Attending the Inauguration

Spoiler alert: I’m not going to attend. Of course, I wasn’t invited. But my Congressman, Earl Blumenauer of the 3rd Congressional District of Oregon, isn’t going to attend either and he actually was invited.

The Daily Kos said today that the count of Democratic Representatives pointedly staying away from the swearing in of our new President has reached sixty. It seems to me that they are responding to the wrong cues and choosing the wrong actions.

And it’s not because I am unsympathetic to their point. They think that Donald Trump exemplifies the very worst elements of our political process. I agree. They think that Trump is very poorly qualified to be President and that he is a blusterer, a bully, and and liar. I agree. You can say nearly anything bad you want to about the man and find a ready listener in me.

OK, now let’s start the discussion at a different place. Do you agree, or do you not, that in these highly partisan times, we need institutions, symbols, and ceremonies that will allow us just to be Americans for an afternoon, not Republicans and Democrats and liberals and conservatives? Probably you do agree. [1]

inauguration-2OK, how are we going to have such ceremonies if people say that the ceremony is about the person who is being honored? We will not have them. If the ceremony is about the person rather than the office, then the ceremonies that are supposed to celebrate our unity as Americans and the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another, will have no power at all. Everything is politics—the pursuit of power. Nothing is government—things like providing for a common defense and protecting domestic tranquility.

I think the congressmen know this. Look at the way these two wiggle like a worm on a hook. Rep. Joaquin Castro, representing the 20th Congressional District of Texas, put it this way. [2]

“Every American should respect the office of the presidency and the fact that Donald inauguration-3Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. But winning an election does not mean a man can show contempt for millions of Americans and then expect those very people to celebrate him.

Notice the prominent “but.” Castro thinks every American should respect the office, but the man himself is unworthy. So what does he propose to do to respect the office?

Rep. Grace Meng of the 3rd Congressional District of New York, has the same problem. She says:

I respect the office of the President and our nation’s peaceful transfer of power.But the President-elect must get the message that his antagonistic and divisive comments are unacceptable. We cannot tolerate attacks on women, minorities or a civil rights icon.

inauguration-4It takes her a little longer to get to the “but;” still, when she gets there, she wiggles the same way Rep. Castro did. I respect the office. Good. I respect the peaceful transfer of power. Good. But the man who will take the office is a jerk and the man to whom power is transferred is offensive…and therefore we cannot participate in this celebration of peaceful democracy in America.

So…who will honor our ceremonies? Who will actually honor the office? Let’s imagine that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is elected in 2020. Who should attend the ceremony? Should we really have inaugurations attended only by the partisans of the winning candidate? Would that help us in these fractured times?

I don’t think so. Congressman Castro, Congresswoman Meng, suck it up and go do your job. Lament the man all you want. He is truly lamentable, but honor the office and the process by which it casts its spell on each new incumbent.

I disagree with Castro and Meng but I don’t think they are stupid. Taking highly visible stands on partisan issues will surely help them. Spending their political capital to support the few institutions that represent the nation, will probably hurt them. But it has to be done. Maybe an appeal to good manners would be enough.

The question really can’t be just, “Should we boycott the Republican winner?” You know that if we boycott theirs, they will boycott ours. So the question really is, “Is it vital to have institutions that represent the nation and not just the parties? I think it is. Everyone thinks it is.  Some parts of the inauguration process are, by the way, fully bipartisan.  Here are a few.

inauguration-day-1I think that President Trump’s actions, proposed and executed, should be opposed by everything we have. He is going to want to cozy up to Russia with predictable consequences for Germany and France. Make him pay. He is going to want to gut the health protections President Obama put in place and that the Supreme Court declared to be constitutional. Make him pay. He is going to continue to engage in business practices that are wholly out of line with the office of the President. Make him pay. He is responsible for his actions and when he does wrong, he should pay the consequences.

But we are responsible for the presidency, the office itself, and I think it is worth preserving. And if we are to have a president, we must have an inauguration.

[1] Nearly everyone I have talked to agrees when they let me get that far. Are symbols of our unity (not denials of our diversity) especially important right now? Yes, my friends say, they are. But left alone, they don’t get to that question at all.
[2] I almost said that he put it “these ways,” which is true, but a little too cute to put up in the body of the text. Down here, no one will care.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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6 Responses to Attending the Inauguration

  1. thinkydoug says:

    Ooh, this is tough. How do you separate the office of the President from the President himself? How do you choose to support the former without making it look like you’re supporting the latter? How do you in good conscience participate in the ceremony being held for someone while being against everything he stands for? That’s going to be really hard for me to work out.

    • hessd says:

      Yes it is. I agree. I’m looking at the alternatives, though. To do that, let’s start at the other end. “How do you in good conscience refuse to participate in the ceremony, knowing that only that will preserve the respect for the office that will allow future presidents to use it?” You will agree, I am sure, that that is the same question, with the foreground and background flipped. I think there is no way to “separate” the office and the winner, but I do think that the image of “foreground and background” succeeds in keeping both of them on the screen at the same time and I think that is important to our future.

  2. Daw says:

    Oh, man. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling but have not had occasion to say it and no real audience for it. I’ve reflexively pushed against the whole “not my president” notion because it’s not how this, our America, works. Thank you for so beautifully articulating why we must honor these ceremonies/symbols that hold us together and vehemently oppose those things which would betray our identity as responsible Americans.

    • hessd says:

      I’m so glad you liked it, Dawne. Everyone I talk to agrees–once I specify the starting point of the discussion–that the ceremonies must be honored and that we will all be the losers if they fade away. But no one I have talked to has started there. They want to start with the man (he’s disreputable, he’s a tyrant, he’s a sexist) and then they ask how they should respond to him, to Trump. So the other question, the one everyone agrees about once it gets raised, simply never gets raised. That seems a real loss to me.

  3. SharonE says:

    Thank you for this, Dale. Your voice of reason helps soothe my conflicted soul.

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