Remember way back last week when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang at the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States? I was one of those hand-wringing liberals (see here) who thought it was a bad idea before it even happened. Viewed through the lens of that president’s shameful yet totally predictable executive overreach, I am now convinced that it was a bad idea. But judging past events in light of present knowledge is a fraught endeavour, so in assessing the Choir’s participation at the inauguration let’s start with what spokespersons for the Church and the Choir itself had to say before the event took place.
First, and without any reference to any particular event, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir views itself as a “unique music organization [that] transcends cultural and generational boundaries and brings together people from around the world through stirring music.”
Second, the Choir’s president declared that “Singing the music of America is one of the things we do best. We are honored to be able to serve our country by providing music for the inauguration of our next president.”
Third, a Church spokesperson stated that “The choir’s participation […] is not an implied support of party affiliations or politics. It is a demonstration of our support for freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power.”
So how did the Choir do? Let’s start with transcending cultural and generational boundaries: Pretty good, actually! I refer to the crème-colored coats with matching turtleneck sweaters and red plaid scarves as well as what everyone had on underneath–pants! Can you believe it–the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, in front of an audience numbering in the…well, who knows exactly; let’s just say that they chose a well-publicized occasion to subvert gendered dress codes. So kudos to them for that.
How about bringing together people from around the world through stirring music? Well, I’m sure people from around the world were tuned in to see the Choir’s stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” set the stage for the 45th President of the United States to declare: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” From my perspective as a member of the international Church it is not obvious how singing “one of [the Choir’s] great songs [that] talks about our great heritage and our continued potential as a great nation” would bring people together from around the world, especially given the tangible barriers the President had already promised to build and his dystopian vision of America itself. And now that his xenophobic views are becoming the law of the land by decree, it seems less than prescient that the Choir’s president would consider the performance as “an opportunity for us to share the healing and powerful message of music with the entire world.”
In fact, when I read this assessment I nearly choked at the chutzpah required to claim–with a straight face, no less–that singing a song about the heritage and potential of the United States as a great nation at the inauguration of a xenophobe who pledged to fight to put “America First” with every breath of his body was a healing message for the entire world. A powerful message, yes, without doubt. But healing? I cannot think of an ailment the world suffers from that will be soothed with thunderous declarations of American patriotism/nationalism; maybe you can?
Moving on, I can’t argue with the Choir’s president that “Singing the music of America is one of the things we do best.” On that score I give them twelve points.
Finally, let’s consider the Choir’s support for freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power. This was a major argument before the inauguration–performing for the President at his behest wasn’t an endorsement or celebration of the man, it was all about the peaceful transition of power! But it’s a tricky one to measure. I mean, President Obama did in fact transfer power peacefully, and the Choir may have looked on approvingly. The catcalls and booing during the House Minority Leader’s speech were far from civil, but I assume the Choir looked on disapprovingly during that portion of the ceremony. As for freedom, well, this promotional video–which was not shown during the live performance–does feature the Statue of Liberty, so there’s that. Does all of this amount to support for freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power? Hard to say, but in my estimation, whatever the Choir may think about freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power is overshadowed by the fact that the man they sang for is infamous for his “locker room banter” and hypocritical assaults on religious liberty. Whether he will transfer power peacefully remains to be seen.
Before the inauguration, I would have nodded my head if you would have said that the Church was taking strides to transcend its ancestral roots and embrace the responsibilities of its global ambitions. Watching the inauguration, however, left me feeling that the Choir had made a powerful argument that this is not the case. I don’t expect history will be kind to the 45th president, and it’s unfortunate that the Choir and by extension the Church chose to be on his side.
But what do you think? Mission accomplished? If so, for whom? The global Church or the 60% of American Mormons who supported the President?