Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Donald Trump is likely to destroy American democracy while leaving the nation in ruins and the world in flames, and let’s further assume that all of these are bad things. (I don’ t think the situation is quite as hopeful as that, but I’m not particularly interested in arguing about any of these assumptions in this post.) What should the Church do about it? What should you do about it? If we look back at the experience of the mercifully foreshortened twentieth century, I think the answer to the first question is that the Church must find a way to carry out its mission in whatever political circumstances it finds itself. The answer to the second question is: nobody knows.
“There is work to be done,” he said. “Molly … am I right in thinking that I can count on you and Arthur?”
“Of course you can” said Mrs Weasley. She was white to the lips, but she looked resolute […]
“Then I need to send a message to him,” said Dumbledore. “All those that we can persuade of the truth must be notified immediately, and Arthur is well placed to contact those at the Ministry who are not as short-sighted as Cornelius.”
As for the Church, it has its missions: Keep its missionaries active in as many nations as possible. Keep its temples operating. Keep its wards and branches functioning. Aid the poor and be a light to the world. All of those missions are easier to fulfill by maintaining good relations with the governments that control the countries where it operates. Snubbing a new president on his first day in office seems like a poor way to advance the missions of the Church. There are judicial seats and other offices awaiting appointees, and the Church could certainly find itself in a better position if those who are sympathetic to the Church’s needs are taken into consideration. The more controversial that performing at the Inauguration becomes, the more potential goodwill the Church may reap with a quick rendition of “My Country, ‘tis of Thee.” The Church must also minister to members who are pleased with the election result, and surely the Church has no interest in snubbing them. (It’s understandable that church members who are displeased with the election outcome are upset and concerned – see democracy’s ruin and the world in flames above – and it would be helpful for the Church to send a reassuring sign to those members that it values them and understands their worries.) The Church strongly supports American constitutional democracy, of course. The future may look bleak, but it is not foreordained. I don’t know if sending the choir to the Inauguration will make the outcome better or worse, but if someone thinks it might help, it’s worth a try.
“Minerva,” said Dumbledore, turning to Professor McGonagall, “I want to see Hagrid in my office as soon as possible. Also – if she will consent to come – Madame Maxime.”
Professor McGonagall nodded, and left without a word.
But do not forget: the Church has its missions. It has been commissioned by the highest authority to fulfill them, and it is a mistake to think that the Church can or should endanger its missions for the sake of protesting a tyrant’s election. If you think Trump is bad enough that you must protest his inauguration, then you should consider all the ramifications of just how bad he may yet become.
“Poppy,” Dumbledore said to Madam Pomfrey, “would you be very kind, and go down to Professor Moody’s office, where I think you will find a house-elf called Winky in considerable distress? Do what you can for her, and take her back to the kitchens. I think Dobby will look after her for us.”
The next thing you have to remember is that no one knows how long the current state of affairs will last: one year, four years, twelve years, a thousand years. There’s a tempting teleological fallacy that says, The Church will look bad for not protesting after all this is done. But that assumes that what comes after Trump will be a return to the norms of liberal democracy. A variant of this says, The Church is harming its international reputation by not protesting. But the number of liberal democracies outside the U.S. appears to be declining, and it’s anyone’s guess how many will be left twelve months from now.
“Sirius, I need you to set off at once. You are to alert Remus Lupin, Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher – the old crowd.” […]
Sirius grasped his hand briefly, nodded to Dumbledore, transformed again into the black dog, and ran the length of the room to the door, whose handle he turned with a paw. Then he was gone.
And finally, you have to remember that no one knows the right strategy for dealing with a tyrant. The leaders of nations and important organizations tried many different approaches to dealing with dictators during the twentieth century, and none of them worked perfectly. It’s easy to denounce engagement as collusion when you don’t count the cost, for yourself or others, of snubbing a tyrant. I do hope some committee of Seventies and Apostles is taking a hard look at the twentieth century and making a list of things the Church might do and things it will not do under any circumstances, making a list of hills to retreat from and hills worth dying on.
“Severus,” said Dumbledore, turning to Snape, “you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready … if you are prepared …”
“I am,” said Snape.
As for what you should do? I have no idea. Do whatever you think is most productive. (Personally, though, I find it counterproductive to pressure the Church to do your protesting for you; if you want to make a statement, get off your couch and do your own protesting. If you’re looking for something to do, Michael Moore and some Democratic congressional aides have published action plans. Do note, however, that neither of those plans includes Twitter-shame the Mormon Tabernacle Choir into skipping the inauguration.) Whatever it is you choose, I am quite certain that sniping at each other is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Maybe you think a protest march will make things better. March onward! Maybe the right approach is to remind people of the nation’s democratic heritage through patriotic songs. Sing out! Maybe you think the best approach is to resign in protest. You go, sister! Someone else might try healing the rift between left and right through music. Play on! Another might decide that a government that includes capable and principled people will do more good or less harm than a government that includes only lackeys and scoundrels. Throw your hat into the ring! Some people might take a lesson from the twentieth century and head for the border while they still can. I won’t stop you. Some people will go off-grid, and others will live lives of defiant normality. Maybe some of those strategies will have a positive effect.
As a wise man once said:
“You are on the same side now. Time is short, and unless the few of us who know the truth stand united, there is no hope for any of us.”