Shirley Leung

In Trump era, Baker should follow his heart a bit more

Governor Charlie Baker didn’t attend this Boston protest on Sunday against President Trump's executive orders restricting immigrants from seven Muslim countries.
Governor Charlie Baker didn’t attend this Boston protest on Sunday against President Trump's executive orders restricting immigrants from seven Muslim countries.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

So this is how it’s going to be in Trumplandia: Charlie Baker works the phones to understand the new president’s executive order on immigrant travelers, while Boston Mayor Marty Walsh rushes to Logan Airport to fight for their rights.

It’s a study in political contrasts — a wonky Republican, a working-class Democrat — and if you’re waiting for Baker to show up at a demonstration to protest Donald Trump’s policies, it ain’t going to happen.

Baker’s technocrat approach has served him well, making him one of the most popular governors in the country. But the Trump presidency marks a new era, and the middle ground Baker feels so comfortable on may quickly become a politically perilous no man’s land.


At the moment, the governor’s terra firm feels like quicksand.

It’s already become an issue for some whether Baker — or anyone from his administration — participates in a demonstration.

The governor couldn’t attend the Women’s March on Boston Common two weekends ago because he was hunkered down at the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s annual meeting. Then Baker couldn’t partake of the pro-immigrant rally Sunday in Copley Square because he was at a funeral.

His absence has been noticeable. At Sunday’s gathering, the crowd around me began to chant: “Where’s Governor Baker?”

For the record, I did not start it, though I am guilty of writing a whole column on how he should have been at the Women’s March.

At the rate Trump is going, there could be another protest this weekend. What will be Baker’s explanation this time? Let me guess — probably something related to preparing for his Super Bowl bet with the Georgia governor.

In an interview with WGBH radio on Monday, Baker was pressed by cohost Jim Braude three times on whether he would have gone to the Sunday rally or the Women’s March had he been free. The governor couldn’t get himself to utter the word “no.”


Instead, he talked about how anyone from his administration is free to attend the demonstrations. He explained how he spent a good part of the weekend on the phone with executives in the health care, business, education, and nonprofit worlds, trying to understand the impact of Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries.

Unsatisfied, Braude unleashed an old reporter’s trick. Which is to ask the same question again: “Had you been free, would you have gone to either rally?”

“I think my job is to represent the interests of the Commonwealth, and the most important way I can represent them is through the channels that exist,” the governor replied.

This is what Team Baker doesn’t get. Navigating Trump is no longer about politics, but about being human. Many people in this Commonwealth feel unnerved about the future, and there are ways to show you care, beyond making phone calls.

Sure, you will find Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, at as many anti-Trump demonstrations as she can find time for. But when she was at the Martin Luther King Jr. school on Monday, unveiling an anti-violence program, the cameras caught an unscripted moment.

Healey became comforter-in-chief after meeting 12-year-old twins in hijabs, Muna and Muniira Abdi, who asked, “What are you doing to make us feel like we, too, are Americans?”


The two girls are not green card holders or recent immigrants. They were born in Boston to parents from Somalia, one of the countries in the executive order.

Turns out Healey can do a lot. On Tuesday, she planned for the Commonwealth to join a federal lawsuit challenging Trump’s travel ban. At the press conference, Healey recounted that meeting with the girls, and how one of them cried:

“It broke my heart. That is the impact of this executive order. I want them to know that Massachusetts will have their back. No executive order, no president is more powerful than their rights as Americans and no more powerful than our Constitution.”

Then there was that moment at Logan Airport Saturday night, which you didn’t see on TV. The moment Mayor Walsh escorted a traveler — a green card holder from Medford — to her cab after enduring a long wait at customs because of Trump’s new policy. Between the demonstrators and the media, she was scared. She just wanted to go home and needed a helping hand. Walsh was there.

It’s easy to think that a Democratic mayor would naturally be out in front, blasting Trump. But Walsh’s actions could cause him trouble, given that he has been drawn into a federal investigation into alleged pressure tactics by labor unions. It would not be unlike Trump to send his new US attorney after Walsh. Still, the mayor isn’t laying low.


The demonstrations are too partisan for Baker’s taste — and at this point, being the state’s leading Republican, he might be booed if he showed up. And we all know he doesn’t react well to that. Remember how he walked off the stage at an LGBT networking event last year?

But there are ways Baker can get beyond his technocrat self to show he deeply cares, and that’s what people need in these uncertain times.

Baker could have been at Healey’s press conference. He was invited, and his office worked with the attorney general on the suit, but he was not there. The governor could go to Logan’s Terminal E, and thank the lawyers camped out there to defend immigrant travelers. Baker could visit a mosque.

In dealing with Trump, the governor needs to follow his heart a little bit more and his head a little bit less, because the middle ground he’s staked out is disappearing fast.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.