In 1773, the protest that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party escalated into a full-scale revolt against Britain, birthing what became the United States of America.
In defiance of the British “Tea Act,” protesters destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company, boarding ships and throwing chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The British government responded harshly and the rest, quite literally, is history.
Other than the wasted tea, there was no violence at that protest.
In more modern times, however, and unfortunately, violent protests have not been unknown in our country. Race riots were an infamous part of the 1960s and sporadically occurred well beyond those years. And last week, before and during the inauguration of President Trump, ugly clashes took place in Washington. Some citizens took upon themselves to break store and car windows and throw garbage cans and newspaper stands into the streets of the nation’s capital. Six police officers were injured and 217 protesters arrested.
Anti-Trump protests also broke out Friday in a number of cities, including New York, Seattle, Dallas, Chicago and Portland, Oregon. Authorities in Seattle reported one person in critical condition with a gunshot wound.
The American tradition of peaceful public protest, of course, is a venerated one, deriving from the Constitution’s enshrinement of the rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of speech.
Protests to greet the inauguration of President Donald Trump were hardly unexpected. Although Mr. Trump clearly won the election, many of those who voted against him were bitterly disappointed by his victory, and with a mainstream media that is doing virtually all it can to portray the new president in the most negative light possible, it would have been folly to imagine that Inauguration Day would not bring out protesters.
But those who used violence to express their feelings of disappointment, disapproval or even outrage betrayed the proper form of protest.
So did, if on a very different level, legislators who chose to boycott the inauguration ceremony.
Over 60 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives skipped the inauguration on Friday.
Other lawmakers, though, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were present when Mr. Trump took the oath of office. As were Mr. Trump’s opponent in the election, Hillary Clinton, and her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
Those political figures, despite their opposition to Mr. Trump and to elements of his declared agenda, realized that their presence at the greatest regular ritual of our country’s political life would be key to a smooth transfer of power and to the chance of national unity for the coming presidential term. Most members of Congress understood the same thing. Those who did not, and turned the political ceremony into a protest, only contributed to the great schism that has developed in American society.
The member of Congress representing California’s 28th Congressional District, Rep. Adam Schiff, is no fan of President Trump. But he attended the inauguration and, beforehand, explained why.
“Like many of you,” he wrote, “I was appalled when candidate Trump wouldn’t commit to respecting the result of the election if he lost. I feel I would be doing the same thing if I boycotted the ceremony in which the office of the Presidency is passed from one occupant of the office to the next. There’s a reason why Senators [Dianne] Feinstein, [Kamala] Harris, [Bernie] Sanders and others are attending the inauguration, and it is out of respect for the office, even if the man who is taking the oath has demonstrated little understanding of what that means. If former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can demonstrate the grit to attend the inauguration after Trump’s slanderous attacks on her, then so can I.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, who delivered an invocation at the inauguration and was interviewed in Hamodia last week, said it best, and without acrimony.
“For 364 days a year,” he said, “they fight in politics. They all could afford for one day to sit with derech eretz and respect for the peaceful transformation [from] one administration to another.”
The inauguration ceremony sends an important message to all Americans — and to the world — about the health and durability of American democracy, about Americans’ faith in the political process and in the checks and balances the nation’s founders designed.
After so divisive an election, there could be no more important message to send. And every public servant should have wanted to send it.