For any of you who follow this, this will be my first post in weeks, a lapse for which I apologize, necessitated though it was by health difficulties. I actually began a post, back before Christmas, about the decision by the The Mormon Tabernacle Choir to accept an invitation to perform at the Trump inauguration. That decision was controversial; it has become less so, inevitably, with time. I mean, here we are, a third of the way through January, nine days from the events itself. Nonetheless, even now, I do have some thoughts about the issue, which seems to lend itself to an ongoing dialectic unique to this impending Presidency.
Let’s start with the pros. Of course the Tabernacle Choir should accept an invitation to perform at the Trump inauguration. Obviously, they should. An inauguration is a celebration of the American political system, and specifically, of the peaceable transfer of power which is one of the glories of our republic. To be invited to sing at such an event is a great honor. The Choir has performed at previous inaugurations, celebrating Presidents of both parties. This is not a partisan issue. The office of the President is one of the great creations of the Framers. Whatever concerns individual choir members may have about the policies or character of any individual elected President, they’re irrelevant to this decision. Americans held an election, as we do every four years. Incumbent Presidents stand down; the new President assumes power, which he (only ‘he’, so far) will relinquish in due time. That fact is worth celebrating and worth honoring.
Cons. Of course, the Tabernacle Choir should turn down this invitation. Obviously they should say no. Donald Trump is not like previous Presidential candidates or Presidential winners. He is unique, and his victory presents a unique challenge. He began his campaign for President by insulting Mexican/American immigrants, calling them criminals and rapists. He has proposed a ban on Muslim immigrants, and has peppered his campaign rhetoric with Islamophobic stereotypes. He has been caught on tape boasting of sexual exploits, including criminal assaults on women. He openly mocked a disabled reporter. And he continually and repeatedly lies about all of it. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir represents the Church, my Church, the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The values of the Church are, in every specific, incompatible with the character of the man, Donald Trump, as revealed by his own words, his own actions. The BYU football team is not allowed to play games on Sundays, because keeping the Sabbath holy is a central tenet of our faith. By the same token, the Choir cannot be part of a ceremonial meant to honor a man of such demonstrated vileness.
Precedent says the Choir should sing. Tradition makes the same case. It’s become normal for the Choir to be invited to sing at important events–an Olympic Opening Ceremony, for example. Well, an Inaugural is like that; a big public event. It’s normal to be invited, and normal to sing.
But that’s precisely why the Choir should have refused this invitation. It normalizes Trump. It makes his electoral victory seem like an ordinary part of American civil society. Every four years, we have an election, someone wins, and is inaugurated President. That’s part of what’s admirable about America. And that’s why we should suspend what’s normal this time, just this once. The guy who won this time is uniquely unadmirable.
That’s the key word, isn’t it? Normal. Donald Trump’s entire campaign was a repudiation of normal. In fact, that’s probably why he won. There’s nothing wrong with a candidate pursuing an unorthodox strategy; that’s fine. In fact, every candidate running (especially in a wacky year like 2016) is trying to distinguish him/herself from the crowd. Trump’s appeal was based on how unnormal he was as a candidate. He self-financed. (He didn’t really, but he said he did, and some voters found that attractive). He took positions on issues at odds with normative Republican positions. Above all, he based his campaign on a full-out assault on what he called ‘political correctness.’
Which, frankly, I’m not a great fan of: political correctness. I’m disabled, not ‘differently abled.’ I certainly think we should be careful in our use of language. We shouldn’t set out deliberately to offend. But I find some examples of academic language comically punctilious.
That’s not what Trump meant by political correctness, though. Not at all. And for some of his voters, Trump’s language was a major selling point. Why pussyfoot around, they probably thought. Illegal immigrants are criminals, and probably most of them are rapists too; why not say so? Because Trump was the anti-PC candidate, he survived gaffes and misstatements that would have sunk most candidacies. By saying “I hate political correctness,” he essentially wrapped himself in Teflon. It allowed his alt-Right followers to say whatever they wanted to. And somehow, discovering that Trump supporters included borderline Klan members didn’t hurt him with the general electorate. He was opposed to political correctness, after all.
And that’s how Trump survived a scandal that would have destroyed nearly every other candidacy in the history of American politics; the discovery of the Billy Bush tape. For Trump to speak in such disgusting and disrespectful terms about women didn’t kill him. It was ‘locker room talk,’ guys being guys. Sure it was gross, but whaddya gonna do? That’s how men talk sometimes. Don’t overreact. It’s no big deal.
By attacking political correctness, Trump normalized what essentially amounts to bragging about criminal sexual assault. By electing him anyway, the good citizens of the United States normalized, at least, talking that way. We strained at the gnat of Hillary’s emails, and swallowed the camel of Trump-being-Trump.
And nothing has changed. Most Presidential candidates are very careful to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. If their business holdings could, in any sense, be seen as ethically questionable, they divest. Trump has more extensive investments than any President-elect in history. He has done nothing to distance himself from the interests of his own corporations. He is already normalizing corruption. What’s the big deal? He’s a rich guy; he owns lots of stuff. So what if foreign diplomats already curry favor by staying at his Washington hotel? Who cares?
Donald Trump is not a normal President-elect. This was not a normal election, and this won’t be a normal inauguration. The Tabernacle Choir disgraces itself by normalizing his election in this way. His values are not our values; we should not pretend that everything’s okay, that all’s well in Zion. One choir member, Jan Chamberlin, has resigned over this. She’s the one genuine heroine of this narrative. The Trump Presidency is a unique phenomenon, and requires an unusual response. We have to do this; oppose everything Trump, all the time, always. A good place to start is by refusing to sing at his party.