Presidential inaugurations are traditionally occasions for solemn spectacle and hopeful rhetoric. But there’s no ignoring the clouds hanging over the inauguration of the 45th president.
This was an especially contentious and personal campaign, remarkable for the unpopularity of both major party candidates. Democrat Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes than Republican Donald Trump, but Trump won in the vote that counts, the Electoral College. Revelations of unprecedented Russian interference in the campaign are unsettling. There are good reasons for many Americans to greet Inauguration Day with sadness and apprehension.
But we disagree with those who contend these factors make Trump an illegitimate president. There have been close contests before, and ones where the Electoral College results didn’t match the popular vote. Every campaign turns on events the losing side can blame for its defeat. But the results of this election are not in dispute. Under the Constitution, Trump won, and we honor the Constitution by respecting the transfer of power it dictates.
Legal status, however, isn’t the only measure of a leader’s legitimacy. To be successful, a president must earn the respect and support of the country he leads. That especially includes those who voted for a different candidate. Traditionally, presidents-elect spend the weeks between their election and their inauguration expanding their base of support, reaching out to constituencies that had become estranged during a hard-fought campaign.
Trump has made little effort to do that. His cabinet picks — some of them alarming, others almost reassuring, show no concessions to Democrats or Republicans who supported other candidates. Since the election, Trump has picked fights with a celebrated actress, a revered Congressman, and the casts of “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live” — not to mention European leaders and U.S. intelligence agencies. He has taunted his former opponents, both Republican and Democrat. In his Christmas greeting, he called out “my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.”
Trump’s gracelessness has not gone unnoticed. He will be sworn in with the lowest approval rating — 37 percent — of any new president since polling began.
We hope Trump will sound some conciliatory notes in his Inaugural Address today and in the days to come, demonstrating that he intends to speak for all Americans not just his base. If he can’t do that, he’ll learn that you cannot be an effective leader by insulting those who are reluctant to follow.
We can appreciate the sentiment behind the decisions of Reps. Katherine Clark, Michael Capuano and several dozen other House members to boycott Trump’s inauguration, but their action feels uncomfortably similar to the kind of disrespect for the presidency shown by some Republicans over the last eight years. Worse, it feels like the Democrats are not showing up for work. They weren’t elected to stay home and sulk.
The same is true for all citizens fearful and disturbed by the election’s results. A presidential inauguration opens a new chapter in America’s story. There’s no escaping the authority given by the Constitution to Donald Trump, but he will not write the next chapter all by himself. We all have a role to play in writing America’s story, not just at the next election, but every single day. Pick up your pens, Americans, and write.
— Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at email@example.com.