Culture

Trump’s Response to LaVar Ball — Most Unpresidential

(Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
His effort to free LiAngelo from a Chinese prison was noble but not extraordinary. It was his job.

The father of one of the basketball players who had been facing shoplifting charges in China downplayed President Trump’s role in having him released — and Trump’s response may be one of the worst I’ve seen yet.

Now, to be fair, I certainly do understand why President Trump would have been upset by this. If you want to argue that LiAngelo Ball’s father, LaVar, should have shown gratitude instead of dismissal of President Trump’s efforts, then I’d say that’s a fine argument. What’s not fine, however, is this:

I mean, really? These three players thanked you by name, but because one of their fathers said something that you didn’t like, all three of them should have had to rot in a foreign jail? There’s really no appropriate response to a reaction like that except for, just, come on, man.

Of course, I’m not saying that these players don’t deserve any punishment. They do . . . and they deserve some ridicule, too. After all, not only is stealing wrong, but stealing in China also makes you kind of an idiot. These three embarrassed themselves, UCLA, their families, and our entire country — but they still don’t deserve to rot in a Chinese jail, and President Trump did the right thing by working to free them. Here’s the thing, though: President Trump should have worked to free them simply because it was the right thing to do, and his tweet suggests he did it looking for admiration.

What makes me think that? Well, as soon as someone — not even one of the players, but one of the player’s fathers — changed his tone from gratitude and praise to dismissal and minimization, President Trump immediately rushed to the keyboard to say he regretted doing it.

This wasn’t “presidential,” and I’m not using that word in the way that most people use it. After all, when most people criticize Trump for not being “presidential,” what they mean is that he doesn’t conduct himself with the kind of decorum that they believe someone in his position should. This, however, goes so far beyond that: It suggests that President Trump does not understand that his role is to be a servant for the people of the United States — of all of the people, whether they (or their fathers) like him or not.

Yes, what President Trump did was noble, but it wasn’t extraordinary — it was his job. This is America, and our presidents don’t just leave U.S. citizens in foreign countries’ jails regardless of whether or not those citizens thought it was a good idea to steal luxury merchandise or not. President Trump should have done what he did because it’s the kind of thing he was elected to do, not in exchange for recognition from the players, their fathers, or anyone.

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