If someone you absolutely loath was elected President of the United States, if you were to meet that person, would you agree to shake hands?
Within a few minutes, President Donald Trump will make his first-ever address to a joint session of congress.
In response, some opposition legislators have announced their intentions to openly rebuke the 45th president. Some Democrats won’t attend at all. Others will stand silently in the House gallery and refuse to clap, which is the customary gesture of respect afforded to all chief executives both when they enter and depart the chamber. At least one Democrat has stated that he will not shake President Trump’s hand, if it’s extended.
That’s what you call a rebuke.
No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, we can all agree on one thing. American democracy entered unprecedented and uncharted political territory, and the ways things are now headed, the great continental divide may only get worse in coming months and years ahead. In other words, pretty soon, this might get really, really ugly.
How did this happen?
President Trump has brought this level of ire entirely upon himself. His outrageous behavior, insulting demeanor, repeated lies, petty bickering, and brazen unwillingness to work with members of the legislative branch (even those within his own party) has alienated representatives on both side of the aisle on Capital Hill. He’s not exactly been Reaganesque when it comes to charm, either. He is, to millions, actually billions — a repulsive figure.
This unparalleled rebuke isn’t really partisan. Party lines don’t explain the intensity of repugnance. Consider that President Bush was viciously slammed by Democrats, especially during the last two years of his administration, when two pointless wars raged on and the economy finally crumbled into the crapper. Still, the Democrats always stood up and applauded President Bush at all official and ceremonial events. He was always treated with respect. Personal exchanges between partisans were even cordial on every occasion. Indeed, for all his faults (and they were staggering), most of his political opponents personally liked President Bush — the man. And so, he was afforded not just common courtesy, but respect because of the office he held and the gentleman he was (is).
During President Obama’s eight years in office, Republicans sometimes took off the gloves when it came to civility. One attention-seeking Republican congressman even shouted at President Obama during a State of the Union address, eliciting audible gasps from both Republicans and Democrats. Yet, while Republicans treated President Obama in a vile manner, within partisan circles and when riling up the base, they still afforded the 44th president all the standard courtesies. They stood and applauded when he entered the House chamber. They might not have been very congenial behind closed doors. But at least Republicans acted civil in the presence of the President and in front of the American people.
However, President Trump is a different animal, entirely. And frankly, I’m not even sure how to react to him. Many on the Left are also having difficulty coming to terms with this new reality. The question is — can we revile the man, but still respect the office?
I don’t know.
Certainly, my personal and professional experience in Washington. D.C. culture strongly influences my view on this. I’ve spend almost half my adult life living and working in the nation’s capital. Those years not only enriched my life and afforded me an extraordinary world view, it also exposed me to all kinds of different people with a wide gambit of political ideas. Throughout my experience in Washington, we were taught to respect those who were in office. Congressmen were always addressed with the preamble, “The Honorable….” Political appointees were always afforded some measure of deference. And, the highest elected official in the land was always addressed as “Mr. President.” There were no exceptions. Ever. Republican or Democrat — the office deserved dignity. Always.
President Trump makes continuing these proud traditions most difficult. A man who by all accounts appears mentally unbalanced, who is utterly obsessed with himself, who has displayed unwarranted hostility towards a majority of American citizens, and who is attacking basic rights, protections, and institutions does NOT deserve my respect. That view is shared by a lot of people, it seems.
I tried hard to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt, at least for awhile. Like many Leftists, I was initially appalled by the 2016 election results. But, I accepted them and was fully prepared to move on and make the best of things, presuming Donald Trump the bombastic con-man would somehow grow into the office and come to portend some measure of dignity within the office once held by Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.
So far, that has not happened. Until it does, I see no reason to respect either the man, or the office.
For me, as a political traditionalist, what some might even called old-fashioned, as someone with dozens of friends and associates who have been and remain Trump supporters, this isn’t a decision I take lightly. I do want to believe my elected officials. I do want to respect them, even those I’m opposed to politically. I do want to give them the courtesies they would normally be entitled to.
Sorry. But I cannot give that respect to this man who will walk into the House of Representatives tonight and address the nation. My respect isn’t a rubber stamp. It’s not given lightly, nor automatically. He was given a chance to earn my respect. So far, all he’s earned is my revulsion.