Published in The Moderate Voice on January 19, 2017
Friday is inauguration day. The swearing-in of a new President signifies the peaceful transfer of power – one of many things that makes our nation unique. We’re talking about the start of an era though, to hear many tell it, one may think it’ll be the start of an error. That extends to than 65 Democratic members of Congress (at last count) including the venerable John Lewis will not be attending the ceremony. That is certainly their prerogative. But it is also a mistake.
Let me make clear. John Lewis may be the one person in Washington D.C. who can preach of moral superiority who can probably emerge unchallenged. It is universally agreed that he lacks a mean bone in his body. His stature in the House, not just in the Democratic caucus but among very conservative members, is nearly unheard of. I also think that the president-elect calling Lewis “all-talk” was dead wrong. I also felt that while Trump has been gracious to some of his political opponents, it would have behooved him to meet with some of his detractors such as Mr. Lewis or Khizir Kahn. But we’re talking about a new chapter, it’s far easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar and boycotting the inauguration just increases the rancor.
Losing is not fun. I told Democrats the day after this past election, just as I did after the election of 2004 to not look back – to just look ahead. Introspection and examining mistakes is one thing but, look to the future. We all know that the Russians attempted to interfere with our elections and that’s disturbing. But little suggests they succeeded in changing actual votes cast. Donald Trump is going to be taking his oath at noon tomorrow under the capitol dome – the time mandated by the U.S. Constitution. It’s hard to get much more legitimate than that. There’s a reason that takes place at the capitol. The design is the president and the Congress.
Let’s examine the boycott. While I consider the reasons of the members not attending to be legitimate and their views profound, boycotting an inauguration sends the wrong symbol about our democratic mores while also setting a very unwise precedent for the future. The office of President of the United States is not about one man, it is about our nation. When a crisis occurs we only have one President and we get behind that person. Tomorrow, that person will be Donald J. Trump. To put it another way, there’s a difference between not respecting the president and not respecting the presidency. Consider: Hillary Clinton is the vanquished opponent after a very rough campaign yet she is graciously attending. That should say wonders about the fabric of our government.
For members of Congress, the inaugural ceremony is just one example. The State of the Union is another. The president is required to provide an annual message to Congress on the status of national and international affairs. One doesn’t have to heartily applaud but being on hand is really a responsibility.
Now I’m not saying folks on the other side of the aisle – at any time, should grin and bear it. Unlike some, I consider protests as American as apple pie and a central part of our democracy, not to mention a necessity for advocacy of views. That applies to members of Congress as well as Joe Q. Citizen. But by all means, tomorrow is a rite of passage that defines what the Constitution is all about – “We the People,” and it should be treated as such.
In closing, I am reminded by the words of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt who was forced to relinquish the gavel that had been held by Democrats for 40 years to Newt Gingrich following the election of 1994. Losing the House was a surprise, just as losing the the presidency came as a surprise to Democrats and most Americans. With considerable class, Gephardt told Gingrich before the full House, “With resignation, but with resolve…with faith and with friendship and the deepest respect, you are now my Speaker, and let the great debate begin. “You are my Speaker. Let the great debate begin.”
For tomorrow at least, that would be a sound philosophy for members of Congress, Democrat and Republican alike.