The Slatest

I Don’t Understand Jokes or Context

Trump waves from a luxury box above which fans can be seen in the upper deck.
Donald Trump at the World Series in Washington on Sunday. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Washington Nationals fans chanted “lock him up” when Donald Trump appeared at Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday Night.

As a prominent media figure—like MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and author-pundit Ron Fournier—I find this alarming and offensive. It is exactly as offensive as when Trump’s rally audiences chanted “lock her up” when he mentioned Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, and when they continued to chant it throughout his appearances at rallies as president.

Although my duties in the media require me to keep abreast of the news, I have forgotten, or I fail to grasp, that the FBI had already announced that there was no justification for prosecuting Clinton over her handling of classified material when the Trump chants took place, or that a subsequent State Department investigation concluded just this month that “there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information by department employees” under Clinton’s direction.

It does not occur to me to compare this to the evidence of Donald Trump’s own criminal behavior, which is so substantial that even independent voters support the impeachment proceedings against him.

I fail to see how a political candidate encouraging a threatening chant toward his opponent—one that he would later attempt to follow through on when he took power—might be different than a group of citizens in a nonpolitical setting expressing displeasure with an elected official who, in our system of government, works for them. Nor have I considered the fact that impeachment, as a constitutional power granted to the House of Representatives, is a matter in which the judgment of the general public is relevant.

I am utterly confused by the notion that a chant about locking someone up has a different context now than it did before Trump’s audiences made the concept famous—and that, in that context, the World Series crowd’s ironic reversal of Trump’s own rhetoric could be considered clever and even humorous. I do not appreciate how this reversal functions as a meta-commentary on the bubble in which the president has isolated himself, usually refusing to appear before any crowd that has not been prescreened for loyalty and enthusiasm, so that he is wholly unprepared to encounter any displays of ordinary criticism or dissent.

And I clearly don’t understand that the expectation that journalists be fair does not always mean that they have to find liberals and conservatives equally to blame for any given problem. Both sides have gravely disappointed me, and I fear for our republic.