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The History Briefing on Presidential Booing: How Historians Contextualized the News

When President Trump and Melania sat behind home plate for Game 5 of the World Series at Nationals Park, they were met with vehement booing from the crowd. Some in the crowd chanted “Lock him up!”, which is both a play on “Lock her up!”, a common chant heard at Trump rallies aimed at Hillary Clinton, and a reference to the ongoing impeachment proceedings (the rules of which the House voted on last week). The following day, political pundits were eager to debate if the crowd’s behavior marked the end of an era of political civility. Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of the MSNBC show Morning Joe, condemned the crowd’s actions by calling them “un-American” and insinuating that they were stooping to Trump’s level. Several historians and journalists wrote about the history of booing presidents to contextualize the Nats fans actions and the ensuing backlash.

Lawrence Glickman, a historian from Cornell University, tweeted Monday morning, “Well, what do you know. There's actually an American tradition of booing presidents at baseball games.” Glickman included a link to an article from The Kane Republican reporting that President Harry Truman was booed at a Yankees-Senators game in April 1951. One spectator at that game went so far as to shout “Where’s MacArthur?”. By citing this example, Glickman suggested that, contrary to Joe Scarborough's sentiments, booing presidents is an American tradition. It is important for people to understand that this event is not an anomaly, nor is it a Trump-specific phenomenon. Glickman’s tweet shows Americans that this action was not as unique as they, along with many news outlets, might have originally thought. 

Journalist Matt Bonesteel traced this behavior back even further in his article for The Washington Post. Bonesteel pointed out that President Herbert Hoover was also booed at the World Series in 1931. In the middle of the Great Depression and Prohibition, the crowd reportedly yelled “We want beer!” at President Hoover as he left the stadium. Bonesteel additionally mentioned that George H.W. Bush was booed at the 1992 All-Star Game and George W. Bush was booed at a Nationals game in 2008.

Historian Kevin Kruse also tweeted about the Bush incidents, and added that President Obama was booed at an All-Star Game in 2008.

MSNBC correspondent Steve Kornacki tweeted a video of NASCAR fans booing Bill Clinton at a race in 1992 and protestors flew a banner that read “No Draft Dodger for President”. 

In all of these examples booing presidents is "an American tradition" or in the words of Heather Cox Richardson, an American history professor at Boston College, “Presidents get heckled; it goes with the turf”.

In an opinion piece for NBC News, political strategist Richard Galen argued booing Trump was admirable. According to Galen, the inaction of Whigs allowed antebellum southern Democrats to expand slavery. Such atrocities are “what happens when good men and women do nothing”. To Galen history shows Americans that they have a moral imperative to express their disapproval of Trump however they can, even if that means booing him at a baseball game.

History has shown that the crowd from last Sunday night’s game was no less civil than sports fans of the last 90 years. Presidents on both sides of the aisle have been, and will most likely continue to be subject to boos from a rambunctious crowd. The story may have made for great T.V., but with history as our lens, we can see that this might not have been the watershed moment the media portrayed it as.