February 23, 2020

Skipping the inauguration

Many people are saying they won’t be watching the inauguration on TV.

Just putting it that many-people-are-saying way gives me the creeps. Like “believe me,” it’s Trump’s signature trick for turning lies true, the companion con to turning facts false by labeling them “fake news.”  

“I think we have one of the great Cabinets ever put together,” he “>told Chris Hayes on MSNBC, “He owned the day.” “Observed as spectacle, Trump came away with a resounding victory,” “>metaphor for our intelligence community — in Nazi Germany. “Damn, that Hitler’s a super showman!”

I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone loving every minute of the day Trump owned. “These papers are just some of the many documents that I’ve signed turning over complete and total control to my son,” he said, pointing at hundreds of manila file folders. If his loyalists saw that the “>blank paper in them, they must not have cared. If Trump seethed like “>said in her concession speech, “Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power,” and that “we don’t just respect that — we cherish it.”

But respect is a two-way street. If Donald Trump respected the office of the presidency, it could mitigate the difficulty of the majority who didn’t vote for him to respect his claim on the authority we’re about to delegate to him. As it is, his legal authority will be corrupted from the outset by his refusal to subordinate his financial interests to the interest of our nation, as the Constitution requires. He has already nullified his moral authority by his deceit, his incapacity for accountability and his sociopathic absence of empathy. He’s no more capable of respect for the sacred responsibility of his office than he is of respect for the civic responsibility of a journalist.

If our body politic had two heads — a head of state and a head of government — it might not be as hard as this to recover from a bitterly divisive election. A monarch, a premier, a chancellor: an uncontroversial figurehead removed from the factional fray has a shot at uniting a nation. But in America, as George Washington apocryphally said, the people are the king, and we entrust the eagle of our freedom to a president who is simultaneously beyond, and buffeted by, politics.

Should you watch the inauguration? If that’s what it’ll take to mobilize you to join a progressive version of the Tea Party, a movement whose “>Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” then go for it. But chances are, you’re activated enough to do that now.

I’m not going to watch. If I miss something big, someone will tell me, or I’ll read about it. I know that won’t be a substitute for the real-time experience of it. But I don’t need to experience the fouling of the nest the Founders made for us to know it would break my heart to be an eyewitness to it.

It may be in different words, but many people are saying that.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair in entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.