January 20, 2017, will be a pivotal day in American history. Donald J. Trump, the people’s billionaire, will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I do not expect the heavens to cry out or the four horsemen of the apocalypse to appear as he raises his right hand. Elections are what they are, and they often leave us with bad outcomes and questionable people. But I do believe his inauguration will signal a dramatic and dark shift in the direction of the country.
That’s about as nice as I can put it. My mother, who lives on the coast of Mississippi and doesn’t talk politics often, says it more baldly: “the country is going straight to hell.”
Trump will enter office with the lowest approval rating in four decades. In The Wall Street Journal, Janet Hook detailed the unprecedented opposition that awaits him after the inauguration. More than 200,000 women will march in Washington the day after he takes the oath of office. Progressives throughout the country are mobilizing to resist what they see, with every cabinet nomination and senseless tweet, as a radical attempt to undermine any substantive idea of the public good. Millions of dollars are flowing to grassroots and established organizations to resist Trumpism.
Meanwhile, many are saying, with Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener, “I would prefer not to.” Over 60 members of Congress have declared they will not attend the inauguration. Hollywood and the music industry have all but boycotted the event. Some, like Ashley Judd and Solange, will attend a “Peace Ball” at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture the night before Trump puts his hand on the Bible. The aim of the organizers is “to celebrate the accomplishments and successes of the last four years and vow to continue to be the change we want to see in the world” — a thumbing of the nose at Trump.
These are the grand gestures. And I am sure Trump is more than annoyed by the fact that celebrities, high school bands, members of Congress and a host of others have refused to acknowledge and celebrate his ascendance to the highest office of the land. But what can everyday people who reject Trump do on January 20th?
We should blank out: we should refuse to watch the Inauguration on television. Join the likes of Robert Reich and others and boycott Trump’s swearing-in. Engage in some sort of civic activity. Participate in the Facebook telethon and help raise funds for the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Earthjustice. Spend time with the people you love. Disengage from the spectacle. Turn off the television.
In my book, Democracy in Black, I called for a blank-out campaign in the context of revitalizing democratic politics in black communities. I had grown tired of Democrats taking black voters for granted and Republicans exploiting our racial fears. If Democrats refused to address substantively the crisis in black communities, I argued, we should leave the presidential ballot blank and vote down ballot. To my mind — and I still believe this — something dramatic needed to happen. Well, Trump was elected and everything has been turned on its head.
But the hope behind the blank-out campaign still holds. At its heart is the belief that whatever this America is, it isn’t democracy, and that we — those of us who reject the value gap and are genuinely committed to democracy — must dismiss the wrong-headed view that our only choices are the ones right in front of us. We have to dare to imagine our world differently.
Small gestures, like turning off Trump’s Inauguration, are just the beginning. There is so much more that requires us to say, “I would prefer not to.” But lets start small, with the reality star who will be our president and who desperately wants our attention. Given Trump’s attention to polls, his craving for adulation, and his clear and present narcissism I can imagine that, of all the forms of protest on January 20th and afterwards, changing the channel on Inauguration Day might actually register.
Let’s blank out, remembering its broader purpose. Let’s make this the lowest rated Inauguration in televised presidential history. Let’s turn our backs on the world that made him possible and be truly revolutionary.