I made it through election night, and the morning after, and the endless portmortems. I kept reminding myself of what Hillary Clinton said at the final debate about respecting the outcome of the election. I listened to a lot of music. When, late at night, I would finally break down and read about the endless conflicts of interest or the appointees committed to destroying the departments they hope to run, I would remind myself that there just might be two Republican Senators who would not necessarily say “How high?” when the new president said, “Jump,” and even that President Donald Trump might not be the same as candidate Donald Trump, who betrayed so little respect for everything I hold dear.
But who would give a speech like Trump did on Inauguration Day, a slap in the face to the men and women surrounding him on the platform who have given their lives not to getting rich but to trying to serve the public? Who would — during an event that should show the world everything that is best about a stable democracy — take the opportunity to give a partisan campaign speech that even some of his own partisans found hard to swallow?
In this moment when the music of freedom should be heard throughout the world what we heard instead was a nasty rant. Half the country could cheer; the other half could hiss. It was an affirmation of the nationwide protests whose appropriateness many people might have otherwise questioned.
Every president is partisan. But this one doesn’t even respect the rituals of politics: preparing for debates and taking them seriously; pledging to respect the results of the election; or, most importantly, committing to unify a divided country. At least on Inauguration Day, we expect our president to speak as the president of all Americans. And if he doesn’t respect the rituals, why should his opponents? In truth, there are no rituals anymore.
And then I cried.
I love to tell the story of how now-Justice Breyer, then just my boss Steve, was confirmed as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals after Democrats lost both the White House and the Senate. Strom Thurmond, famous for his states’ rights past, thought the liberal Breyer had handled his job as chief counsel of the Judiciary Committee fairly while his boss, Ted Kennedy, ran for president. And so, in a bipartisan move, Breyer was confirmed — an impossibility today.
Barack Obama bit his lip. Michelle Obama looked stern. They will be fine. History — that is to say, tomorrow’s papers — will rightly, finally, appreciate them.
I saw Hillary Clinton, in her white suit, looking rested, putting on a good face.
I saw Bill Clinton, the former president. I watched his inauguration in the last weeks of my pregnancy with my son, full of the excitement that someone I actually knew — someone I liked and respected — was going to be president. How full of optimism I was in 1993.
My son, now grown and watching the inauguration with me, asked me if I’d had enough. He noticed I was crying.
Why, just for one minute, couldn’t Donald Trump have at least tried to reassure all those watching and fearing for their futures — kids whose parents aren’t citizens, Affordable Care Act patients with pre-existing conditions, folks who exist on minimum wage — that he would be their president, too?
He gave the speech he did because that was what he wanted to do. He had choices. He chose. Why should we be surprised?
Will there be two Republicans in the Senate who will stand up to him? Will there be two who came to hear the music of freedom and found themselves wondering how to make sure that it is not drowned out entirely for the next four years? Will anything that so many of us fought for -- from equality to educational opportunity to human rights to help for those who need it most — be left?