Barack Obama is the most disrespected president of my lifetime. This space is insufficient to recap all of the indignities to which the first African American in the White House was subjected while in office but a greatest hits reel would certainly include: the constant challenges to his country of birth; an opposition backbencher's shout of "You lie" during a joint session of Congress; and having his most recent pick for the Supreme Court denied a hearing much less a confirmation vote. Those are just a few milestones. On a day-to-day basis, he sustained a constant barrage of slights on AM talk radio and Fox News, perhaps best epitomized by Glenn Beck once saying that the president was a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people." It was Mitch McConnell who implored his fellow Republican leaders that the "single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Thus began an era where polarization transcended bipartisanship.
Now, that's all in the past, fodder for debate among historians that will continue for decades. But an immediate decision looms: How should Obama's supporters treat his successor?
By boycotting the inauguration, some House Democrats just responded in kind, and none more prominently than the Philadelphia congressional delegation consisting of Brendan Boyle, Dwight Evans, and Robert Brady.
Sorry, guys. You and every other member of Congress should attend an inauguration. It doesn't obligate you to support the Trump agenda, but it does show public support for the office of the presidency. Just as it was wrong for Obama to be treated with contempt, it is equally destructive for the same type of venomous feelings to be directed toward Donald Trump.
Boyle defended his stance via Facebook: "I believe Donald Trump is a unique threat to the Constitution and to our country. I have never before used such stark terms to describe an American political leader, Democrat or Republican. I do not use these words lightly. But Trump warrants such dramatic description." He pointed out that he discharged his constitutional responsibility by participating in the certification of the Electoral College results. "Now the question turns to whether to attend the Inaugural celebration. ... Can I in good conscience celebrate that which I believe is a grave mistake? Can I sit by mere yards away and applaud the desecration of the most important office in the history of the world?"
Similarly, Evans asked the Inquirer: "How can I embrace a celebration that's going to hurt the people first?"
I get their sentiments, but it's possible to support the institution of the presidency and the peaceful transfer of power without applauding its "desecration." Plus, not everyone in attendance goes to celebrate. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Many in attendance are commanded to go, including military and law-enforcement personnel. They're not embracing a particular outcome; they're supporting the process - one in which we acknowledge that, despite our imperfection, we are thankful to still live in a country where people of differing backgrounds and opinions walked into local polling locations and determined their next leader.
Brady's spokesperson cited Trump's squabble with Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a back and forth that began with Lewis questioning the legitimacy of Trump's election. Trump tweeted that Lewis "should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!"
But even Lewis' iconic, civil rights cred doesn't inoculate him from circumspection. The presumed Russian hack is worthy of complete investigation, but at this stage, there is no evidence to suggest it determined the outcome.
A better approach to the new administration was put forth by Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), regarding a different Trump dilemma, albeit one with more far-reaching consequences. Coons is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will soon be presented with Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court. He doesn't think Democrats should treat Trump's nominee the way Republicans treated Judge Merrick Garland, even though Coons believes the GOP was rewarded for its obstinance.
"I don't think that we should engage in the same sort of irresponsible and unconstitutional behavior as the Republican majority did last year," he told me, despite his view that Garland was "one of the most seasoned, experienced, centrist, thoughtful, knowledgeable judicial candidates I've ever seen."
"The Republican majority in the Senate literally stole a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States," he added. "They gambled that the American people weren't paying enough attention or weren't concerned enough about this vacancy for it to be an issue in the election and they gambled that they would win the presidential election and that their illegitimate argument that somehow President Obama, elected to a four-year term in 2012, was not capable or legitimately entitled to nominate a Supreme Court justice in his last year. That's an unprecedented position; it's an irresponsible position.
"But I have a hard time saying that, just because they've done something I find profoundly objectionable and harmful to the institution of the Senate and harmful to our constitutional order, that I should respond in kind. I'm an institutionalist. I think part of my job is to try and make the Senate work and try and carry out the Constitution and the framers' vision. That's what I swore to do."
The morning after the election, President Obama, standing next to Vice President Biden and surrounded by White House staff, spoke to the nation.
"Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election," he said. "But the day after, we have to remember that we're actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We're not Democrats first. We're not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We're patriots first. We all want what's best for this country."
Coons and Obama are right. As many of our mothers said, two wrongs don't make a right.