DATELINE: Exeter, NH Jan. 20, 2017. 09:00. The last presidential inauguration I attended was in 2009 when I drove with friends to Washington to bear witness to the swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States.
1,800,000 Americans gathered on the National Mall that day. All were witnesses standing in hope, praying, after eight years of war and standing at the beginning of a Great Recession, for the beginning of a national transformation.
The day, though cold, augured hope and change. A country built by slave labor on land stolen from the indigenous peoples had begun to challenge the shameful legacy of its racist past and had elected Barack Obama president of the United States of America.
On that trip I especially remember passing and being passed by cars full of Americans of all colors and ages, each waving to the other, each headed toward our nation’s capital, each excited to honor their nation’s first African-American commander-in-chief.
Obama rose to office at a time when kleptocrats and oligarchs were conspiring to further plunder and rape our country’s patrimony, when America was hemorrhaging jobs, when our auto industry was teetering at the edge of extinction, and when our nation’s blood and treasure was being recklessly squandered in foreign theaters.
As I stood near him at a rally in Exeter in 2008, I remember, I admired his charisma, articulateness and intelligence. I welcomed his challenge to change America and make it an even greater and more equitable nation.
His election filled me with hope. He was a patriot who aspired to fulfill the promise of the Founding Fathers that all men are created equal.
Intelligent, inspirational, disciplined and full of humor and grace he promised to be a transformative president. For eight years Obama conducted himself with the highest standard of dignity and respect – right through to his farewell speech – respect that his opponents deny him still.
I won’t sully that memory by watching the inauguration of Donald Trump.
Obama to the end wrongly believed that his opposition would be as reasonable and rational as he. He believed – right to his parting words – that people with differing views can, through good will and negotiation, arrive at understandings that would serve the public good.
He believed that Republicans who stood in opposition to him were rational and cared about serving America. Too late, he and we learned, they hated Obama more than they loved America – and cared only about serving themselves.
Yet, in spite of them, in spite of their numerous attempts to emasculate and politically lynch him, Obama often prevailed, from fulfilling the Bush administration’s promise to withdraw from Iraq on a date certain to Obamacare, which has extended health care protection to over 20 million Americans, to enshrining equal marriage rights for all Americans and to fighting for the Paris Agreement on climate change.
I won’t sully those memories by watching Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Today, I won’t celebrate the ascension to power of those Republicans, many of whom stood in shameful silence as hateful demons – demons on a scale unimagined by Lee Atwater – were being released, encouraged and empowered to poison and corrupt our public square.
And many of those demons were released by the man who today becomes president.
Donald Trump rose to power by scapegoating minorities, refugees, immigrants and communities of color. An unrepentant demagogue, he rose to power not only by humiliating his opponents but by trying to humiliate all whom he perceived crossed him, whether Gold Star families, journalists or ordinary citizens. The ascension to power of a textbook narcissist who believes that everything is about him.
He even, on this day which in this nation approaches nearly “Holy” status, brings with him, as he assumes power, homophobes and Islamaphobes like Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham to preach and celebrate alongside him.
“And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing,” Meryl Streep recently said at the Golden Globes awards.”Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
In the wake of Trump’s election victory, incidents of harassment, vandalism and hate speech toward American minority communities rose exponentially. We witnessed, as a nation, the rise of anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, racist speech to levels previously unseen in post-Civil Rights America.
Sacrificing Truth and Goodness to political expediency Donald Trump rose to power by painting a Yellow Crescent on my forehead and a target on my back – and on the foreheads and backs on 1.6 billion of my co-religionists.
I will not celebrate Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
Today, allow me to mourn, to remember all that Obama is, all that Trump is not.
Don’t ask me to give the man a chance, a grace period, a honeymoon period. He’s had over a year to evolve, to take the target off my back, to show that he values America as a diverse, pluralistic nation .
Perhaps it’s a sign that Inauguration Day this year falls on a Friday, the day that Jews and Muslims, so often the targets of Trump’s white nationalist supporters, gather for worship. On that day, as in many other targeted communities, many will gather, praying communally for guidance, patience and protection from the nativist forces that threaten to overwhelm this nation.
Many will pray, too, that their elected leader will become endowed with humility, generosity and wisdom, pray that Donald Trump will come to the realization that the office of president transcends any individual, that the responsibility of being the most powerful person transcends the celebrity of being president.
Many will pray he will see the Light.
Today, I’ve little hope of that happening. I promise you, though that if that day comes I’ll wake up early some morning and write a column about it.
Just don’t, in the meantime, hold your breath.