A visit from the president of the United States is an honor to any community or college campus. The dignity of the office and the respect to which that office is entitled creates that feeling of honor, regardless of the individual occupant of the White House.
It was true when Barack Obama visited Tuscaloosa in the wake of the 2011 tornadoes and is equally true of Donald Trump’s impending visit for Saturday’s Alabama-LSU college football game. We are certain that both the city of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama are cognizant of that honor.
Along with the honor, there comes work. Any presidential visit requires an extraordinary logistical effort. When the president attends a football game in a major metropolitan area, like Atlanta, for a national championship game, or Philadelphia, for an Army-Navy game, vast resources can be brought to bear, helping to assure that the visit goes smoothly. When the location is Tuscaloosa, much smaller and already stretched to the limit to accommodate the biggest college football game of the season — not just Alabama’s season, but the entire regular season across the nation — an extraordinary effort will be required.
Fortunately, Tuscaloosa and the university are capable of just such an effort, even if it requires fans of both Alabama and LSU to show some added patience in matters ranging from entry to the stadium — security will be tight — to elevator access, to traffic in and around the stadium. Without encouraging anyone to watch the sun rise from the stadium steps, our best advice would be “the earlier the better.”
The White House has given no specific reason why Trump picked this particular game to attend. Perhaps the answer is a simple one: Every college football fan wants to see this matchup. There are more cynical views that say that Trump is seeking a quick TV opportunity in front of a friendly audience. Alabama voted for Trump by a 28-percentage point margin in 2016 and simple mathematics would suggest that he will get a warmer reception here than he did for a Washington Nationals World Series home game.
That does not mean that this visit should turn into a political rally, although it is no more possible to have a Trump visit without politics than it is to have a slab of ribs without sauce. UA will try to avoid a sideshow, but debate is a part of our national landscape these days — and can be healthy.
Nowhere should that be more true than on a college campus. Exuberant support is a First Amendment right. So is dissent.
By the end of the afternoon, the focus will be back on the field, not on a presidential visit or College GameDay or any other part of the day. Trump’s last appearance at an Alabama game ended with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa making Crimson Tide history. Perhaps that history will repeat itself.
Regardless of whether your preferences are “red” or “blue” politically, or crimson-and-white or purple-and-gold on the football field, Saturday promises to be a memorable occasion, one that Tuscaloosa will, once again, rise to meet.