To Watch or Not to Watch

by | Jan 20, 2017 | Faith & Politics, In the News, Justice


At 12:00pm EST on Friday, January 20th, 2017, Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. I’m sure that the proceedings will be on any number of television channels, to say nothing of live-streams, live-tweeting, and so forth. But will I tune in to any of these media?

In the midst of the primaries, I thought Trump was a joke candidate. During the general election, I found myself aghast at many of his words and antics. I was stunned by the results on election night. After collecting my jaw off the floor, I resolved to give the President-elect a chance, hoping that the gravity of the office to which he had been elected might spur him to correct both the tenor and content of his campaign.

Much to my dismay, that hope has not been met.

Despite this disappointment, I still feel this nagging desire to watch the inauguration. I don’t know what time period (if any such period exists) is hearkened to in the phrase “Make America Great Again.” I do, however, desire America’s greatness, and so tuning in to a notable event in American civic life like a presidential inauguration is appealing to me.

America’s greatness, however, is not measured by the occupant of the Oval Office or the political composition of Congress. Rather, it is measured by the ability of her people to come together, celebrate the diversity of our backgrounds, find common causes and solutions, and ensure the flourishing of all people, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

It almost goes without saying that our elected leaders hold disproportionate sway in determining how well we can accomplish these challenging tasks. That is, after all, the nature of representative democracy. However, saying that elected officials hold more power does not lead to the conclusion that everyone else holds no power. So what is it that we common citizens can do to exercise our power and make America actually great? (By the way, my hope is that these questions and tips apply to everyone, no matter how you voted in November.)

  • Are you concerned about the polarization this latest election revealed in our country? Meet and converse with someone with whom you disagree.
  • Is someone in your life threatened by Trump’s campaign promises and precedents, on the grounds of their race, religion, orientation, gender, or immigration status? Reach out to them, tell them you care about them, and ask what you can do to better support them.
  • Do you see Congress preparing to take an action with which you disagree? Write a letter, pick up the phone, or even contact them on social media.1
  • Do all of these suggestions simply seem inadequate to address the significant issues facing our country? Stay active in the process, go to a rally or protest, keep voting, maybe even run for office yourself!

As it turns out, I won’t be watching the inauguration on Friday, not out of protest, but because I’ll be proctoring a mathematics exam at that time. If I were available, though, I would tune in. Not for the festivities. Not to support the President-elect. But to be informed about what’s going on in our country. As citizens, we have the power to take action and engage our shared public life. I think that makes America pretty great.


Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user angela n., found here.

  1. Feel free to do these things if they’re doing something you agree with as well. As a former congressional intern, I can assure you they rarely receive messages of approval or encouragement.

Danny Gustafson, SJ   /   All posts by Danny