.

What are your thoughts?

To boo or not to boo . . . please share your answer.

378 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone