The list is growing.
56 Democratic members of Congress will boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday.
Their rationales vary.
Some Democrats are staying away because they believe Trump is an “illegitimate” president spawned from Russian hacking. Others are protesting Trump’s comments on women and minorities. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) says she will be “organizing.” Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) is not attending because… Twitter told her not to.
Regardless, there’s a basic, pathetic quality to this boycott. It is a very bad strategy. Just as an army does not win by retreating from the shaped battlefield, politicians do not win by abandoning governance. Only insurgents can wage successful war by avoiding fixed battle. But in political terms, the insurgents are the liberal advocacy groups. Democratic members of Congress are officials empowered to make law. By retreating from the inauguration, Democrats will accomplish only one policy objective. They will incline Trump towards partisanship and thus reduce their own ability to affect the law.
We can be confident of this. After all, Mr. Trump is well known for his immodest conception of self. By insulting Trump and his supporters, Trump may respond by actively working to hurt Democratic Party interests. And that speaks to a broader point. Democrats are wasting an opportunity.
For all his bluster, Trump prides himself on being a “dealmaker.” Trump frequently remarks on his expectations of compromise. He recognizes that politics is a give-and-take process in a democracy. But by distancing themselves from the many Democratic members of Congress who will attend the inauguration, Democrat boycotters are hurting their own influence going forward. Consider, for example, who Trump is more likely to listen to, Democrats who attended his inauguration or Democrats who publicly did not?
Personal relationships and mutual respect are immensely important in politics. The boycott brigade says it will protect liberal policies. Its strategy will accomplish the opposite.
Of course, another reason this boycott is so silly is its political immorality. The vast majority of Americans expect our national politicians to come together on Inauguration Day. We do so because we recognize that while our political battles are often fierce, the outcome – democracy and the empowered will of the people – is exceptional. That’s why the Bushes and the Clintons, who Trump has repeatedly and ferociously criticized, are attending Friday’s event. They don’t like Trump. Not one iota. But they know that their attendance is expected.
Still, even if Democrats don’t care about Inauguration Day’s political morality, they should consider who they’ll alienate by this boycott. For one, many Democrats. Remember, many Democrats in the upper mid-west voted for Donald Trump. Those votes put Trump in the Oval Office waiting room. Correspondingly, witnessing an effort by Democrats to refuse Trump even the chance to succeed, some Democratic voters will lean towards becoming Republicans. And if Democrats intend to return to power two years from now, they need these voters.
This boycott is the wrong strategy at the wrong time in the wrong place for the wrong people.