Trump's vindictive pettiness renders him incapable of taking the high road

Trump's vindictive pettiness renders him incapable of taking the high road
© Getty Images

Any president would want to welcome the remarkable U.S. world champion women's soccer team to share in the celebration. Members of the three previous championships were honored at the White House — by George H.W. Bush in 1991, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDolly Parton remembers Ginsburg: 'Her voice was soft but her message rang loud' Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Calls grow for Biden to expand election map in final sprint MORE in 1999, and four years ago by Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Warning signs flash for Lindsey Graham in South Carolina Majority of voters say Trump should not nominate a Supreme Court justice: poll MORE, who quipped that they showed America that "playing like a girl means you're a bad ass."

But not Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE.

The president, who angrily lashed out at a couple players who criticized him, waffled on whether to hold the customary White House ceremony. Several players said they wouldn't attend.


Most every president gives a commencement address at a prominent public and private university in addition to the military academies.

But not Donald Trump.

Outside of the service schools, which always show respect for the Commander-in-Chief, he has spoken at Liberty University, headed by the controversial right-wing Trump supporter, Jerry Falwell, Jr. This isn't about ideology. Conservative Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both spoke at the Notre Dame commencements. Bush was the graduation speaker at his alma mater, Yale; Reagan gave the commencement address at the historically black college, Tuskegee University.

Try to imagine Donald Trump at Tuskegee.

Every president since 1910 has thrown out the ceremonial first pitch at baseball's opening day or for a World Series game.

But not Donald Trump.


The White House has made clear he won't perform this ritual at the Washington Nationals park or any other place. He knows he would be greeted by a chorus of boos, unsettling to his fragile ego.

For 40 years every President attended the John F. Kennedy Center honors commemorating America's leading artists. Non-partisan, it is an elegant evening.

But not Donald Trump.

He has twice rejected this annual occasion where artists ranging from left-wing Barbra StreisandBarbara (Barbra) Joan StreisandCelebrities mourn Ginsburg, call for voters to act George Floyd's 6-year-old daughter becomes Disney stockholder thanks to Barbra Streisand Former Obama Ebola czar Ron Klain says White House's bad decisions have put US behind many other nations on COVID-19; Fears of virus reemergence intensify MORE to right-wing Charlton Heston have been honored. It has been a high occasion for Presidents as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

A non-controversial ritual for most Presidents is a White House reception for championship sports teams, professional and college. It is a recognition of great athletic achievement.

But not Donald Trump.

Of the roughly two dozen champions that might have been recognized during his tenure, he has invited no more than half. When it's clear some stars won't attend, he simply declares the team isn't invited.

There is a discomfort even among those who go to the White House. When the 2017 world baseball champions, the Houston Astros were with Trump, star player Jose Altuve, a Latin American, visibly displayed his chagrin. There was a celebration of last year's World Series victors, the Boston Red Sox, but some of the star African-American and Latino players as well as the manager, a Puerto Rico native, boycotted.

The president's backers say the fault lies with these athletes for criticizing the president. Basketball all-stars like Lebron James and Stephen Curry object to his long history of racism. Trump’s misogyny is cited by soccer stars Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger who charged that he is angered by women he "can't control or grope."

These aren't intemperate or irrational criticisms. They are substantiated by a pervasive record.

These events aren't the big stuff of a presidency — not war and peace, tax and heath care policy, or the quality of appointments. They are, however, unifying moments where partisan discord can be temporarily set aside.

Trump's vindictive and bigoted character make it impossible for him to rise to such occasions. He has so lowered the bar that he won grudging praise for giving a mediocre July 4 speech where he politicized the American military.

More substantively, in a moment of tragedy — think Ronald Reagan after the Challenger explosion, Bill Clinton following the Oklahoma City bombings, George W. Bush in New York days after 9-11 and Barack Obama in the Charleston, S.C. church where black parishioners were slain — this President seems incapable of bringing us together.

He will be forever divisive. Soon he will start plans for his Presidential Library. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he threatened legal action if his grades ever were leaked, and where much of that community cringes at the association.

Here's a not so bold prediction: The Trump Library will not be in Philadelphia.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for the Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.