This coming Friday — January 20th — is the day on which Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. There will be, not surprisingly, protests and demonstrations as well, but “the eyes of the world” will be on the West Lawn of the Capital Building in Washington, DC. People have wondered what our congregation is going to do on the 20th, what our response is going to be.
Individuals, of course, will be doing all sorts of things. And the congregation I serve is sending two busloads of people to join with the thousands of other women, children, and men who are gathering the next day for the Women’s March on Washington! In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead the members of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church Unitarian Universalist will be doing many things in response to the actions of this new Administration and the Congress. But on Inauguration Day itself, we will not have any formal response at all.
This is not a case of “sticking our head in the sand.” In the days since the election it’s been a not uncommon thing to hear people say that they intend to turn off their TVs and stop reading the paper for the next four years. I’ve heard many people say that it’s just too painful to pay attention to the daily — hourly — bombardment of bad new and surreal behavior. I’ve heard this from people within the congregation and from the wider national and international community. It is just too painful to bear, so they’re going to tune it all out.
While understandable, that is a response born out of privilege. (Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those I’ve heard saying this have been people who identify as White.) People who look like me have the choice to pay attention or not. It is one of the privileges our White Supremacist culture bestows on people who look more or less like me — the ability to decide how much to let our lives be disturbed.
Of course, as you move down the privilege pyramid — which places white, heterosexual, cis-male, well educated, financially comfortable people people at the top of the pile — the number of discomforts a person cannot escape increases. People who identify as women, for instance, have no choice but to be aware of misogyny, whereas those who identify as men can, if they wish, push it out of their consciousness. Women of color are forced to continually face both misogyny and racism. You see how this works. Poor, lesbian, trans-women of color, with little formal education have very limited ability to tune out things that are disturbing. Those of us who say that we just can’t bear to think about any these things are demonstrating our relative places of privilege.
The reason TJMC is making no formal response to the inauguration is not, then, because of a desire to “pretend it isn’t happening.” Nor is it an oversight. Instead, it’s a choice. Of the many things that can be said of our incoming President, one that is inarguable is that he craves attention. He hungers for the spotlight … thirsts for the affirmation of the masses. As I noted, on Inauguration Day the eyes of the world will be upon him and all of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds such an event. And all of that attention will feed him. He will be at a feast.
On both Twitter and Facebook I recently suggested that an appropriate response — an act of resistance — is to pay absolutely no attention to President-elect Trump as he assumes the highest office in the land. For this one day, avoid watching or listening to coverage, don’t click or comment on anything you see on social media, hold back from writing anything about him, the incoming administration, the inauguration itself. Demonstrate resistance through a disciplined decision to afford him absolutely no attention at all on the day which under other circumstances is one of the most celebrated days in a President’s term. I’d encourage people not to even speak his name.
For that one day only.
Then, of course, we all need to turn our attention back to making sure we show up where needed, ally ourselves with those whose voices and whose presences are routinely marginalized and ignored, struggle to become comfortable with the discomfort of being with others whose pain is different than ours and who may even see us as part of the source of that pain. Tune in to the coverage of the Women’s March to ensure that it has tremendous ratings. Spend Saturday the 21st writing letters to your elected representatives, speaking up and out for those who are most threatened. But for that one day, refuse to give Donald J. Trump what he seeks most of all — our attention.
This is why the congregation I serve has no plans for any formal response. Our faith calls us to resist injustice, and this is one way we can do that.