Liberal lawmakers and others who find the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency untenable are busy making plans to be anywhere but Washington come Friday, when Chief Justice John Roberts asks one of the biggest purveyors of falsehoods in modern memory to swear on a Bible to uphold the Constitution. The latest count has about 45 House Democrats pledging to boycott the new president’s inauguration.
I share their dismay, but I won’t be joining them.
Trump is going to be our president, everyone’s president, including Rep. John Lewis and everyone on Twitter who keeps using the hashtag #notmypresident. Sure, he might eventually be impeached; he might resign or he might win a second term and be our president until early 2025.
No matter what happens, the worst thing his opponents can do is pretend his presidency is unreal.
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For Democrats and the fast-dwindling number of Never-Trump Republicans and others, the best way to stand against the Trump administration is to fight against it. That means hanging tough as a principled minority in Congress and trying to block, delay or improve the worst of the bills set to come rushing out of the GOP-dominated chambers. For some, it might also mean protesting in the streets — that’s part of our system, too.
But failing to acknowledge the Trump presidency’s legitimacy right from the start is a faulty first step.
I come to this view honestly, and for that I can thank Rick Perry.
In 2009, after many months of negotiating, his staff agreed to permit an hour-long sit-down with the then-governor of Texas. I was the transportation writer for The Dallas Morning News, and Perry had been the chief architect of a consequential policy to build billions of dollars of infrastructure without raising anyone’s taxes. It had remade the state’s infrastructure landscape and was chiefly responsible for some billions of dollars in new roads in North Texas.
It also, of course, had imposed hefty tolls on commuters, some of whom were soon paying hundreds of dollars a month, and added enormous debt to public toll agencies like the North Texas Tollway Authority. It was a conversation worth having.
But when the final OK for the interview came, Perry’s people scheduled it for 11 a.m., Jan. 20, 2009. That was noon, of course, on the East Coast, and coincided with the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the 44th president.
It seemed no coincidence that the governor would agree to what was the only policy-oriented, sit-down interview he granted that year at a time when the rest of the country was watching the inauguration.
I was eager for the interview, but was frankly appalled at the timing. I remember walking into the governor’s suite of offices in the Capitol feeling like I might be in the office of the only elected official in the country who had turned his back on the ceremonies in Washington. It felt deeply unpatriotic. America had finally elected its first black president, a moment it felt important for all of us to acknowledge — a feeling made more pronounced as I walked past the imposing monument to the Confederate dead on the Capitol grounds.
Sure, Obama was a Democrat. But for that matter Perry had been one, too, years ago. I was especially surprised that Perry would avoid the inauguration, because he was a former Air Force officer, not to mention governor of the one of America’s most important states.
For me, the effort to undermine the legitimacy of Obama as president didn’t begin with Rep. Joe Wilson’s outrageous and shameful shout from the House floor. Nor with Donald Trump’s pathetic embrace of the birther nonsense.
It began, for me, in Austin in the Texas governor’s anteroom.
So when I see the names of Democratic lawmakers who won’t attend the Trump inaugural, I grimace. Fit or not, he will be president beginning Friday and will be until he resigns or Congress decides to remove him — still, a highly unlikely event. That’s our law.
Democrats can shout about that all day long, and there is plenty of room in our system and in our laws alike for vigorous protest on Friday or any other day.
But they shouldn’t do what Rick Perry did and pretend it’s not happening and turn their backs on the transfer of power from one political team to another. Whether one respects Trump or not, it’s time to acknowledge that his ascension to the highest office in the land is a reality.
Wishful thinking won’t undo that fact. It was tacky in 2009 and it’s tacky in 2017.
Michael A. Lindenberger is a columnist for The Dallas Morning News.
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