One theory is as convincing as it is wicked: we gawk when the mighty fall because we take glee in their disgrace.
Everyone was trying to get a word with The Donald, or just get close and gawk.
Medical students in their first or second year appeared in white coats to gawk from the doorway.
1785, American English, perhaps from gaw, a survival from Middle English gowen "to stare" (c.1200), from a Scandinavian source akin to Old Norse ga "to heed," from Proto-Germanic *gawon-, from PIE *ghow-e- "to honor, revere, worship" (see favor (n.)); and altered perhaps by gawk hand (see gawky). Liberman writes that it "need not have been derived from gowk. It is possibly another independent imitative formation with the structure g-k. Related: Gawked; gawking.
To stare; gape stupidly: locals gathered to gawk at strange lights/ They went in and out of the garage to gawk at the body
[1785+; fr dialect gawk, gouk, ''fool, idiot,'' literally ''cuckoo'']