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Why booing Donald Trump doesn't mean what you think it means

(CNN) On Sunday night, President Donald Trump went to the World Series in Washington. And got booed. Loudly. And even was subject to a "lock him up!" chant.

This was celebrated on Twitter. And by liberals nationwide. He got a taste of his own medicine! Now he knows how people really feel about him!

Which is, well, true. Trump very rarely appears in public at anything other than campaign rallies and official events. In both of those situations, he is lauded. There are just very few occasions -- except maybe, when his motorcade passes protesters -- where Trump comes face-to-face (or close) with people who really, really don't approve of how he is handling his job.

But what the booing and chants on Sunday proved isn't that lots of people don't like Trump. We already knew that. What it proved is just how much he has changed not just politics but public discourse more broadly -- moving the goalposts (or maybe knocking them down entirely) on what is acceptable behavior.

"I have a hard time with the idea of a crowd on a globally televised sporting event chanting 'lock him up' about our President," said Delaware Sen. Chris Coons (D) on CNN's "New Day" Monday morning. "I frankly think the office of the President deserves respect, even when the actions of our President at times don't."

Whether or not you agree with Coons -- and many liberals absolutely will not -- the sentiment he is expressing is worth exploring.

What Trump tried to do in the 2016 election -- and as President -- is fundamentally alter the way in which we think of the office of the presidency. His campaign was premised on the idea that all these stuffed-shirt politicians acting so very proper were all just a bunch of phonies. All they were really doing was feathering their own nests and ignoring what real people wanted.

He turned the very idea of "being presidential" into a joke. At a 2018 rally in Florida, Trump claimed, "anybody can act presidential," walking faux-stiffly and intoning in a mock-serious voice: "Ladies and gentlemen of the state of Florida, thank you very much for being here. ... I will leave now because I am boring you to death."

"Being presidential" in Trump's mind was what had turned the US into a country that the rest of the world was taking advantage of and mocking behind our backs (and sometimes right in front of our faces). All these politicians were so worried about acting ""nice" and "right" that they didn't fight for the public. And Trump was coming to change all of that.

It was -- and is -- under that idea that Trump and his supporters have justified his words, his tweets and his actions over these past four years. His boorishness. His bullying. His know-nothingness. His unpredictability. All of it.

So when a crowd at a baseball game boos the President and chants "lock him up," it is less a we-are-going-to-show-him-what's-what moment than it is an accidental acknowledgment of how radically Trump has changed the way in which we think of presidents and how they should both act and be treated.

For some people, that's probably just fine. They'll argue that the only way to fight fire is with fire. That the only thing Trump understands is force and power -- and so to really make an impact on him (and his voters) you have to prove that you are willing to do (and say) whatever it takes.

Maybe? Until we see whether Trump gets reelected next year, it's impossible to know what the best way to beat him is.

But we do know from the 2016 campaign that when other candidates tried to get down in the mud with Trump, it didn't work. Take Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R). For a few days in the spring of 2016, Rubio made the clear calculation that he would try to out-Trump Trump. He repeatedly suggested that Trump's reportedly small hands were a sign of, uh, a smallness in other parts of the President. Which led to this famous/infamous line from Trump during a Republican debate:

"I have to say this, he hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I've never heard of this one. Look at those hands. Are they small hands? And he referred to my hands if they're small, something else must be small I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee you."

Rubio eventually apologized for his conduct. Trump didn't. Rubio lost. Trump won.

The point here is that getting into the mud with the pig rarely works in politics (or life). The pig enjoys it and you get muddy, as the saying goes.

And more broadly, even if giving Trump a taste of his own medicine not only makes you feel better but is also the only way to beat him, there are consequences to accepting and internalizing the lowered standards he has pushed into our public sphere.

Even if Trump loses in 2020 but does so in a campaign and a culture that has mainstreamed his brand of bullying and boorish behavior, he's won a sort-of victory. And one likely to last well beyond another four-year term.