Yesterday, on the anniversary of the Twin Towers’ fall, President Biden was heckled by vocal members of a crowd, and “Fuck Biden” chants broke out at various football games across the nation. As an American and a scholar of the Presidency, I view this development with sadness and worry. As an ethicist, I look upon it as a confirmation of much of my analysis during the Trump administration, and what was tagged on Ethics Alarms as the 2016 Post-Election Ethics Train Wreck. As a critic of what the nation’s progressives and the Democratic Party have devolved into, my reaction is anger tinged with satisfaction. This is what they did to the Presidency. I warned them, as did others with a lot more authority and influence than I, that the harm they were inflicting on the office, the nation and the government might be irreversible and ruinous. They didn’t listen, or, more likely, they didn’t care. All that mattered was their hatred for Donald Trump. Now their President is inheriting the inevitable results of the wreckage from their recklessness.
No, I won’t say “Good!,” but they deserve it.
The Founders planted a lot of the British Monarchy in the Presidency. The holder of the office was intended to be both the symbol of our democracy and our values and the practical embodiment of them. Researching the ethos of the American Presidency decades ago, I found that all authorities agreed on this point: every President, by virtue of holding office, was accorded the inherent respect and credibility accumulated by his predecessors. No matter how flawed the new White House occupant might be, he was instantly imbued with the aura created by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Eisenhower and others, and in their most idealized form. This phenomenon allowed the office to work. It gave every President a level of intrinsic support that exceeded his popular vote totals, because he became, in effect, a living flag.
The effective (and smart) Presidents realized this, and guarded that aura diligently. When Jimmy Carter, a man elected because the country decided that, after the Watergate trauma, it didn’t want a real President for a while, began doing his common man shtick, sitting down with farmers and construction workers and asking how they would run the country after abandoning the pomp and ceremony of his inaugural parade and walking the route, I told anyone who would listen that he was a fool. “He’s stripping off all his armor,” I told one friend, a Carter admirer. “A President can’t be seen as just like everybody else; he has to act special, because the President has to seem special. Carter was saying, ‘I’m not like Washington and Lincoln!’ He will regret it. He will need that armor, and he’s throwing it away.”
In Donald Trump’s case, the aura, the armor, the respect and deference that the Presidency must have to work was stripped away, by the “resistance”/Democratic Party/mainstream media alliance that set out to undermine and neutralize his Presidency. The damage to the office done by Carter had been substantially repaired by 16 years of two Presidents who knew how to act Presidential (Reagan and Obama), 12 years of the Bushes, who held on to the office’s strengths for dear life, and one disgrace (Clinton), who was charismatic and canny enough to minimize the damage he inflicted on the Presidency. All of that was wiped away by the campaign of hate and debasement heaped on Trump, reaching such a pitch that the Speaker of the House ostentatiously tore up his State of the Union message on live television.
No, Trump didn’t do his part to preserve the dignity of the office, but I doubt it would have made any difference if he had. While the Left was trashing the human flag, the real flag was being showered with disrespect as well. So were the very men whose records of public service provided the Presidency with its symbolic legitimacy, the Founders. Did the vicious Left really believe that treating an elected President as dog-droppings on their metaphorical shoes for four years irrespective of events would not damage the institution of the Presidency for future occupants, including those who met with their favor? If so, their ignorance of our history and our institutions is frightening. If not, their ruthlessness and lack of responsibility is more frightening.
This is why college students saw no reason not to chant “Fuck Joe Biden” yesterday.