There’s no crying in baseball — but there is booing, jeering and chanting “Lock Him Up!” if President Donald Trump is in the ballpark.
Forget whatever happened on the field, Game 5 of the 2019 World Series will be remembered as one of the rare occasions a sitting (or former) president has been met with the type of high-decibel, visceral loathing usually reserved for visiting teams.
It’s all the more remarkable considering the last 48 hours should have been a media boon for the president rather than a colossal bust with his humiliation at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., documented on hundreds of cellphones then posted and re-posted for laughs, if not posterity. (Though it’ll certainly be good for future laughs.)
The public spanking wasn’t how things were supposed to go in Trump world. The ballpark appearance should have been a glory walk for POTUS, who just hours earlier had announced the dramatic demise of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a raid by U.S. special forces. The world’s most-wanted terrorist had been eliminated after a 10-year hunt, on Trump’s watch. Finally, a real reason to brag.
Some might say it’s cold, hard justice that his most impressive achievement as commander in chief was eclipsed by the type of mob mentality he’s encouraged and a slogan he popularized.
More likely? Trump became a victim of his own chaos offensive.
For three years, he’s been destabilizing the status quo while profiting from the mayhem. Washington protocol is in shambles. The wall is built, being built or ready to be built — on Colorado’s border, no less. Nepotism is a crime when the Bidens are involved, but Trump giving his daughter and son-in-law government positions is different. His personal attorney is the former mayor of New York, a onetime presidential hopeful who now butt-dials reporters during sensitive conversations about the need for more cash.
Until recently, the president has been untouchable inside the tower of subterfuge he built on his way to the Oval Office and has kept fortifying with batty conspiracy theories, spooky stories about immigrants at the border and the usual empty boasting about whatever is the best/biggest/most beautiful (fill in the blank) in the history of America and maybe even the world.
Pandemonium as an agenda, or the agenda: Think of it as Littlefinger’s infamous “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder” speech in “Game of Thrones,” but with all the smart bits swapped out for nursery rhymes and McDonald’s jingles.
No wonder that the sophomoric (but admittedly entertaining) stadium chants caught fire on social media while the stunning defeat of a globally feared terrorist smoldered in the background.
But it’s in situations that demand Trump act presidential that the president’s powers of improvisation tend to fail him most grievously. And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. During the press conference about the raid, even Trump seemed to have lost control of the bedlam he once used as a launch pad.
The address should have been his finest hour, but minutes into his 40-minute briefing, Trump began embellishing an achievement that was already spectacular and horrific: U.S. forces had chased al-Baghdadi into a tunnel and he blew himself up along with three of his children.
Trump said he watched the raid and the Islamic State leader was “whimpering and crying and screaming … like a dog” before he detonated a suicide vest. The president also said he had his eye on the self-proclaimed caliphate “From the first day I came to office, and now we’re getting close to three years, I would say ‘Where is al-Baghdadi? I want al-Baghdadi.’ And we would kill terrorist leaders, but they were names I never heard of. … They weren’t the big names.”
He went on to praise a dog the military used to corner al-Baghdadi: “Our K-9, as they call it — I call it a dog, a beautiful dog, a talented dog — was injured and brought back, but we had no soldier injured. … We had nobody even hurt. That’s why the dog was so great.”
Any other president would have recognized the gravity of the successful strike. But Trump was compelled to stray from the facts in favor of hyperbole, and used his own limited experience to say the drama of the operation was “just like a movie.” That’s one way to turn a monumental operation into a Sunday matinee.
The theme, if there was one, went back again to Trump and how he’d predicted the rise of the bad guy President Barack Obama caught and killed in a similar fashion, only in Pakistan.
“I wrote a book — a, really, very successful book. And in that book, about a year before the World Trade Center was blown up, I said, ‘There is somebody named Osama bin Laden. You better kill him or take him out.’” Trump also lamented that he didn’t “get any credit for this, but that’s OK. I never do.”
The White House released photos of Trump and his men (and there were only men) in the situation room watching live video of the Baghdadi operation, as Obama, Hillary Clinton and other top advisers from that administration had done during the bin Laden raid. Comparisons between the photos taken then and now flooded the zone. Some, including former White House photographer Pete Souza, suggested Trump had staged the moment, while others concluded that he was still trying desperately to best Obama.
Whatever the explanation, Trump’s destabilize-and-rise strategy came back to bite him Sunday. Amid the muddled political atmosphere he created, it’s no longer inconceivable for a military success to turn into a public relations disaster, or for the head of the executive branch to be subjected to a chorus of catcalls.
Trump’s own grimace suggested he heard the latter loud and clear, even above all that chaos.
(Ali is the Los Angeles Times’ TV critic.)
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