Why I won’t be watching Donald Trump’s inauguration

Barack Obama and his family at his election victory speech Nov. 4, 2008, in Chicago’s Grant Park. We are not the nation I thought we were becoming as I watched that night. (Everett Collection via Shutterstock)

Donald Trump is like a guy who takes a dump on half the yards in the neighborhood, somehow gets elected neighborhood association president, and then says it’s time for everyone to unite behind him.

Trump crapped on immigrants. He crapped on women. He crapped on President Obama. He crapped on you, even if you don’t think so. He crapped on America. He crapped on the world.

He denied, then bragged, then denied some more, despite proof. And yet, he won, because half of those in the neighborhood who didn’t get this treatment loved him. Now, he and his inner circle have urged the rest of the neighbors to come together, to heal and move forward — and without apologizing to any of them. Really? Forgive and forget? No way. The arrogance of expecting the people he dumped on to meet him all the way, not just halfway, would be mind-boggling if it were anyone else. But he has flung so much poo in getting the best of the party that owes its current existence to poo-flinging, we are well beyond what we once considered normal.

I have watched every U.S. presidential inauguration since Nixon’s second. That streak ends Friday. Call it a boycott if you’d like, although almost no one will notice. But in a still-defining-itself #notmypresident form of personal protest, I am doing my small part to refuse to normalize and legitimize Trump’s presidency.

Yes, I have read pieces — most of them by people seemingly lacking self-awareness regarding the blind spots inherent in their privilege — deriding the substance of, and the hashtag within — the previous paragraph. Many such pieces popped up amid post-election demonstrations across the country and the anti-Trump backlash on social media. A main point is, “Not your president? How’s that supposed to work?” My answer today: That’s for me to figure out. You can treat as normal and legitimate the people and events of your choosing.

As it turns out, I have plenty of company in some or much of my thinking. Dana Milbank and I have similar opinions on the Trump team’s angry call for respect. On the question of the legitimacy of Trump’s ascendancy, Paul Krugman and I (and Rep. John Lewis) largely agree. For a far more eloquent expression than I am capable of writing, I recommend Adam Gopnik’s The Music Donald Trump Can’t Hear as a foundation for what’s to follow below.

Despite Trump’s insistence that he “will be president for all Americans,” there is no evidence that he is even remotely interested in proving it, in reassuring marginalized people that he is a man of his word. In fact, he has been known for decades as a selfish opportunist who is decidedly not a man of his word. As someone who has enjoyed the privilege of being a white male from birth, I consider it my responsibility to speak — for myself and for those who are now more vulnerable — about why I will not acknowledge his inauguration Friday.

Before, during and after his campaign, and indeed for much of his public life, Trump has publicly shit on many people in America, most of whom were not born into the life of privilege and advantage that helped him amass great wealth. On Dec. 6, The New York Times updated an earlier list, publishing “The 289 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter.” The list was staggering in print, requiring two pages.

That’s just a list of those he targeted on Twitter and does not necessarily include everyone he dumped on in rallies or in television or radio interviews, although there’s considerable overlap.

He insulted or defamed Gold Star parents the Khans, Mexicans, Muslims, Iowans, the state of New Jersey, Sen. John McCain (for being captured and becoming a POW), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (“Pocahontas”), Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her wherever”), governors, mayors, heads of state, other nations, the electoral process, the cast of “Hamilton,” and even mocked a reporter in a distasteful, undignified way. The way the latter display was later debated — “Is the reporter really disabled?” “Was Trump mocking the disability or the reporter’s backtracking?” — shows how much our standards of decency have fallen, and how much Trump has debased the office of the presidency even before being sworn in. That he publicly mocked anyone in that manner, regardless of the circumstances, degrades the office he assumes Friday and, truly, stains humanity. He is a daily, walking, talking, spewing lowering of standards and principles. Sadly, all of that helped him win tens of millions of votes.

He has never apologized. Instead, he took a victory lap, a “thank you” tour of the states that voted for him, when a different itinerary would have been more appropriate. Decorum suggests an apology tour, one perhaps as long as his campaign, to allow time for him to try to heal wounds he caused and tamp down the hate he unleashed over 19 months. Since he is unfit to be president, and often seems uninterested in the work of being a leader, there is ample time for him to try to be a person rather than a grotesque cartoon character.

Trump wants respect and is insulted by those who challenge the legitimacy of his presidency, and yet, he shows blatant disregard for the norms of the office, for the traditions of our political system and for the commitments the U.S. has made to the international community. And this man who lies regularly, even disavowing things he has said on live television, is so untrustworthy, so reckless, his election has made the world a less stable place.

He has nominated people for Cabinet positions who demonstrate almost no knowledge of what the departments do, or they have track records of actions or donations that signal goals that would reverse or derail U.S. policy in those departments. In more than one case, it’s hard to imagine being able to find someone better suited to destroying the core mission of a department than Trump’s picks. This is disturbing given how little Trump seems to know about the duties of a president, and his apparent disinterest in taking the job seriously, perhaps even to the point of letting his children take the wheel in a number of areas.

That one of his first choices for an advisory position was Steve Bannon of Breitbart News Network, an oxymoron if ever there was one, is an alarming declaration of war on the sacred tenet of having a free press in this country. Putting the former executive editor of such a propaganda machine in the role of chief strategist and senior counselor for this colossally unqualified administration is one of the most vile components of his team’s assault on maintaining an informed electorate. Essentially installing Breitbart’s black soul in the White House provides an opportunity, working in concert with the Republican-led Congress that helped elect Trump, to imperil the First Amendment.

For anyone who might think this is just another election, with sour grapes in abundance on the losing side, let me say two things: 1) Even the winning side will prove to be a thoroughly wounded part of the losing side; and 2) This is not just another election featuring bitter partisan politics. Haaretz, the oldest daily newspaper in Israel, wrote: “This isn’t just an ideological shift in how the American government functions. It’s a vast tilt toward irrationality, a shattering of the sophisticated policy-making systems that have shaped America’s role on the global stage since World War Two. It is the world’s only hyper-power in the grip of a political nervous breakdown. One could not invent a more terrifying global scenario.”

My blog post barely scratches the surface of the obscenity we have rewarded and that which we face. The list of people whose health, security and legal protections are in jeopardy numbers in the millions. Their precarious positions are being reported every day. You will see and hear more of their stories. There is a good chance you are or will become one of them.

Little of what is happening is normal.

You get the idea.

Then again, if you’ve been paying attention for the past year, you already knew. There is enough evidence from the campaign that Trump is unfit to be president. Even with so many questions still unanswered — about Trump’s tax returns, about his ties to Russia, the extent of its role in interfering with the election, how compromised FBI Director James Comey and the rest of the bureau are, the blackmail/leverage hierarchy connecting Putin, Trump, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks and others in the campaign to aid Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton — there are enough reasons to question the legitimacy of the president-elect.

When he’s taking the oath of office Friday, I won’t be watching. It will be morning here. I will be thinking about the many men and women who fought for the rights, people and political process that are increasingly endangered by Trump and this newly emboldened, angry, hot mess of a Republican Party. I will be reflecting on how important it is for us to make small connections that sustain us and larger bonds that serve others. I will be meditating on the importance of self-care in a time when so many people brazenly show their disregard for the well-being of their neighbors. I will be thinking about how much worse off I might be had I not been born a white male in America. I will be empathizing with people in other parts of the world who fear we are on the verge of abandoning them. I will be trying not to obsess about how much more danger the planet is in because of our politics.

Janelle Monae

In the afternoon, I plan to see “Hidden Figures” and buy a ticket to be set aside for the next person who comes to the cinema to see the movie. If you know someone underprivileged who might enjoy it, I encourage you to take them. Be kind to someone who needs your kindness. Empathize with someone who is starved for empathy. We have to work harder now to make this country what I thought it was becoming on Nov. 4, 2008, the night Obama was elected. The gulf between the pride and happiness I felt that night and the embarrassment and disgust I feel about the incoming administration is beyond my ability to fully express. Better to be reinvigorated by the joyous celebrations of eight years ago than to watch the inauguration and the parties of those who remind me of young teenagers who push the boundaries of decency and live as bullies because of their wealth and privilege, something they enjoyed simply by virtue of being born.

Early in this post, I mentioned Nixon’s second inauguration. That term ended in disgrace, his resignation prompted by impeachment amid the scandal of Watergate and what the release of his secret tapes revealed. In his televised address on the night he announced that he would resign the next day, Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon made comments that showed his respect for the political process in America, comments I cannot imagine Donald Trump making.

By taking this action, I hope that I will have started that action that will have hastened the process of healing, which is so desperately needed in America.

Can you imagine Donald Trump so humbled?

That quote, which I rediscovered from the documentary series “The Seventies” now available on Netflix, is followed on that episode by commentary from network news.

In departing the presidency, Richard Nixon is leaving us with one notable legacy — proof that the American system does work, that there is equal justice under the law, and the public office must always be regarded as a public trust.

In “The West Wing Documentary Special,” which won an Emmy in 2003, former White House staff assistant David Gergen made comments that are a fitting epilogue to those remarks.

Many people no longer believe this, but trust remains the coin of the realm in politics. A president who is trusted by the people, by the Congress, by the press, by foreign countries, is a president who can get a lot of things done. You break that trust, you violate that trust, everything else tumbles around you.

Trump has done nothing to earn the respect he and his surrogates keep insisting we give him. He hasn’t apologized to those he crapped on. By expecting a huge portion of America to make the effort to come to him so that we can come together — and indeed, more voters chose Hillary Clinton than chose him — he is showing us again. He is not fit to lead, and I will not pretend his is a legitimate presidency until he has undertaken many steps to prove it.

An apology tour, or even press conference, would be an appropriate first step. I don’t expect it to happen. If his inaugural address features a humble, apologetic and repentant Donald Trump, let me know. I won’t be watching.


More recommended reading

How Jokes Won the Election by Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker
The Case for Not Being Crybabies by Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo
From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece by Scott Shane, The New York Times

Recommended viewing

“Divided States of America,” Part I, PBS Frontline
“Divided States of America,” Part II, PBS Frontline


Donald Trump cartoon by Michele Paccione via Shutterstock.
Janelle Monáe photo from “Hidden Figures” screening by Helga Esteb via Shutterstock.

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