The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States of America (POTUS) has unleashed all kinds of reactions, some good, some bad, but most heretofore unseen in the most stable democracy in the world.
The one reaction that has bothered me most as an American citizen is the deterioration of the time honored concept of honoring the office, regardless of who occupies it. So, when POTUS enters a room everyone stands to honor the Office of the President. When an official function takes place POTUS is introduced with Ruffles and Flourishes played by the Marine Band or whichever musical group is in place at the time. When POTUS enters the White House, the marine guards at the door snap to attention and salute. Those practices have historically been one of the major anchors of US democracy. But now they seem to be unravelling.
Recently the marching band at Talladega College in Alabama was asked to play at the inauguration on January 20th. The college accepted and then the objections began to appear. Letters and telephone calls came to its president from alumni, supporters of the college, and even current students objecting to the band playing in Washington because of the racist attitudes of some of the president-elect’s supporters. But the objectors missed the point. The band was being asked to honor the tradition of a smooth transference of power as dictated by the constitution of the United States, which is independent of who is coming into office. University President Dr. Billy C. Hawkins was correct in not yielding to the pressure and in stating clearly that the college band playing at the inauguration was in the finest American tradition.
Also last week, a series of objections arose when it became known that Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles had agreed to be one of the invokers of the Lord’s blessings at the inauguration, along with selected clergypeople of many faiths. The criticism was framed as his participation would be antithetical to the principles of tolerance that is the bedrock of the Wiesenthal Center’s mission. Again, Rabbi Hier was correct in stating that his presence in Washington transcends who will occupy the White House after January 20th. Rather, he was asked to bless the new administration, which is, of course, historically one of the finest Jewish traditions. Most prayer books in the Diaspora contain a prayer to be recited on the Sabbath that blesses the government of the land. Rabbi Hier’s critics were simply acting on emotion, but terribly uninformed about tradition.
It is of course, fully within the right to free speech accorded by the Constitution for an individual to refuse to participate in the inauguration. So, in that regard, when a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is also slated to perform on January 20th, found it personally objectionable to do so and resigned from the choir, rather than go to Washington, she was clearly within her rights to do so and should be respected for that.
For more than 240 years, the United States has been a beacon of freedom and democracy to the entire world. Its ability to carry that torch responsibly has been based on traditions that transcend personalities and prejudices. It would be yet another nail in the coffin of democracy to breach the honor due to the office simply because the office is held by someone with whom we disagree.
Our parents and grandparents who came to America seeking a better life taught all of us the importance of respect for “the Office of…” independent of who sits in the chair. They acted on the advice of Plato, who said: “Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.” It is that spirit that has helped America become great. This generation dare not abandon it.