Ye Heralds, Sound the Golden Trump: A Postmortem of MoTab’s Inauguration Performance

motab

Silver lining: unisex outfits! (Source)

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?

 

Comments

  1. Maybe they meant they were celebrating Obama’s incredible self-restraint in peacefully handing power over to the monster? It was a celebration of Obama being a better leader than Trump! Because there nothing Trump could do about whether the transfer of power was peaceful or not. So it must be Obama they were celebrating. Yay choir!

    (Yeah, it’s not convincing me, either.)

  2. I think Mr Trump’s furor over numbers–attending and voting–overshadows everything else about the inauguration. (He probably intended exactly that.) For that reason, the choir’s greatest failure or cost was swelling the numbers at the inauguration.

  3. Peter: I suspect that the choir did not accomplish all of what it hoped to accomplish, and with time it may even become clear that it didn’t accomplish any of it. I also agree that taking a look at what worked and what didn’t work is absolutely necessary. That being said, most things won’t work. If all you’ve got are a bunch of options with a 90% chance of failure, you should try all of them and see what you learn from the failures.

  4. Dog Spirit says:

    The choir could not have known about the refugee ban that would happen just a week later, but the sound of church that is actively and loudly preaching about the paramount importance of defending religious freedom encouraging it’s choral ambassadors to sing in the tenure of this president with “America the Beautiful” is deeply dissonant, no matter how lovely the music.

  5. “The choir could not have known about the refugee ban that would happen just a week later.”

    Wasn’t banning Muslims from entering the USA a pretty well publicized campaign promise? I think his intentions were pretty clear and it was pretty stupid of the choir to participate so conspicuously in the inauguration of this narcissistic xenophobe.

  6. Dog Spirit says:

    Lois, I agree with you. I was shocked and trying to be generous, but you’re right, there are no surprises here.

  7. Does anybody remember the Deseret News’s resounding condemnation of Trump last October 8th? It was a clear moral voice delivered in measured tones by ‘the church’s newspaper’ that got Trump right. It recognised him as a ‘latent despot’ whose rhetoric ‘oozed evil’ and denied that he reflected ‘the values of this community’ – meaning Utah but one could say by extension the Mormon people. What happened to that clear moral voice? It was squandered by the choir’s decision to sing at Trump’s inauguration when it could’ve respectfully declined. Nothing in the DN’s assessment of the man has changed by being elected president. It’s truth is only becoming more evident. One could say the same thing about Mitt Romney’s ill-judged decision to cosy up to the man who he had similarly condemned as unfit for the office. He squandered his chance to be a leading voice among Republicans in holding the President to a higher standard of conduct, more in keeping with American (and ‘this community’s’) values. I agree with you Peter(?) that the choir’s decision to perform was unfortunate. It compromised the church’s moral authority in the world. I’m not American and don’t live in the US but there are serious and very worrying things going on in US politics at the moment.

  8. Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.

  9. Leo, great advice.

    Nothing in the DN’s assessment of the man has changed by being elected president. It’s truth is only becoming more evident.

    Indeed.

    Wasn’t banning Muslims from entering the USA a pretty well publicized campaign promise? I think his intentions were pretty clear

    Yep, it would seem that those who claimed we should take the president seriously but not literally were only half right.

    If all you’ve got are a bunch of options with a 90% chance of failure, you should try all of them and see what you learn from the failures.

    Yeah, it’s easy for me to be an armchair critic since little hangs in the balance for me; still, I hope we can all learn from this episode.

  10. Better to disagree on a policy and address it though normal channels than to make it personal (if not an obsession) and declare the duly elected president persona non grata as far as the world-wide church is concerned. Which other past presidents, current U.S. officials, and current world leaders would you like the Church and its members to condemn as a person?

    A federal judge is already blocking some of the President’s immigration actions, and other countries have expressed willingness to take in those affected. As I wrote elsewhere, this is an opportunity to rein in the power of the imperial presidency that has grown more powerful with each successive president. The constitution provides that the Congress make laws regarding immigration. The matter should be taken there, and to the courts if the action is unconstitutional or illegal. There is no need for a cold civil war or to have the Church declare such.

    The choir sang for President Nixon, a man with a mixed legacy to put it mildly. I was in Washington during Watergate. The country, the Church, and the choir will be just fine if we take a deep breath and use the constitutional powers at the disposal of the other branches of government and the people as needed and as traditionally appropriate. The ceremonies in Washington actually serve to restrain a president by enmeshing him in our traditions and laws, including a solemn oath. That is why Congress and the Supreme Court attend inaugurations. Making the inauguration a matter of personal animosity for yourself or the Church runs the real risk of hurting your soul, the Church, and the country while building more sympathy for President Trump among his supporters.

  11. The choir did sing for Nixon–but that was before everyone knew how big of a scumbag he was. Big difference.

  12. Sigh again says:

    You liked the costumes? The only two reactions I heard before your comments are that they were reminiscent of Klan robes, and that the use of the tartan was shocking and disturbing to Scotsmen.

  13. Leo, I guess I appreciate your concern about my soul, your dogged determination to read my posts against the grain less so.

    Sigh again, I didn’t like the outfits from an aesthetic perspective but it was a pleasant surprise to see the MoTab dress practically for the weather.

  14. “The choir could not have known about the refugee ban that would happen just a week later.”

    Could the Prophet have known?

  15. Single Sister says:

    I said it before the Inauguration and I’ll say it again – they should not have sung. Give me every reason that they should have sung and all I hear is yada yada yada.

  16. The last chord of MoTab was still reverberating in the air when the president uttered the old Nazi-sympathizing isolationist slogan “America First.”

  17. I feel deeply ashamed that my church sent their (and what I have always felt as MY) choir to sing for an evil man that very well may be the worst thing that ever happened to this country. I am not sure I will ever be able to listen to MOTAB again without feeling a sense of betrayal. To some this may sound overly dramatic but that is exactly how I and many others feel.

  18. I won’t say what I really think, so as to not deeply offend too many. I will say that I did not vote for Trump and can’t believe he won (I also didn’t vote for the other person). Having said that, I’m moving on. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, or something like that.