Never mind the grammatical hurdle at the end of the tweet (Is he looking forward to it? Telling us to look forward to it?), Trump’s decision to hold a rally on Saturday is significant for three reasons: the date falls, not coincidentally, on the same evening as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (in which journalists, actors and politicians convene for a night of jolly banter), on Trump’s 100th day in office and also on the potential first day of the government shutdown if an appropriations bill does not pass by Friday at midnight.
It would be one thing if, during the Correspondents’ Dinner, Trump stayed silent. It would be one thing if he watched from the quiet of his White House living quarters, wandered through the building in a bathrobe or even hunkered down on Twitter with his thumbs at the ready. But, instead, what does the leader of the free world choose to do? He chooses to travel to Pennsylvania to speak at a rally — to guarantee that the roasting in Washington will be silenced by the roaring of his own voice in another direction. And he chooses to draw others into tuning the Capitol out.
Admittedly, the crowds that will gather for his rally probably would not have tuned in to the Correspondents’ Dinner anyway. And just as students should not have to be told to listen to prejudiced speakers on their college campuses, Trump owes it to nobody to attend the Correspondents’ Dinner. But then again, we’re talking about the president of the United States, and we’re talking about actions that can be projected, in their symbolism, across a national conscience.
Yes, the president is using a tactic many learned to abandon in middle school — which is that talking over people you disagree with puts the immaturity spotlight on yourself. But even still, this bad behavior drives far beyond the standard of eye-rolling. The Correspondents’ Dinner is a tradition more than a century old. In just one week, our government may be actually closed down. It is a stunningly ignorant stance that Trump cannot even stand to be in the same room as those he knows will criticize him.
Indeed, we are living under a president who will take to Twitter to dangle the threat of cutting federal funds over the University of California, Berkeley’s decision to keep far-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus for his own safety, and then subsequently cross state borders to keep away from the media figures sure to roast him at the Correspondents’ Dinner.
His decision to do so casts long shadows over the Oval Office, because if Trump disregards anything, it is respect and integrity for the role of the presidency. Tradition, dignity — none of it matters to him. Only the worship, the throngs waving posters and cheering his name. That is what he wants to hear, and because he is the president, we will be forced to pay for it.
If Trump chooses to ignore the criticism and instead would rather praise himself in front of thousands, if he would rather present on the outside a shiny, flawless gold exterior — then maybe the world will begin to believe the greatness he sees in himself. Maybe someone will.
Furthermore, this choice mirrors the behavior of someone even younger: a toddler, crouching in the middle of the school play yard, holding his hands over his ears and screaming at the top of his lungs. Pretending that as long as he can’t see and hear — his teacher, his parents, his friends — then no one else can. Pretending that if he ignores the damage his leadership at the top of the executive branch has wreaked over the past 100 days, then everyone else will, too.
I, personally, am looking forward to the strongest and most scathing White House Correspondents’ Dinner in recent history. May Trump’s absence fuel the rhetoric even more, because on this day when the government threatens to shut down and our fearless leader turns his back, may there be no one who will let him forget the weight of his country trailing behind him. May there be no holding back.
Zoe Cheng is a sophomore majoring in writing for screen and television. Her column, “Cross Section,” ran every other Tuesday.