If Trump appears at the location (it’s unclear which part of the sacred ground he might defile — Devil’s Den? Little Round Top? The Peach Orchard?), the battlefield will have the distinction of having hosted speeches by the greatest Republican president, maybe the greatest president ever, and the worst (in both categories). It apparently does not dawn on Trump’s narcissistic brain that the comparison might be unfavorable to him. He does not imagine that Americans might gag at the sight of the battlefield where the Union was preserved co-opted by a viciously divisive president who has been trying to preserve Confederate statues and base names. (You can see why the Onion’s staff might have to pack it in. What can they do to top this?)
Former vice president Joe Biden, by contrast, requires no battlefield for a backdrop. He presents himself as “middle class Joe,” a man without pretense and ego. The presumptive Democratic nominee knows what Trump does not: The presidency is not about elevating himself; it is about elevating the concerns of Americans so they feel heard, important and respected. The presidency for Biden is neither a stunt nor a show; it is a solemn responsibility. In that, he is no different than any of the presidents who preceded Trump. It was not until Trump that we got a president who thought that, in exchange for entertaining the country on reality television, he could reap psychological and monetary rewards in the Oval Office. It was not until Trump that a president had to look outside himself to maintain the pretense of power and dignity.
Instead of giving an acceptance speech at Gettysburg and becoming the target of unrestrained ridicule, Trump might instead do well to get a guided tour of the place. He might hear (if not process) that the Confederate cause was a traitorous rebellion to protect slavery and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. He might learn that Pickett’s Charge, often considered the “crown jewel” in the Lost Cause mythology, was grotesquely transformed into some heroic and selfless sacrifice meant recast a war to keep men and women enslaved. He might learn that all those statues and the names of military bases he wants to preserve were products not of the aftermath of the Civil War, but of the Jim Crow era. They were meant to continue repression of Black Americans and preserve White Southerners’ hope that the glorious South would be restored, the injustice of the Civil War “corrected.”
Trump can keep looking for a site that makes him feel big enough for the job. Alas, he can look far and wide (“Yo-Semite”?), but the problem is not the venue.