After a chaotic morning in the nation’s capital — during which President Trump announced the departure of chief of staff John Kelly and named his new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the 45th president found surprisingly friendly grounds in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia on Saturday to attend the annual Army-Navy game.
The local chapter of RefuseFascism.org had planned a protest outside Lincoln Financial Field, and on social media multiple Philadelphians had expressed their disapproval that the president, who won just 15 percent of the city’s vote in 2016, would be in attendance.
But the protest was sparsely attended, and the president was getting mostly positive responses inside the stadium and outside among bar patrons and tailgaters during the 119th service-academy rivalry.
With a biting wind and wind chills in the 20s during the afternoon, the roughly dozen protesters who had gathered at 11th Street and Pattison Avenue had mostly dispersed — cold and weary — by the time Trump officiated the coin toss around 3 p.m. Inside the stadium, Trump received applause from fans, with a reprise at halftime when he crossed the field from the Army side to the Navy side. Noticeably absent were boos. When he had arrived at the airport, the president was greeted by about 50 supporters, all of whom Trump greeted by shaking their hands.
“I think it’s great,” Keri Wanner, 35, a member of the Maryland National Guard, said of Trump’s appearance at the game. “He’s our commander-in-chief — it’s great that he is showing respect for our troops.”
Around 4 p.m., Wanner and three friends had gathered to watch the game on television at an outdoor table at XFINITY Live! Philadelphia, the sports bar adjacent to the stadium. The group of four had independently traveled from Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis, Md., with three representing the Army, Navy, and National Guard. They spent much of the day hanging out at the Tailgate for Troops, they said, a free event and fund-raiser that aims to boost the morale of active-duty service members and veterans through tailgate parties.
Across the outdoor bar, Charlie Weber, 52, who served in the Navy from 1988-2012, and his friends were spending the afternoon in a similar way — though, they said, XFINITY Live! was never part of their plans. Weber and some of his friends had traveled from New York with tickets for the game in hand, but gave up on getting inside the stadium after waiting more than 90 minutes in line. The veteran who said he served in Kuwait from 2005 to 2006 said he and his friends planned to try to get inside the stadium for the second half.
As for Trump’s being at the game, Weber was excited. “I love it — make America great again,” he said, adding that the protesters should “get a life.”
Outside the bar and with the stadium in viewing distance, protesters representing RefuseFascism.org began gathering around noon, according to Samantha Goldman, one of the founding members of the Philadelphia chapter and a national organizer for the group. For nearly three hours, she said, she and other protesters chanted phrases including “No, no in the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America!” and “Refuse your orders!"
The latter, Goldman said, was a reference to the troops who have been sent to the U.S.-Mexico border as a caravan of migrants arrives to seek asylum.
“We were playing the ProPublica clip of children who had been ripped from their parents at the border" on speakers, Goldman said. “There were people who were laughing and waving me away. ... That’s not to say that everyone there was against us. There were people who gave us high-fives who said thank you for being here."
Not long after Trump arrived at the stadium, the group packed up and went home.
“We were cold and there were only a few of us left,” Goldman said. But before they left, she said, “we were speaking for millions around the world.”
Still, that didn’t stop some Philadelphians from giving on social media their two cents — both positive and negative — about Trump’s Philadelphia visit.
(Obama did attend an Army-Navy game in 2011. However, the game was not in Philadelphia. It was at FedExField in Prince George’s County, Md.)
After leaving before the game’s end, Trump himself dashed off a tweet before heading back to the turmoil in Washington. “A GREAT game played all around by our HEROES,” the president tweeted.
Inquirer staff writer Kristin E. Holmes contributed to this article.