President Trump has yearned to combine his political rallies with militaristic displays that visually conflate support for American troops with his political identity. After some false starts, he has settled on taking over the Independence Day fireworks display in Washington, D.C. But Trump’s ambition is running headlong into another peculiarity of the Trump psyche: He is terrified of being booed.
Trump ventures out in public far less than his predecessors. He rarely dines out, and when he does, it is usually at a property he owns. His speeches are almost always held in controlled spaces, and — violating the tradition of cleanly separating campaigning from serving as president — are often political rallies. He is the only president in more than a century not to throw a ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game, a venue that would expose him to a booing crowd.
The Fourth of July celebration exposes Trump to the sort of crowd from which he has been traditionally insulated. The event is held in Washington, which (along with its surrounding suburbs) is heavily Democratic. It is also drawing protesters who will fly the famous Baby Trump blimp. Trump is also alienating nonpolitical attendees who might resent him turning a hallowed ritual that is a traditional venue for unity and a respite from politics into another divisive spectacle.
Trump’s efforts to control the rally should be seen in the context of his fear that the crowd will boo him. He is advertising the event on his Twitter feed, cordoning off the immediate area around his speech for ticket holders, and giving tickets away to Republican donors. Trump has “requested that the chiefs for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines stand next to him.”
Get it? The service chiefs have to stand next to Trump as human patriotism bodyguards.
Trump has spent his presidency representing his supporters, without even bothering with the pretense of representing the majority that voted against him. He is attempting to conscript patriotic rituals into this effort. He deserves the reception he fears: loud, merciless boos.