Trump's election divides America and decision to celebrate inauguration
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It's usually an honor to participate in the inauguration of a new American president. Who wouldn't want to be part of such a historic event?
This time, though, it's different.
The election of Donald Trump has sharply divided the country. The conflict has politicians, actors and even high school students debating what it means to take part in his inauguration. Some feel that participating in the event is a political act that shows support for the new president and his agenda. Others see it as a nonpartisan tribute to democratic traditions and the peaceful transfer of power.
Among critics of the president-elect, everyone from Hillary Clinton to the band director at tiny Madawaska Middle/High School in northern Maine is wrestling with this issue. And they're all reaching different conclusions.
Bill and Hillary Clinton came to a decision this past week. They gave notice that they'll be on the inaugural podium when Trump takes the oath of office January 20. At least two legislators have said they'll refuse to attend the ceremony.
Division Among Those Asked To Sing At Trump's Inauguration
In Utah, singer Jan Chamberlin was disappointed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's decision to perform at the swearing-in. She decided not only to sit out the event but also to resign from the choir she dearly loves.
"The president-elect does not represent anything that reflects my moral views," says Chamberlin. She said she's concerned that participation in the inauguration will create a false impression that the church supports Trump.
A fellow choir member, Cristi Brazao, posted on her Facebook page that she will be singing at the inauguration. Brazao also didn't support Trump. But she will attend the ceremony, she wrote, because her "mission as a singer has always been to soften hearts, to bridge gaps, to make connections."
Similar debates have played out among other groups chosen to perform at the inauguration.
Teenage Musicians Offered Chance Of A Lifetime
For Ben Meiklejohn, director of the 30-student Pride of Madawaska Marching Band, performing at the inauguration has nothing to do with politics. It's a chance for his teenage musicians to have the experience of a lifetime.
"I've always thought that music transcends politics, that music can get beyond the barriers that divide people," Meiklejohn says.
Apparently that's not the case in left-leaning Hollywood. Publicist Howard Bragman says most entertainers see "no separation between Trump the man" and his inauguration, and want nothing to do with him.
Trump denies he's facing any shortage of top talent.
"The so-called "A'' list celebrities are all wanting tixs to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!" the president-elect tweeted last month.
On Wednesday, he tweeted that album sales for classical teenage singer Jackie Evancho had "skyrocketed" after her December 14 announcement that she'll sing at the swearing-in. Her sales did rise after the announcement, and that could be partly due to the inauguration. But it also could be a matter of timing. Christmas albums sell well during the holidays and Evancho appeared on an NBC holiday special December 19.
Unusual Anxiety Over Whether To Be Associated With The Ceremony
Participation in an inaugural is always a personal decision. No doubt people have opted to sit out past inaugurations due to differences with the president-elect.
But historians and others say this year's anxiety over whether to be associated with the inauguration is unusual.
Before the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush, plenty of people had bitter feelings about the election. The race was so close that votes had to be recounted in Florida, with the Supreme Court finally deciding the winner. But former Bush official Ari Fleischer doesn't recall the same type of debate over whether to participate in the inauguration. He is disappointed by the controversy surrounding what traditionally has been "an American moment."
"Add this to the long and growing list of things that pull us apart," says Fleischer.
Historian Jim Bendat points to bipartisan participation in past inaugurals. Singer Ethel Merman, a Republican, sang at Democrat John F. Kennedy's inaugural celebration in 1961. Singer Marian Anderson performed at the second inaugural of Republican Dwight Eisenhower and at Kennedy's inauguration.
"It's really hard to look at this inauguration the same way," says Bendat. Many performers "don't see Donald Trump as the type of person that they want to identify with because of the way that he campaigned for more than a year."
Performers, Not Policymakers
Robert Reich, a former Clinton administration official, thinks politicians should feel the same way. After the Clintons said they would attend the inauguration, Reich tweeted that they were making Trump seem like "just another president."
"The underlying issue here isn't the normal and noble desire to overcome partisanship," Reich added in an email. "It's that Donald Trump became president by lying, demeaning women, denigrating racial and ethnic minorities ... and undermining the freedom and independence of the press."
Band director Meiklejohn offers a different take: "We're not the president-elect or his advisers or his team or any of the people that are going to be setting policy. We're just a group of 7th to 12th graders from Madawaska, Maine, coming to play some music."