The Peaceful Transfer of Power: At What Cost its Celebration?

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Believe it or not, power transferred peacefully between these two men. (Source)

Church authorities have been at pains lately to emphasize that neither the participation of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir nor two apostles is an endorsement of the casino magnate cum president-elect. Instead, their participation is a celebration and reaffirmation of the peaceful transfer of power. Now, the peaceful transfer of power is certainly a pearl of great price, but is it a feature of American democracy that warrants celebration above all other considerations? I submit that it isn’t. 

First of all, it’s a low bar. The peaceful transfer of power has not only been the norm in the United States since its bloody feud with King George but it’s also a standard that North Korea has met since its own brotherly feud. So let’s keep the church in the village–the peaceful transfer of power is certainly something to be pruned, digged about and nourished. The question is whether this is best achieved by lending one’s good offices to a man whose “banter belies a willingness to use and discard other human beings at will. That characteristic is the essence of a despot.” I realize that the general thrust of the Church’s argument has been to separate the man from the office, but I believe that this tack only gets us so far–at some point we have to come to terms with the fact that “in democratic elections, ideas have consequences, leadership matters and character counts.

Second, history shows that the peaceful transfer of power isn’t a deer that spooks at a single hungry glare. If a democracy is robust enough it will manage just fine for a season even if various actors prioritize other values.

Take Austria, for example, a mild-mannered neutral country that in 2000 was subject to political sanctions by none other than fourteen members of the European Union–of which it was also a member–when it became apparent that a far-right populist party was about to become part of a government coalition. At that time, the EU-14 declared that:

in case it is formed in Austria a Government integrating the FPÖ:

-Governments of XIV Member States will not promote or accept any bilateral official at political level with an Austrian Government integrating the FPÖ;

-There will be no support in favour of Austrian candidates seeking position in international organisations;

-Austrian Ambassadors in EU capitals will only be received at a technical level.

Let me be clear that there were no problems regarding the election that preceded the inclusion of the Freedom Party in the government coalition, nor had the party itself violated any statute. The issue was one of legitimacy–the EU-14 was concerned that allowing a far-right populist party with ancestral ties to former national socialists would undo much of the EU’s work of the preceding decades if it became legitimized as a government actor. And so instead of celebrating the peaceful transfer above all else, members of the EU took a principled stand against a development that they feared threatened the future peace. And do you know what? Austrian democracy survived and subsequent transfers of power have continued to be peaceful. I am confident that US democracy will fare no worse even if citizens are critical of the man holding the highest political office in the land.

In any event, the celebration of the peaceful transfer of power is no tractor beam that renders the participation of any particular actor inevitable. After all, according to its own records, even Church authorities resisted the pull to celebrate the peaceful transfers of power to that New Dealer FDR and his Democrat successor Truman. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Comments

  1. Peter, this is excellent. I was hoping for a post from you today after the announcement that the two apostles would be attending. Sigh. 🍪👑

  2. I realize Donald Trump is an…uh… unusual case to say the least, but isn’t it a little hypocritical to be demanding political action from the church here towards a singular official? Many on this site would have been rightly upset if the church overtly supported Romney or refused to celebrate Obama’s 2nd term after Romney’s defeat. Before Trump even becomes President, before we know exactly what type of leader he will be (probably terrible, but here’s to hoping), why should the church take a political stand against a political figure?

  3. Don’t forget the Piano Guys. It looks like they’ll be performing too.

  4. Well, ABM, why is there a gap in GA attendance at FDR’s inaugurations, even the first before he had a chance to implement his vision of the New Deal? I imagine the Church leaders’ opposition to his policies–the welfare system was created in response–had something to do with it. I’m just saying that a(n in)conspicuous abscence would be neither unprecedented nor destabilizing.

  5. “I’m just saying that a(n in)conspicuous absence would be neither unprecedented nor destabilizing.” Agreed.

  6. Clark Goble says:

    Admittedly peaceful transition is a low bar, but it’s one we have to seek to maintain especially given heightened partisan divides and what seems like increased tribalism by all sides.

  7. mikerharris says:

    Once again, Colin Kaepernicks take a knee…but they are much more articulate than he.

  8. Gilgamesh says:

    D&C 82:22 says “And now, verily I say unto you, and this is wisdom, make unto yourselves friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, and they will not destroy you. Isn’t this just prudence on the part of the church?

  9. Eh… I understand the sentiment and largely agree, but I have to nitpick.

    Both of the last two transitions in North Korea were followed by pretty brutal purges. Kim Jong Un, for example, had his own uncle executed along with a number of generals.

  10. PeterLLC,

    It wasn’t just FDR, According to the link, the church didn’t send anyone to the 2nd inaugurations of Reagan and W. Bush either. They didn’t send an apostle in 2001, just an area seventy. In those 3 cases, do we know why they choose differently? I doubt it was political.

    Sure, the absence of church reps from the inauguration would not be a disaster or cause government instability. But this inauguration is so different… it is hyper politicized. When either attending or not attending sends a political message of some sort of course the conservative leaders of the church will take the “safe” road of doing what they have usually done, remain neutral and not rock the political boat.

  11. Last Lemming says:

    If you want to get into some serious Kremli…I mean COBology, you will note that these are two relatively junior apostles, whereas Obama warranted Uchtdorf and Perry.

  12. it's a series of tubes says:

    LL for the win.

  13. If a “peaceful transition of power” were the thing being celebrated, then an inauguration would be all about the LAST guy — the good behavior in this case being Obama’s surrender of power, not the new guy assuming it. Who does anybody think they’re kidding with that line?

  14. Last Lemming: when my wife was a Temple Square tour guide a few years after the fall of the USSR, she gave a tour to a government delegation from a recently ex-Communist country where the Church was struggling for acceptance. One visiting official saw the portraits of the Brethren in the foyer of the Church Office Building and said, “That looks like the old Politburo. We can live with this!”

    Between that and the fact that veterans of the Long March are referred to as “Pioneers,” I think a lot of Latter-day Saints would be embarrassed at just how Communist the Church appears to many, many outsiders. The beehive motif, the ceremonies where medals are draped around the necks of Young Women, the use of “Brother” and “Sister” in exactly the same way as Communists used “Comrade”: these are things that are a major turnoff to a lot of members. (To say nothing of the opaque decision-making and the meaninglessly unanimous votes for sustainings.) The Church still hasn’t really taken off in Eastern Europe, and it might not until after the last generation to live under Communism dies off.

  15. the good behavior in this case being Obama’s surrender of power, not the new guy assuming it.

    Exactly, Ardis!

    Both of the last two transitions in North Korea were followed by pretty brutal purges.

    Indeed, which underlines Ardis’s point about how backwards it is to celebrate the guy assuming office.

  16. Geoff - Aus says:

    Trump said he would accept the electors decision if it was for him. Will there be a smooth change over next time? That will be the interesting one. What happens if he refuses to go?

  17. What Ardis said.

  18. The Church is in a rough spot. If they don’t bow to the Emperor, he will certainly make things difficult for the Church once he’s in power. (He strikes me as the type to hold a grudge for a long time.)

    But his very character is so contrary to all the Church claims to believe, they should eschew anything that hints at endorsement. (Appearance of evil and all that.)

    Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I wished the Church had not so quickly gone soft. We hear conference talks about standing up for truth and righteousness, (but apparently that only applies to gay marriage and porn shoulders). The hypocrisy will make April conference difficult to swallow… more difficult than usual.

  19. Aussie Mormon says:

    Porter Rockwell would have likely sorted this mess out a long time ago :P (not that I agree with the method he would have used).

  20. I just don’t want something I love to be associated with someone so entirely repulsive (dishonest, predatory, narcissistic, and racist, to start). It’s like watching my adult kid go on a date with a terrible, terrible choice of future partner. I know a date doesn’t mean they’re going to get married. And I know I don’t have a say in the matter. But it’s disturbing.

  21. I don’t agree that the right move for the Q12 would be to eschew the Trump inauguration because his personal life is at odds with our values. I believe that decision would be at odds with our most fundamental value.

  22. It’s like watching my adult kid go on a date with a terrible, terrible choice of future partner.

    That’s pretty much how I feel, especially about the Choir (a couple of representatives in a sea of dignitaries seems less laden with significance, I suppose, than one of the featured acts). Maybe that’s an inconsistent (hypocritical?) position to take, and I know some believe it amounts to counselling the brethren, but from my perspective it’s a feeling of dismay that the organization that has urged me throughout my life to take principled stands in my private interactions is going with the flow in public.

    I believe that decision would be at odds with our most fundamental value.

    I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong; what value do you mean?

  23. How in the world is declining an invitation to celebrate the inauguration of a man whose personal life as well as his policies directly conflict worth the church’s public moral stances inconsistent with having faith in the atonement of Christ?

  24. There are many who are profoundly disappointed that the church appears to be endorsing Donald Trump as president by sending the choir and two Apostles. Never mind the history in recent years of sending either the choir or a general authority or two or both, this man’s personal behavior is the antithesis of everything the church has stood for and has taught us all of our lives. The Deseret News editorialized against him back in October, calling him morally unfit and evil. By sending the choir and the two apostles, the church appears to be saying none of that matters now. Sadly, our church does not appear to have our backs when it comes to opposing moral evil and corruption. We are on our own. Forgive us if we feel let down.

  25. Now you have just gone off the deep end. The transition of power in North Korea in the past 70 years has left a trail of blood and horror miles wide. Meanwhile, in the USA there has been one instance of the non-peaceful transfer of power in the past 100 years. This was courtesy of the ideological allies of the North Korean regime when President Kennedy was assassinated.

    For those who object to the moral depravity that has been displayed by the President-elect, remember that the first time the MTC sang at an inauguration, the new President was an immoral cretin in his personal life and advocated and implemented many policies opposed by the church leadership. Based upon this precedent, the choir singing is very consistent with previous church decisions. There would be a much bigger deal for the choir as a whole to decline the invitation.

  26. I’d be more convinced of this transition being bloodless if there wasn’t a former British spy out there, in hiding, fearing for his life at the hands of Russia for his intelligence gathering on Trump.

  27. I feel that the real issue here is where do you draw the line? What if the choir were invited to perform and apostles were invited to attend Robert Mugabe’s or Kim Jung Un’s next inauguration? Should we attend a genocidal maniac’s inauguration to honor the Office of the President of Zimbabwe? I think it is a no brainer that we should not.

    This is an extreme example to illustrate that a line exists (or should exist). So where should it be drawn? Genocide isn’t okay, but is bragging about assualting women, mocking disabled reporters, calling Mexican immigrants rapists, etc. (sadly, the list goes on), okay?

  28. Another real issue is rewarding him for his continued bad behavior. Okay, we are sending the choir (and maybe regret it, but won’t back out). But subsequent to the decision to send the choir, Trump’s bad behavior has continued. He has made zero effort to bring the country together (instead taking a victory lap only in the states that he won), continues, two months later, to tweet about his great election victory over Hillary (who does that?), and calls his political opponents “enemies”.

    So what do we do about his continued bad behavior? We reward it by sending more Church officials to his victory party.

  29. What Would Abinadi Say?

  30. Now you have just gone off the deep end. The transition of power in North Korea in the past 70 years has left a trail of blood and horror miles wide.

    Yes, the Kim dynasty has left a trail of blood and horror miles wide. The actual transitions have gone smoothly, however. The overarching idea here is that the peaceful transfer of power isn’t all that some circles are making it up to be.

  31. Geoff - Aus says:

    In this article on thhe Australian national media ABC the http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-14/who-is-and-isnt-attending-the-donald-trump-inauguration/8180122 the inaugeration is referred to by many as a welcome Trump concert.

  32. Sorry folks, when BCC indulges this kind of left-wing drivel, I’m bored out of my mind. Dumb. And I didn’t vote for Trump. We get it, you hate Trump. How many more times are you going to post about it?

  33. whizzbang says:

    I agree 100% with MTodd. We are against gambling but yeah sure send 2 Apostles to a Casino Owner’s celebration.

  34. Mike W., you’re missing the point. Hate Trump or not, he and his crowd are dangerous. Sorry you’re bored, but the house is burning.

  35. Lourstat, thanks for letting me know. I’ll be sure to make a notation in my Franklin Planner and start adding some “to-do” lists. Like complain about Trump on the internet. And go on social media and talk about how “dangerous” he is. Can we get a post here on BCC talking about how ridiculous it was for the church to boycott the Roosevelt inaugurations over the New Deal? I think that would be a super cool thing for BCC to focus on.

  36. Hey, internet. Mike is bored. Does anyone have some shiny baubles for him?

  37. Mike: “How many more times are you going to post about it?”

    Until he is gone, Mike. As for your boredom, I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience.

  38. If only there was an “editor” of a Mormon blog who had the GUTS to stand up to Donald Trump. Oh wait, there is. Reminds me of the sports radio announcer in my town who ends his show with the word “Courage.”. Maybe you should try that Steve. End every blog post about Donald Trump with the word “courage.” I enjoy your political posts that you dress in religious clothing about as much as I enjoy hearing politics from the pulpit.

  39. Aussie Mormon says:

    We need some more BCC authoritative lists.

  40. See you around, Mike. Nothing’s compelling you to read or comment here, but you sure comment a lot for someone who doesn’t enjoy the posts.

  41. Aussie – YES WE DO!

  42. I enjoy your political posts that you dress in religious clothing about as much as I enjoy hearing politics from the pulpit.

    Right off the bat I can think of two reasons why your sarcastic observation fails: 1) BCC isn’t church; in fact, I argue here that BCC is a more appropriate venue for getting politics off our chests. 2) What Steve said. Unlike a talk unfolding in real time, a blog post can be skipped in its entirety…and no one will even know!

    We get it, you hate Trump. How many more times are you going to post about it?

    I know you’re just dressing up “Shut up, jerk!” here, but since you asked: It depends on how many more times weak arguments are put forward by people and institutions for whom I have great respect and sacrificed (portions of, anyway) my life to sustain and uphold to justify their support of him. And anyway, if three posts out of 7000 that BCC has published over the years are too much for you, I’d like to invite you to submit a guest post on beams and motes.

  43. What Ardis said. Obama should be particularly praised for this transfer of power, considering that agenda item 1 is complete annihilation of his health care project.

    And, just as I suspected, when the church asked us to stand for things, it was code for standing up to same sex marriage legislation. Because if ever there were a time to stand against something, it’s this.

  44. Left Field says:

    Looming large among the many things I don’t understand about all this is the idea some have expressed that the church is actually powerless to make a decision. We are told that prophets, seers, and revelators are bound by forces outside their control to send apostles and choirs to presidential inaugurations.

    We assume (with reasonable cause) that the choir has chosen to perform whenever asked. However, with a normal presidency, the church could if we wished, quietly decline an invitation with no publicity. With a Trump presidency, we are told, we can’t do this, because Mr. Trump will call us out publicly, and it will look all political. So we’re told he’s got the church over a barrel and we can’t possibly say no.

    Sending church representative seems to be on the church’s own initiative, rather than by invitation. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t (though they haven’t missed a Democratic inauguration since FDR). No one would have really noticed or credibly made anything political out of it if they had skipped this one. (Did anyone notice when they skipped in 2005?) But somehow, we just have to do it for Trump, or it will look bad?

    What looks worse, somebody thinking the church is snubbing Trump, or somebody thinking Trump leads us around with a flaxen cord?

  45. Julie elsewhere on this blog provided a pattern for how we should treat Trump supports and the President-elect himself. We should say things like:

    1) I love you.
    2) We can believe different things and still be close.
    3) I trust you to do what is best for you.
    4) I want you to be happy.
    5) What can I do to support you right now?
    6) I know you didn’t make this decision lightly.
    7) I respect your integrity and your strength.
    8) You will always have a place here, no matter what.
    9) I can’t imagine how hard this has been for you.
    10) Tell me more about your journey (and then really listen).
    11) I’d love to read the Church essays so that we can talk more.
    12) You have legitimate concerns.
    13) The world needs more people like you.
    14) If anyone asks me about your decision, I’ll tell him or her to talk to you directly.
    15) Your relationship with the Church has nothing to do with our relationship.
    16) My love for you is constant and unconditional.
    17) Even though I believe in the church, I believe you when you say you don’t know if it’s true.
    18) You’re a good parent, son, daughter, etc.
    19) You are a good person.
    20) I’m not worried about you.
    21) We all have our own unique paths.
    22) Agency is an amazing gift.
    23) I don’t understand where you’re coming from, but I want to.
    24) I don’t know what to say.
    25) I am here for you.

  46. Dead wrong, Leo.

  47. @Steve Evans,

    Why?

  48. Lady Didymus says:

    Regarding the MTB never turning down an invitation, I found this on a Mormons Building Bridges post (via Kendall Wilcox) on Facebook: “[The Mormon Tabernacle Choir] were invited to designate one of their regularly scheduled Thursday evening rehearsals as a “special performance” for the Inclusive Families Conference last year. They declined the invitation. (I was on the conference planning committee and in the email exchanges and face to face meetings with the Church on this invitation.) Yet at the exact same time, they accepted the invitation to do the exact same thing (Thursday rehearsal as “special performance”) for the World Congress of Families – an organization notoriously affiliated with anti LGBT movements around the world.” Obviously not as high profile as an inauguration but still disappointing. Not surprising perhaps, but I was still saddened.

  49. Left Field says:

    Lady D, I’m sure the choir turns down plenty of invitations. Once when I was a missionary, someone we met tracting who asked if we could get the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing at the local high school. We didn’t pass the invitation along, but I’m sure they’d have declined that one, too.

    The context of the present discussion is that when the choir hasn’t sung at an inauguration, it’s presumably because they weren’t invited, not because they declined an invitation.

  50. Leo, it appears that context is meaningless to you.

  51. @peterllc

    Help me with what context you mean. (In my original comment “supports” was a typo for “supporters.”)

    Do you mean a family member, Church member, or neighbor who supports Trump is beyond the pale? That would make for interesting family, Church, or neighborhood gatherings. Or maybe you mean that loving people who are politically incorrect, crass, coarse or boorish is inappropriate because they are very great sinners and therefore shouldn’t be spoken to with kindness or at all. Or maybe you mean we should shun church members (or former members) who are on their third marriage. I am wondering what context you believe rules out kind words and an attempt at reconciliation. While there may be a line to be drawn somewhere, I don’t think those who voted for Trump are beyond that line. Nor do I think that Trump fits in the North Korean context at all, a subtle implication in the original post. I am sure many North Koreans would appreciate the opportunity to leave North Korea for the U.S. under a President Trump and very, very few Americans would be willing to trade places with them.

    If we are called to love our enemies, kind words might be a start. Don’t you agree?

  52. Leo, this post takes aim at the argument that what the MTC and others will be celebrating later this week is not the public figure who recently won a presidential election but the peaceful transfer of power. The post takes for granted that the president-elect is a public figure whose values conflict with the Church’s, but it does not take aim at the president-elect’s supporters. The reference to North Korea is not an attempt to smear the president-elect or his supporters as bloodthirsty thugs but to underline my point that if even bloodthirsty thugs are capable of transferring power peacefully maybe it’s not something worth compromising one’s values over.

    The post you lifted these suggestions from is addressing a situation that has nothing to do with the above. Rather, it has to do with the way insiders interact with outsiders along one dimension of their identity, namely, church membership. If you can’t resist a link to current affairs, however, I submit that in the current political context, critics of the president-elect are the outsiders for whom insiders–his supporters–should be bending over backward to win over.

    Then there is the matter of power differentials. It should go without saying that as a public figure whose actions have an impact an people around the world, the president-elect is not like you and me. He owes us the sentiments expressed in your borrowed list.

  53. So you agree that we should have kind words for the President-elects supporters. That’s great. Attending the inauguration also expresses support for them and validates their rights to their opinions and their votes. You still seem to be saying we shouldn’t have kind words for the President-elect himself because his values conflict with those of the Church. We have had quite a few presidents whose values have not been in alignment with the Church, but all have deserved to be addressed with respect and kind words if only because they, too, were children of God and parenthetically who happened to have been duly elected by the recognized constitutional process. This is not just any peaceful transition. It is the peaceful transition we have enjoyed for two centuries in America, an uncommon record in the world.

    It may well be that the President-elect owes us kind words. Well, he has said he loves Mormons, which is a pretty nice thing to say. In any event our kind words should not be contingent on someone first offering us kind words.

    The context of kind words should not be limited to insider/outsider, Church membership/leaving the Church, or power differentials. That is my point. Speaking kind words and loving one’s enemies is a universal principle, even a commandment.

    I submit to you the Christian example of the National Cathedral’s Choir of Men, Boys and Girls who will sing at the inauguration. The day after the inauguration, the Cathedral will also host an interfaith prayer service, following its tradition for many inaugurations in the past century. The Dean of the Cathedral (a rather liberal Episcopal organization) said he believes that the inauguration is a celebration of the nation and of the office of the president, not necessarily of the specific individual holding the office. The Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said that while she recognizes people’s criticisms, she sees the choir’s participation as a way to honor the peaceful transition of power [!] and to signal that “God is still with us, the nation is still strong.”

  54. I read the same news you do, Leo, and am well aware that Mormons are not the only ones scraping the bottom of the argument barrel for justifications to lend their good offices to the president-elect. I have taken note, however, of your interest in what Episcopalians have to say about social issues and will be happy to reference their positions on, say, gay marriage and immigration reform on future occasions.

    At any rate, no one is arguing that we should not be speaking kind words and loving our enemies. At the same time, no one is under any obligation to “validate”(!) the duly-exercised rights of those who chose to support the president-elect. So I would welcome it if you would refrain from abusing the two great commandments in an effort to stifle legitimate criticism of a public figure.

    In the meantime, consider the words of a prophet on an issue that I believe is pertinent:

    We must refrain from making final judgments on people because we lack the knowledge and the wisdom to do so. […] In contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments, the scriptures require mortals to make what I will call “intermediate judgments.” These judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency. […] The Savior also commanded individuals to be judges, both of circumstances and of other people.

    We can debate all day long whether a particular judgment is righteous; what we can’t do is dismiss out of hand any possibility that a judgment is righteous.