It has always been an honor to be asked to participate in the inauguration of a new president.
This time, though, it’s different.
Divisions over Donald Trump’s election have celebrities, politicians and even high school students debating if they should be part of the inauguration. For many this is a political act demonstrating support for the new president, his agenda or a nonpartisan tribute to our traditions one of which is the peaceful transfer to power.
There are many critics of Donald Trump everyone from Hillary Clinton and the A-listers of Hollywood to the band director at a tiny middle school in northern Maine as well as singers in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir struggling with this issue – and making different conclusions.
Bill and Hillary Clinton served notice this past week that they’ll be on the inaugural podium when Trump takes the oath of office Jan. 20. At least two legislators have said they’ll boycott the ceremony.
MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR
In Utah, singer Jan Chamberlin was so dismayed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s decision to perform at the swearing-in that she decided not only to sit out the event but to resign from the choir she dearly loves.
A fellow choir member, Cristi Brazao, who also didn’t support Trump, posted on her Facebook page that she’ll be singing at the inauguration because “my mission as a singer has always been to soften hearts, to bridge gaps, to make connections and also to make friends.”
The debate has been also player out among the dancers of the Radio City Rockettes as well as the marching band of historically black Talladega College in Alabama after the planners announced that these groups would be performing.
MIDDLE SCHOOL BAND
For Ben Meiklejohn, director of the 30-student Pride of Madawaska Marching Band, performing for an inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial will give his teenage musicians the experience of a lifetime and has nothing to do with politics. He still remembers when his high school band marched in the 1989 inaugural parade for George H.W. Bush.
Apparently that’s not the case in left-leaning Hollywood, where publicist Howard Bragman says most entertainers see “no separation between Trump the man” and his inauguration, and want nothing to do with him.
Trump denies he’s facing any shortage of top talent.
“The so-called “A” list celebrities are all wanting tixs to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!” the president-elect tweeted last month.
Sharing in an inaugural is always a personal decision, and no doubt people have chosen to sit out past inaugurations due to differences with the president-elect.
But historians and others say this year’s public anguish over whether to be linked with the inauguration is unusual.
GEORGE W. BUSH
Before the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush., plenty of people had bitter feelings about the recount and Supreme Court ruling that left Republican Bush ahead of Democratic Vice President Al Gore. But former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer doesn’t recall the same type of debate over whether to participate in the inauguration.
Inaugural historian Jim Bendat points to bipartisan participation in past inaugurals. Singer Ethel Merman, a prominent Republican, sang at Democrat John F. Kennedy’s inaugural gala in 1961. Contralto Marian Anderson sang at the second inaugural of Republican Dwight Eisenhower and at Kennedy’s inauguration.
DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS
“It’s really hard to look at this inauguration the same way that we have looked at all others,” says Bendat, author of the inaugural history book, “Democracy’s Big Day.” Many performers “don’t see Donald Trump as the type of person that they want to identify with because of the way that he campaigned for more than a year.”
Band director Meiklejohn offers this take: “We’re not the president-elect or his advisers or his team or any of the people that are going to be setting policy. We’re just a group of 7th to 12th graders from Madawaska, Maine, coming to play some music.”