Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, one of the prominent figures in the civil rights movement, long ago earned the right to determine for himself an appropriate protest. Once it was marches with Martin Luther King Jr. Now it is a personal boycott of the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Lewis, and more than 40 other members of the House Democratic caucus will not be attending Friday, their protest against Trump as a divisive figure and in the view of some, as an illegitimate president.
But Rep. David Price of North Carolina’s liberal 4th District is going, and he offers sound reasoning: “I will attend the Inauguration on Jan. 20 with pride — pride in our country and the values we must uphold, pride in the rule of law — and determined to make certain that no one, including our president, places himself above the law. This is not about Donald Trump. Like many of my colleagues, I am appalled by Donald Trump — his evident disregard for democratic values and his willingness to stoke bigotry and the politics of hatred and exclusion.”
Price’s view is shared by many in Congress, and evidenced by Trump’s historically low approval ratings for a new president. Many Americans also are coming to realize that Trump’s angry, divisive campaign must not carry over to his term as president.
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For his part, Trump’s not helping himself, attacking Lewis and continuing to exploit his favorite form of communication, the tweet. At the slightest criticism, whether from Lewis or actress Meryl Streep (and yes, their criticisms weren’t mild) Trump springs to action. If he continues to do so as president, the American people will wonder if, as the leader of the free world, he has nothing better to do. And quick, angry reactions may be amusing in a citizen, but in a commander in chief they are dangerous.
That said, members of Congress, notably those who cannot abide Citizen Trump, would set a strong example for the new president if they did attend his inauguration. It would be out of respect for a democracy in which there is a smooth transition of power, and for an office which is filled by the people themselves. An inauguration is not about one personality, but about an institution. Those who attend are endorsing that idea — not necessarily the candidate who won the election. Their attendance might as well show Trump that he needs to rise above petty disputes once he assumes office.
For his part, Trump must be aware that his inaugural address may be one of the most important in modern times, in terms of bringing a divided nation together, or at least beginning the process of doing so. Once he has taken the oath of office, the political party is over and the serious business of governing begins.