WASHINGTON — On an October night, we saw a scene straight out of Americana. A president went to a World Series baseball game and got booed by the ballpark. The crowd chanted, "Lock him up," as if to remind President Donald Trump he faces impeachment in November.
The extraordinary third-inning moment was what Abraham Lincoln called a "public opinion bath." The Civil War president had them often because he welcomed all comers into the White House.
For Trump, the bathwater was freezing cold in his first public foray in Washington since he was sworn in. Here on the capital city's streets, Trump is seldom seen in squares and spaces that are truly public to mix with people. Avoiding the city's diverse cuisines and neighborhoods, he has only dined out in his own hotel and only addressed gatherings that are controlled by a certified Republican base.
The same is true when he travels the country. Prescreened crowds are in; everyone else is out. Democracy does not live on base alone.
Dissent is not all Trump fears. He hides a host of fears under invective by tweet, his unique presidential prose. By now, it's clear the real coward in any room he's in is Trump himself. He's the one locked in a cage of his own making.
We know he's wary of releasing his income taxes and seems sure he can outlast the courts. We can only guess at the magnitude of his malfeasance.
He fears the political smarts of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her united House Democratic caucus as they advance to an impeachment inquiry vote on Thursday. So he tosses out loaded words like "lynching" and "witch hunt," implying he's a victim or a martyr. He has no right to appropriate these images. These are historical injustices inflicted on people of color — and women — who were hanged, burned or drowned in the duck pond.
Lest we forget, Trump defended white male supremacists rioting in Virginia as "very fine people" in his first summer in office.
Evidence suggests he was afraid of serving in the military, while so many men of his Vietnam War generation enlisted or were drafted. Nor did he oppose the war as a matter of conscience. He got out of the draft free, offering bone spurs as a medical excuse.
More relevant right now, he fears meeting the press on a level playing field. Lately, there have been no White House daily press briefings — not for months. The White House press corps kicks around, jostling for scraps and rushing to hear what Trump shouts in "chopper talk" under rotating helicopter wings before he boards Marine One.
That's the new normal for presidential press coverage, and Trump has it all on his terms.
He fears a fair fight in 2020. According to a July transcript, Trump tried to coerce a foreign government, Ukraine, to investigate a possible political rival, Joe Biden, in the 2020 election. He withheld about $400 million in military aid in return for "a favor though," as he told the new leader of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a "perfect" conversation that brazenly broke constitutional boundaries.
The quid pro quo scheme was reported by a whistleblower, an unknown government official who broke a dam that led to the current impeachment crisis. That took courage. Other government officials then found their voices and backed up the account in House hearings, defying Trump's efforts to silence testimony.
He's afraid of direct engagement. Twitter is a godsend to a president who lashes out at dawn or night — not to others' faces. Leading opponent Pelosi gets her share of rants. But then, so did the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Trump went out of his way to deliver a savage snub to Cummings' beloved Baltimore, a majority-black city. The attack "hurt" the congressman, his widow said in a eulogy last week.
Trump fears retreating anywhere but his own resorts, where he plays endless games of golf. He never darkens the doors of the Kennedy Center, the National Gallery of Art or the White House Correspondents' dinner.
That's why the third inning brought a sweet first moment for democracy. The Nationals lost, but the people won.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the creators.com website.