Passing on an invitation to visit the White House is nothing new, but has become a popular protest during the latest administration.
Telling a president “no thanks” is especially common among athletes when their politics don’t align with the person holding the office, but does it send the message they are intending?
A White House visit has become one of the many spoils of athletic dominance throughout the last century or so, with the historic home hosting champions from nearly every level of college and professional sport.
Especially recently, a handful of team and individual champions have declined a White House visit as a protest of Donald Trump’s policies or actions since taking the office of president. Those folks, in my opinion, are not only missing out on a chance to take their differing opinions to a larger audience, but are also conceding that they have no ownership of what’s rightfully theirs — our nation’s most famous home.
Folks … if you are an American, the White House is yours. It belongs to you. It doesn’t matter your income, race, religion, whether you are natural born or an immigrant. It doesn’t matter what political party you align with, or even if you have no interest in politics at all. The home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is YOURS.
When someone declines a visit to the White House they are telling a very temporary resident of the home that they own it. It concedes the powerful claim each American has on the White House — and every other building and monument in our nation’s capital — to someone just because they don’t like them or disagree with their politics.
Presidents come and go. Governments shift and change, but the buildings that they occupy ALWAYS belong to We the People.
When someone doesn’t take a White House visit, they are shutting down their own right to the largest of stages to offer their grievances to the rest of the nation and world. It is also a missed opportunity to momentarily have the ear of someone they may disagree with.
In 1970, Richard Nixon hosted Johnny Cash at the White House for a concert in an attempt to help gain southern and rural votes. He even suggested a few songs for Cash to play that would be considered friendly to the Vietnam War effort and the War on Drugs.
Johnny Cash was a very patriotic individual and one who rarely took political sides in public. These were traits that often led to people from all different political leanings laying claim on Cash and his songs. Nixon, however, somewhat misjudged Cash, somehow not realizing he was a very socially and politically conscious individual.
Cash and his band did visit the White House and played a set, but there were also some uneasy moments for Nixon and his staff as the seventh of a dozen songs on that night’s setlist was played.
The song “What is Truth?” took aim at hatred of hippies, told of a child questioning war, spotlighted the criminal justice system and advised adults to pay attention to the voices of the youth. That moment was huge and was the bulk of discussion in the media following the show. Nixon could be seen visibly uncomfortable as he listened to the words played by someone even more famous than himself. It was a situation Nixon had put himself in and Cash made the most of it.
That wasn’t the last time Johnny Cash had Nixon’s ear as he met in the Oval Office to discuss prison reform two years later. Cash was a huge advocate of criminal justice and prison reform well before it was the cool thing to do for celebrities.
What Johnny Cash was able to do is utilize the White House that was just as much his as it was Richard Nixon’s to advance his own causes. There’s no reason why today’s athlete or other notable figure couldn’t — in a respectful way — do the same, regardless if they like the current resident or not.
Whether or not a person likes Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Donald Trump isn’t the issue. Whether or not they agree with the politics or social stances of the individual who goes to work in the West Wing every morning shouldn’t keep them from their rightful place walking the halls of the home that has survived so long as one of the many wonderful symbols of our nation.
When a person you strongly disagree with offers you their own stage and you turn it down, that’s a missed opportunity to further your cause. And if you choose to do so in a respectable way, it may not be the last time you have that person’s attention or invitation to share your views.
Personally, I couldn’t imagine turning down a White House visit, ESPECIALLY if it were from someone I didn’t agree with. That’s the rarest of opportunities. It’s a ready-made Trojan Horse delivered to your doorstep free and clear.
Even if someone doesn’t intend to make a political statement during a visit to the White House, they should at least go and walk the halls. The chance may never come again.
In the same way that I detest calling elected officials “leaders,” I don’t believe in conceding that our longstanding national symbols belong to any one politician or political party.
The Statue of Liberty, the Capitol Building, the National Mall and ESPECIALLY the White House belong to me and you. So if you ever get an invite, even when you disagree with the current keeper .. for heaven’s sake, GO. It’s yours, after all.