The congressional boycott of Donald Trump’s inauguration has gone viral, as dozens of Democratic House members (the count hit 50 Tuesday afternoon) have now announced that will skip Friday’s swearing-in ceremony. Most of the dissenters have offered variations on the message that Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva delivered on the floor of the House early last week:
My absence is not motivated by disrespect for the office or motivated by disrespect for the government that we have in this great democracy, but as an individual act—yes, of defiance, at the disrespect shown to millions and millions of Americans by this incoming administration and by the actions we are taking in this Congress.
“The majority of voters rejected Trump—they deserve respect,” said Grijalva in the January 13 announcement that he would skip Trump’s inauguration to march in Tucson with the purpose of “reaffirming and renewing this democracy.”
Trump’s goals are far less lofty.The president-elect just wants an Inauguration Day crowd that fosters fantasies of unity and popular support. Trump needs official acceptance to sustain the dubious claim that he has a mandate to govern.
With more than ten percent of House members declaring that they will not participate in the inaugural ceremonies, Trump is being denied the image of mass approval that he so desperately desires. House Democrats are steering energy and attention away from the inauguration and toward protests, which many of them will join, against a president who lost the popular vote but continues to promote extreme policies and nominees.
In addition to highlighting popular resistance to Trump, the dissenting Democrats are drawing attention to the issues that make resistance a necessity. That’s what Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez did almost two months ago when he first appeared on CNN to announce that “I can’t go to this inauguration because [Trump] continues to spew hatred, bigotry and prejudice—even after he said he was going to bring us all together, he was going to unify us, but he’s not.”
In the weeks that followed, a few more House members joined the boycott. Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark explained that “I do not feel that I can contribute to the normalization of the President-elect’s divisive rhetoric by participating in the Inauguration,” while California Congressman Jared Huffman said that “with Donald Trump as our President, the United States is entering a dark and very dangerous political chapter. I will do everything I can to limit the damage and the duration of this chapter, and I believe we can get through it. But I will not sit passively and politely applaud as it begins.” Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a leading environmental advocate, added his name to the not-going-there list, as did former Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Nydia Velazquez, D-New York.
Newly elected Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, tweeted that instead of attending the inauguration she would “be hosting #immigration roundtable in-district, then marching in #WomensMarch on 21st.”
On January 12, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the former Congressional Black Caucus chair who cast the sole vote in 2001 against George W. Bush’s proposal for endless war, issued a major statement explaining that “On January 20th, I will not be celebrating or honoring an incoming president who rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House.”
“Donald Trump has proven that his administration will normalize the most extreme fringes of the Republican Party,” said Lee. “On Inauguration Day, I will not be celebrating. I will be organizing and preparing for resistance.”
Congressman John Conyers, the senior member of the House and the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, joined that resistance with an announcement that he, too, would boycott the inaugural.
The boycott movement built slowly until last Friday. Then, suddenly, it gained international attention after Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the veteran civil-rights campaigner, told NBC News that he would not attend the Trump inauguration. “I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” said Lewis on the eve of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Citing intelligence reports, Lewis said, “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”
Trump confirmed the power of the boycott by reacting with vitriol and scorn toward Lewis, an iconic figure in American public life whom Democrats and Republicans have long recognized as a voice of moral authority. Trump’s tweets attacking Lewis inspired more members of Congress to join the boycott.
Noting that Trump had accused Lewis, who was severely beaten during the civil-rights marches of the 1960s, of being “all talk,” California Congressman Mark Takano tweeted a historic photo of Lewis with Dr. King. “I stand with @repjohnlewis and I will not be attending the inauguration,” wrote the Californian.
New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, a top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and one of the key congressional voices on constitutional issues, said he had been deeply concerned about “the president-elect’s inflammatory comments, his racist campaign, his conflicts of interest [and] his refusal to disclose his taxes.” But the “last straw” for Nadler was Trump’s “ad hominem personal attacks on an icon of the civil rights movement, someone who suffered beatings and almost gave his life for this country, John Lewis.”
Referencing Trump’s attack on Lewis, Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan, the vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, announced that he would not attend the inaugural ceremony. “It’s time for Donald Trump to start acting like President Trump, not an immature, undignified reality star with questionable friends and a Twitter addiction,” said Pocan.
The resistance to Trump will take many forms and come from many corners. It will be an inside-outside movement that combines congressional objections with grassroots protests. But it will have at its core an understanding expressed by Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison, a leading contender for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, when he announced he was joining the boycott.
“I will not celebrate a man who preaches a politics of division and hate,” Ellison announced. “I won’t be attending Donald Trump’s inauguration.”