Monday, January 2, 2017

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Inauguration of Donald Trump

As many readers are likely aware, the decision of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing at the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2017, has been controversial. As some have noted, the Choir has never turned down an invitation to participate in a Presidential Inauguration, whether the President was Democratic or Republican. Clearly, singing at the inauguration is not intended to make a partisan statement.

Yet the decision has been controversial because Donald Trump has been an exceptionally controversial political figure, one in many respects particularly offensive to Latter-day Saints.

A young relative of mine has commented insightfully on the issue:

Another insightful response has been posted here:

A less positive opinion has been presented on CNN's online site:

Though problematic, this opinion is a reminder of the positive impression the Church and some of its members made during 2016, including in some unlikely quarters, by not warming up to Trump.

Here are my views on the issue, presented as a response to the "Brothers Sabey" post I noted above:

As usual, this [the post "Trump's Mormon (Tabernacle Choir) Problem," by David Sabey] is beautifully stated and well thought out. You’ve identified some critical issues, including the dangers of political polarization. As someone who finds that the current political divide doesn’t give me any comfortable partisan home, I think we all need to be trying a lot harder to understand other people’s views and to approach those with whom we disagree with respect and goodwill.

Having the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform at the inauguration is awkward given that Trump has been offensive in ways that are unprecedented in a President-Elect, at least in the past century or more. Yet it would also be awkward for the Choir not to perform, now that it has been invited (and accepted the invitation). And refusing to perform could set a bad precedent, say, in the event of a future invitation from a Democratic President-Elect–someone who likely would not be offensive in the ways Trump has been but who might have some positions that many Latter-day Saints would be uncomfortable with.

Another thing that makes the situation awkward is what I consider to be the unfortunately persistent identification of Mormons with the Republican Party and with conservative politics in general, despite the Church’s official neutrality and despite the fact that the Church’s official positions tend to align with various points on the political spectrum (mostly from what is currently considered moderately conservative to moderately liberal). Though many prominent Mormons opposed Trump and many Church members who voted for Trump did so with deep reservations, the partisan imbalance among Church members in the US is so severe (with something like 70% normally voting Republican) that anything the Church does that seems favorable to Trump–even if it is simply extending the same kinds of courtesies it would to any president–will be viewed by many as partisan.

I agree that extending those kinds of courtesies to Trump, including participating in the inauguration, may help ease polarization and encourage a kind of public spiritedness–including the view, with which I heartily agree, that we should be respectful to our elected officials, even when we disagree with them, and be as positive as we can even when we oppose some of their policies or actions.

Sadly, many Latter-day Saints failed to do just that with President Obama. Though the Church’s general leaders were consistently respectful and positive in their interaction with President Obama–sending General Authorities to his inaugurations, meeting with him, and praising him and his family–I’m afraid that among rank-and-file Latter-day Saints in Utah there was widespread hostility against President Obama and a tendency to attack him and demean him in the standard right-wing ways. (I can’t vouch for other locations, but the same was probably true anywhere a disproportionate number of Latter-day Saints watched Fox News or listened to Rush Limbaugh.)

I love my fellow Latter-day Saints and have found them to be among the best and most Christlike people I know. But in terms of politics, I wish there could be a serious change of attitude and better discernment in assessing current-events information. I wish there were something approaching a partisan balance, since I think that would be good both for the Church and for the political parties (particularly in Utah, where the imbalance has particularly unfortunate effects). And I wish Latter-day Saints had been even a fraction as respectful toward the Obamas and a fraction as forgiving toward the Clintons as many seem inclined to be toward President-Elect Trump.

What I am suggesting in part is that the Church's non-partisan stance would be more effective if more Church members were as respectful of our elected officials--regardless of party and despite some differences of view--as the Church's general leaders are.

As for the Choir's performance at the inauguration, I wonder if there's anything they could do to make it clear that there performance is not a stamp of approval on Trump or his policies--for instance, singing "This Land Is Your Land," or singing something in Arabic? Maybe singing "Amazing Grace" or "We Shall Overcome"? Wait: I just thought of the perfect piece--"Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" ("and the walls came a-tumblin' down").

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