The peaceful transfer of power from one president to another is among the most splendid features of our republican system.
On fifty-seven occasions, every four years beginning with George Washington in 1789, a president has taken the oath of office. Many were sworn in after heated campaigns, amid economic troubles, or during terrible wars. Some differed sharply in style and belief from the men they replaced. Whatever the circumstances, all took the oath of office and were honored by the title of president.
The peaceful transition of power is rare in many parts of the world even today. Our nation is about to witness such a transfer again, which should be a reason for celebration by all Americans. The ritual of the presidential inauguration transcends individuals and parties and is part of what makes our nation unique.
This history makes what happened on January 20 disappointing. Over sixty members of Congress have announced plans to boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration.
According to the Congressional Research Service, some congressmen stayed away from Richard Nixon’s second inauguration in protest of the Vietnam War, and a handful of members refused to take part in the first inauguration of George W. Bush. But this particular boycott is unprecedented, as dozens of members are not only refusing to take part in the ceremonies, but are issuing statements to the press assailing the incoming president as “illegitimate.” I believe this development degrades our Republic and the institution of the office of the president.
The idea of republican government is that laws govern, not men. The Constitution created the office of president, set procedures for choosing who occupies it, and gave it certain powers. The honor given to the president does not stem from his own qualities, but the qualities the office has been given under our laws.
Whatever our opinion of the people who occupy the office, we owe the office itself respect. This is true across our system of government. As a lawyer, I did not always like every judge I encountered. However, when I heard “all rise” and the judge in the black robe entered the courtroom, I stood. He or she had been given an office of trust under our laws, and that office deserved my respect.
When Thomas Jefferson was sworn in for his first term in 1801, the nation had just experienced a heated campaign which had been decided in the House of Representatives. He acknowledged the tensions lingering from the election, but called on all Americans to set aside their views of the individuals involved. Jefferson knew that our institutions were more important, and stated in his first inaugural address:
During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good.
Much has changed in the more than two hundred years since Jefferson’s first inauguration, but his words on how our system works still offer guidance for our day. Donald Trump was elected “according to the rules of the Constitution,” and so all Americans, Democrat or Republican, should “arrange themselves under the will of the law.”
I was not a fan of President Obama and was disappointed that he was reelected. Nevertheless, as a congressman, I believed it was my duty to attend his second inauguration in 2013. So, I sat there and did my duty to the Republic. Absent an illness in my family, I will be at the inauguration of new presidents’ rain or shine, out of respect for the Republic and its institutions.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at HYPERLINK “http://www.morgangriffith.house.gov/” www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.