Several congressmen and women boycotted Trump’s inauguration, and it was wonderful. In doing so they affirmed the strongly held beliefs of every US citizen who ever said “Never Trump.” In what may be the mildest form of civil disobedience, they symbolically withdrew their support.
The choice made by these members of Congress rings of a choice made almost 170 years ago by abolitionist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. In his essay “On Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau wrote, “All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and endurable.” Yet in those times as now, people are not so turned off by the injustices happening in Washington DC that they feel compelled to call for revolution.
Civil disobedience for Thoreau was a call to action. Not necessarily a call to riot in the streets out of protest, but a call to do more than complacently accept the results of the election. These men and women didn’t rely on the fact that their vote for Johnson or Clinton proved they didn’t support Trump. They truly believe that inaugurating a President Trump, with his demeaning attitudes toward women and racial, ethnic and religious minorities, is an injustice to the American people, and that they too would be committing an injustice if they stood idly by defending a peaceful transition of power.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” By standing around, observing Trumps inauguration and opposing it in word only, these congressmen and women would be giving Trump their tacit consent. By refusing to go, they are choosing not to be neutral.
The thing is, boycotting Trump’s inauguration is not equivalent to avoiding the problem. Especially not for members of Congress who will spend the next four years vehemently challenging his administration. Maybe they could have done more, they could have been out marching in the streets, but as legislators they have more important work to do. They need to put their political energy toward mitigating the impact of a Trump presidency, and so the symbolic act of boycotting was enough.