“The legitimacy I question really is more about his moral legitimacy,” Democratic congressman Mark Takano of California said, citing Trump’s criticism of Lewis over Martin Luther King Day weekend. “You need more than a technical, legal win of the Electoral College to lead our country ... you need a certain amount of moral authority, and respect from the citizenry,” he added.
Congressman Lieu added that Trump faces “serious issues surrounding legitimacy,” based on his refusal to release his tax returns and the warnings of ethics experts that he will face conflicts of interest when he takes office due to his business holdings. “I accept that Donald Trump will be our next president, but I absolutely have concerns about his legitimacy, and he alone can clear up those concerns,” he said.
Trump himself spent years seeking to sow doubt over President Obama’s legitimacy by falsely suggesting whether he was an American citizen. The rationale, tactics and circumstances are very different now: Trump was not an elected official, and was giving voice to false rumor and innuendo, not citing intelligence agency findings and the expert opinions of ethicists. Congressional Democrats’ stature as elected officials could mean that whatever they say to sow doubt over Trump’s legitimacy might be more likely to take hold among their constituents.
The show of opposition has met with criticism from some Republicans in Congress who suggest the action might have dangerous consequences. “I’m disappointed that all these Democrats are saying they’re going to stay home,” Republican congressman Sean Duffy said in an interview on CNN, arguing that if “these events become partisan in nature, that’s bad for the country.” Trump dismissed the protest as unimportant in an interview on Fox News. “What happens to their tickets?,” he asked. “I hope they give me their tickets.”
Of course, even the loftiest ideals would not prevent an inauguration celebrating the election of a political figure from being a partisan event on some level. And some Democrats have defended their decision as well within the bounds of expressing dissent in a democracy. “Not attending inauguration is fundamentally not about Democrats saying that we oppose the peaceful transition of power,” congressman Takano said. “We are fundamentally doing an American thing by voicing our dissent. Nothing about a constitutional, peaceful transfer of power says that there’s no room for dissent.”
Whether Democratic defections at inauguration sets the tone for how the party works with Trump when he becomes president remains to be seen. Some Democrats have been quick to emphasize that just because they won’t be attending inauguration does not mean they plan to refuse to work with Trump once he takes office. “There’s a difference between obstructing for the sake of obstruction, which is what the Republicans did to President Barack Obama for eight years, versus not normalizing unacceptable behavior, and racism, sexism, and bigotry,” Lieu said, adding: “If a piece of legislation is a good idea ... I’m going to vote for it. If it’s a bad idea, I’m going to vote against it. I’m not simply going to obstruct and vote no.”