A long time ago a group of men came together to decide what America would be. They were not perfect men, and they did not make perfect decisions. But one of the most important decisions they made was of the nature of the office of the President. It is an office with nearly no qualifications, aside from being elected to it. It is an office that comes with no honorifics, the President is “Mr.President” or “Sir” not “Your Highness,” “Your Majesty,” or any other title that would separate them from an ordinary citizen. Through our history, the accessibility of the President has been eroded due to security concerns, but there have always been parts of the Presidential duties designed to remind us all that it is an office held by a normal citizen called to extraordinary circumstances. That their house is our house. That they respect and acknowledge the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizens. Most of the time these bits of pageantry seem trivial or even a bit insulting. Until a President fails to perform them, and it becomes clear how much contempt he has for his fellow Americans and for the office they elected him to.
On Monday the White House is allegedly holding the annual White House Egg Roll and all jokes about the matter aside, this is exactly the kind of event that tends to be poo-pooed as a crass photo opportunity, but is also an important part of keeping the President close to the people. Tickets to the Egg Roll are free, you just have to enter an online lottery. Blocks of tickets are distributed to schools in DC. It’s a right of passage for a lot of kids who grew up in the area (sadly, yours truly not included, but I had friends who went) and it’s an easy chance for the President and First Lady to show how fun and relatable they are. To take pictures with adorable children in something other than a suit and tie, and look like normal people for a day. If I were a betting woman, I would be putting serious money down that Trump attends this event in a full suit and stays for less than half an hour. This should be an easy win for him, but it won’t be, because it’s not about him and so he’ll hate it.
Later this month is the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner, an event that is traditionally attended by the President, the First Lady, and several high-ranking staff members. Around town it’s still called Nerd Prom by people who haven’t realize that those kind of jokes don’t get more clever the more you make them. This yeah Hasan Minhaj will host and I’m sure he’ll have some harsh words for Trump just like Stephen Colbert had for President Bush back in 2006. But Bush sat there and took the roasting. Trump will not, and his entire staff will be skipping the event also. Again, this is an event that has been derided as making the press too chummy with the President in past years, or having too much fun with deadly serious topics and softening them too much for the sake of a good joke. I tend to agree with those thoughts, but I also think that the President and his staff boycotting the event is an act of aggression against the press that makes me deeply uneasy. One of the first rights enshrined in our Bill of Rights is the freedom of the press. A President who is unwilling to play along for an evening to honor the members of the press who cover the White House and its affairs is alarming.
I’ve talked before about how the culture of Washington, D.C would clash with Trump’s sensibilities. The Egg Roll is a free event, so are the White House Tours that were postponed for longer than usual after the inauguration. The Press Correspondent’s dinner has an invite list controlled by the WHCA, not the White House itself. The dinner has become exclusive in recent years, but it’s traditionally for journalists who are not glamorous or wealthy people. I’ve noticed that even as these free events that open the White House to all citizens are curtailed, Trump has no problem spending time with the members of his private club, who have paid $200,000 to be there. I do not hold any special reverence for any individual who becomes President because they are, after all, simply ordinary American citizens. However, I do hold a reverence for the office of the President, and it is worrisome to see that the man occupying that office does not have the same reverence or respect. Will the Republic rise and fall because Trump took pictures with wealthy club members instead of kids who got free tickets to an Easter party? No. This is not the worst thing that Trump and his administration will do to our country. But we have never held our President at a remove, and now we have a President who holds himself at a remove, and it is worth noticing.