Marist and the Trump Inaugural Parade

Of course there are rival online petitions: there ought to be. In an ideal world, in a nation that celebrates free speech, there ought to be petitions to reflect each viewpoint.

Two petitions were started on Change.org recently in response to the news that my alma mater’s marching band accepted an invitation to march in the inaugural parade in Washington, DC, next week. It is always good to see one’s alma mater in the news, especially when one’s school is not a well-known one. A Marist College graduate (Class of 1990), I usually see my school’s red and white logo and motto (Orare et laborare: “to work is to pray”) only when I look for it online or whenever the alumnae fundraising committee finds my new mailing address. (Every time.)

In the last week though, I have seen my school’s name mentioned in publications ranging from the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, NBC News, CBS News, and the Guardian in England. Most start with an Associated Press article about the marching band controversy and then take it from there.

One petition asks that the college rescind the inaugural parade invitation, and its creator, Jennifer Hoffman, a Marist graduate, wrote a long explanation for her position. The other petition would probably not exist had Hoffman or someone with a similar stance not posted the anti-marching petition, but its creator, Brianna Coyle, whose profile states that she is a current Marist student, simply writes (in full): “This is the opportunity of a lifetime for the kids in Marist band. If they want to play, let them. Stop letting this hate and garbage ruin these kids opportunity. These kids have worked their butts off for others to tell them they can’t play at a historic event? What a shame. Let the kids play.”

Her petition has received 346 signatures as of today, January 10. The petition against marching in Washington and in favor of making it publicly known that this would be a decision caused by Mr. Trump’s rhetoric during (and after) his victorious campaign has received ten times that number so far: 3307. (Full disclosure: I signed one of the two petitions.)

In response to the controversy, Marist’s administration announced that it was going to follow through with its promise to send its marching band to Mr. Trump’s inaugural parade on January 20, but that any member of the marching band who does not want to participate for whatever reason will not be forced to travel or march and there will be no repercussions for them for not participating.

That is an eminently reasonable response from an eminently reasonable college’s eminently reasonable administration. And there I was going to let matters sit, and I was not going to write about the one and only thing I have in common with Bill O’Reilly (Marist College, Class of 1971). However, we are not living in eminently reasonable times. We are living in imminently unreasonable times. We elected a small-minded, bullying, man as our next President.

Back to the school’s decision. Last year, Marist College applied to perform in the inaugural parade, long before the nominee of either party had emerged. Long before the election was held and results learned. The school’s president, David Yellen, explained all of this in a January 4, 2017, campus letter:

Our application to perform at the inauguration was initiated last spring, and we were prepared to accept the opportunity to perform regardless of who was being inaugurated on January 20. The official Presidential Inauguration Committee is a bipartisan body that includes the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer. Senator Schumer and another Democrat, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, wrote letters in support of the Marist band’s application. For the College to reject the invitation based on displeasure with the outcome of the election would be to make a partisan political statement and violate our principle of institutional nonpartisanship. I firmly believe that we as educators cannot do that without jeopardizing the College’s role as a facilitator of diverse opinion and vigorous debate.

There is nothing in the above that I can disagree with, and the campus’ announced decision to allow marching band members to not perform if any do not wish to (it is reported that six or more students have made public their intention to opt out) is nothing I can disagree with, either.

The fact is that if Hillary Clinton had won the most recent Presidential Election (we all know that she did and she did not), someone with connections to Marist College would have posted an online petition protesting the school’s sending its marching band to participate in the inaugural parade. I would not have signed that petition, but I would have been cheered by its existence, because there ought to be petitions to reflect each viewpoint.

From the moment he launched his campaign Mr. Trump espoused fascist ambitions. After the election, he confirmed these ambitions when he revealed (at the last second, just like the game show host he used to be) that, now that the election was over, he did not think he would pursue “locking up” Mrs. Clinton, as if he is an ancient Roman emperor giving his thumbs-up or thumbs-down signal to execute or spare a prisoner. Um, the law is the law, regardless of a president’s whims. Further, whether or not he personally is racist or hates women or is an anti-Semite, he used racist, anti-women, and antisemitic tropes from the day he started to campaign for president and continues to do so. If one is willing to use the rhetoric, perhaps one is willing to put muscle behind it. He has spent the transition hiring or attempting to hire that muscle.

An online petition against one’s alma mater sending its marching band to participate in the inaugural parade of a president Hillary Clinton, that would be business as usual, a statement about an incoming presidential administration with which one has a disagreement over substance and, maybe, style.

The incoming administration is proud that it is not conducting business as usual. The incoming administration won on a campaign of rhetorical violence against three groups that I am proud to be a member of: I am disabled, I am Jewish, and I am a journalist. (Some days during the campaign, I idly wondered which of those three categories would earn me the greatest difficulty if I had I attended a Trump rally. Reporter, probably.) Being a member of those three groups heightened my sensitivity to the rhetoric deployed against others, like: people of color; Muslim people, both by specific name and as a group; LGBTQ individuals; anyone who did not agree 100% with Mr. Trump (I think of Mr. Romney groveling for favor and not receiving it after the election); and poor people for not being among life’s “winners.”

(Side note: Mr. Trump’s rhetoric is that of a person who believes in eugenics. He is surrounding himself with those who share this belief. There are “genetic winners” and genetic losers in the world, according to the practical philosophy of life that Mr. Trump has shared with the world whenever he has been asked, and he believes himself to be one of life’s winners. This pseudoscience, when applied as policy in the hands of a neo-fascist government, will lead to untold horror. It always has in the past. Why would it not now?)

In December Tina Dupuy wrote, “Whoever says they know what Trump will do, is wishful. Whoever tells you it’s going to be fine, is wrong. Whoever tells you it’s going to be bad, doesn’t know how bad. […] Remember: History tells us a peaceful transfer of power does NOT start with a promise of rounding undesirables up. Ever.”

A college’s public withdrawal from participating in a parade celebrating the inauguration of the incoming president—and Marist is one of several facing similar alumnae petitions—is a rare opportunity to not conduct business as usual, because this president-elect has made it clear that he does not think the inaugural parade and celebrations next week are about the peaceful transfer of power in a republic. He has made it clear he thinks the celebrations are about him, a birthday party of sorts. A validation.

If that is what he thinks, we should respect that and use his own rhetorical style, his own way of thinking, against him. Acting as if business is as usual with this incoming administration will not lead us anywhere good. Jennifer Hoffman created a rare opportunity to take a business-is-not-usual stand. I hope there will be many more over the next four years, but I am increasingly losing confidence in that.

I signed her petition.

* * * *
Stories have been published that incidents of anti-Jewish and anti-black violence started to take place on the Marist campus in the days after the election.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for January 10 asks us to reflect on the word, “Uneven.”

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3 comments

  1. loisajay · January 10

    This whole Trump ‘thing’ is just amazing to me. He does not get it. At all. And the people he surrounds himself with are a puzzle. They truly believe in him and everything he says? What a sad commentary, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Leigh W. Smith · January 10

    Great post, Mark. I, too, signed a petition, but it was related to the St. Louis Art Museum’s decision to allow a George Caleb Bingham painting, titled “The Verdict of the People” (one would say ironically used), slated for use at a Trumpty Dumpty luncheon. However, for me (and me alone!), it’s a little iffy—much as I abhor and stand against Trump—to withdraw from engaging in the issue, as some have proposed to do (artists, writers, etc.) on inauguration day. I don’t want to be silenced personally. However, as with the Rockettes issue*, as long as the band members are not either explicitly or implicitly forced/pressured/harassed to perform, I’m okay with them performing if they so choose. And, were it me, I’d make a point of putting an ‘Eff Trump’ cover/decoration on the large end of my tuba. Nonetheless, this is a very nuanced thing, and I’m probably at the end of the spectrum in terms of being vehemently anti-censorship (I like the Louis Brandeis quote, ‘freedom for the thought that we hate’). And, finally, like you, I commend Ms. Hoffman’s petition. It needs to be and I support its existence, as I salute all who choose to not participate or protest in other ways. *Oh, and there’s hullaballoo about Trump’s flak Spicer speaking at a college, but that’s not being rescinded by the dean. There needs to be a free and vigorous debate (and calling out and showing as foolish and cruel) about racist (or other close-minded) policies. Colleges, to me, of all places have to encourage and embrace all kinds of people and thinking so we can really, finally, perhaps come together.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Anton Wills-Eve · January 11

    As you know Mark I’m a Catholic and I like to think one who reciprocates God’s love solely because of the good this makes me want to do for others. My very first school was a Marist convent infants school which I attended from age 3 to four. My one outstanding memory of the nuns who intoduced me to the art of being educated was the kind way in which they taught us to uphold what was good and oppose what was harmful to anyone. ww2 had only just ended and they taught us never to let prejudice of any sort rule our lives in any way. If your school did that for you, as I believe it did, then I too would have signed the same petition as you did. btw my sister spent new year with relatives in Texas and on returning yesteday told me she met a woman who voted fot DT “because he’s a typical American like me, uneducated, rich and does whatever he feels lke. I hope he’ll make us all ike that.” Help!! Anton

    Liked by 1 person

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