Opinion: On presidential visits and long security lines

I was in the security line Monday night outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium — a.k.a., the site of the Atlanta/Georgia Sports Curse Vol. LXVII — when the frustration began to mount for everyone. I spent a solid hour in the cold and light rain being pushed and pressed toward the metal detectors and Secret Service agents, and I heard about many others whose ordeals were even longer. A common theme emerged: This is President Donald Trump’s fault for coming to the game.

Now, let’s stipulate two things. First, this frustration would be applicable to any president. Heightened security comes with any presidential visit, and there would be backlash from some people regardless of which party was in power; even in the South, football fandom is a bipartisan affair. Second, some significant security measures would have been in place anyway. I’ve encountered metal detectors on my way into SunTrust Park before a meaningless Braves game in September. This is 21st-century America, and it’s perhaps only a perception that the screening would have been substantially lighter without Trump’s presence.

But it’s those last two points — that this is the way things are now, and yet the perception was overwhelmingly that it was worse because of the president — that lead me to write today.

For a variety of reasons, some more legitimate than others, one’s ascent up the political ladder brings some fringe benefits such as often getting to skip some of the security harassment Americans endure. It’s certainly true of modern presidents, who don’t so much as sit through traffic anymore. I’m not the first person to observe that this can yield a certain detachment from what the rest of us know in our everyday lives.

I heard a lot of grumbling in the crowd Monday that no president should ever attend an event like the college football championship game again if it’s going to cause such inconvenience. To be honest, that was my first instinct, too.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think there’s a better answer. As part of their orientation to the presidency, our incoming chief executives should be required to go through a simulated security line.

I say “simulated,” because I’m sure there’s no way the Secret Service would allow the president or president-elect to go through an actual security line. There’s too much hazard and alcohol-fueled unpredictability. But it would be entirely possible to stage a simulation that would send the desired message: This is what you put people through when you go where they’re going. This is particularly important when they aren’t going to a political event: If I go to a presidential speech or rally, I expect and can justify a certain amount of security. It’s a little different when it’s a football game, or a concert.

A crowded line on a hot day brings its own kind of misery, but a cold night (preferably one that’s also rainy, like Monday) will suffice. Stage a big enough crowd to ensure the experience will last a good hour. Make sure they’re pushing on one another the way anxious crowds do. Have the president-elect drink a few bottles of water beforehand, and make him hold it in his bladder the whole time.

Then let the new president decide whether to attend an event like Monday night’s football game, with the knowledge of what that means for the ordinary fans trying to get into the building as well. And let the rest of us judge that decision, knowing that he knows exactly what he’s making us go through.

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