As of 10:29 am to day, Jan. 19, 2017, 65 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have announced that they’ll be skipping Trump’s inauguration. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-1) is one of the 65. He’s the only one of the three Missouri Democrats who is standing up and refusing to normalize the incoming Trump administration.
It takes guts to make your line in the sand as clear as these 65 representatives have done. Inevitably there are those who bridle self-righteously and claim to be above the vulgar fray, insisting that the inauguration celebrates the peaceful transfer of power in our democracy, not the dangerous clown who will assume the office, and that that fact means that we have to pretend that it’s business as usual.
There’s also another popular excuse for refusing to draw a line in the sand at the outset against the Trump Mafia, one expressed by Missouri’s other Democratic member of the House, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-5), as well as in a recent editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
This newspaper opposed Trump from the beginning. We have yet to see anything to change our belief that he is misguided. But far more abhorrent is the notion that he doesn’t even deserve a chance to succeed. Americans, regardless of ideology, must enter the Trump era with minds open to the possibility that he could actually foment positive change.
Opponents should not decide in knee-jerk fashion that anything with the Trump stamp is automatically wrong. Measure the new administration by its results, not just its abrasive words.
This piece of self-righteous twaddle holds that one must hope for the success of the incoming president no matter what doubts that president inspires in otherwise sane individuals. Naturally, this line of thought rarely bothers to define what Trump’s “success” might mean in what business people designate as operational terms.
Neither of these arguments address the well-founded doubts that many entertain about the legitimacy of Trump’s incipient presidency. Don’t we – and by extension our elected representatives – have an obligation to oppose the peaceful transfer of power to compromised individuals? Should we or they sit back with averted eyes and pretend that there’s even the remotest chance that we could ever get a silk purse out of this especially filthy sow’s ear?
First, in spite of efforts to ignore it on both sides of the political aisle, there’s the serious problem of Trump’s Russian connections. At this moment, our President-elect’s Russian ties are under investigation by six different government agencies – and we’re expecting our representatives to politely applaud when he’s handed the keys to the well-being of the nation? We cannot treat the ascension of a candidate already compromised by foreign entanglements as if it’s the usual business of democracy.
Second, Trump has massive financial conflicts of interest that potentially present a threat to American policy and security . As the owner of Trump Towers in Washington he will be violating the law the minute he becomes the President of the United States – a fact that is well known to him and his staff and which they consistently blow off as immaterial. He may well be in violations of the emoluments clause of the constitution when he takes office – there’s a reason that Trump will not release his tax return.
These problems have been well-aired, but our future President has failed to make a serious effort to address them. We do not need to wait to see what corruption of the sort that Trump will embody on day one of his presidency will do to destroy the ethical norms that have governed American political life up to this point. We need to make our opposition to his arrogance and his contempt for ethical norms known now, not after the fact when the problem has become institutionalized and we have become citizens of the United States of Corruption.
Third, we cannot overlook the fact that we now have a President-elect who managed to secure his position by dredging up the worst type of ugliness from America’s racially tormented past. We cannot in anyway normalize the presidency of a man who secured the job by virtue of mobilizing hate and bigotry. Nor, even for the duration of the inauguration ceremony, can we turn our face away from such moral corruption and the chaos it promises to bring.
None of the three reasons listed above for protesting the peaceful transfer of power that we all esteem stem from opposition to Donald Trump’s likely political goals, terrible though they may be to me and like thinking people, and which can easily be surmised from the sad set of corrupt and inept cabinet nominees he has selected – a lineup characterized by Paul Waldman as “worst cabinet in American history.” Reasons to protest the inauguration simply and purely address the fact that our president-elect is seriously compromised before he takes the office.
Donald Trump’s Russian entanglements were not known prior to the election. Nor did he make clear his intentions to ignore ethical norms – although one did not have to be terribly astute to figure out what was on the way. These issues could have been addressed, however, when the members of the electoral college took its vote. This type of situation, in which a manifestly unfit candidate manipulates democratic process to secure office, is exactly what that body was designed to deal with. Unfortunately, the electoral college has so fallen under the sway of partisan politics that it has become meaningless and we are left with no recourse but to signal our opposition in the only ways available to us.
So thank you Representative Clay. I’m not in your district, but you are still my representative because you are representing my interest in maintaining an uncompromised democracy. Sadly, you may be the only real representative I have in Missouri.
Cross-posted in slightly edited form to Daily Kos.