Wynton’s Blog

In the countdown to Friday’s inauguration…

Capitol West Lawn

In the countdown to Friday’s inauguration, I find myself being asked – at least once a day – whether or not I would agree to play at the festivities, if invited.

Yesterday, while fellowshipping with a number of college-aged youngsters, both my willingness to perform, and my interest in joining a protest were called into question. “Would I perform, if asked?” “Yes,” I said. “Would you protest the accepted outcome of the election?” “No,” I said, and quickly followed up with, “I’ll at least wait for him (or them) to actually do something that I feel should be protested against.”

Well, not expecting these answers, the young people were extremely dissatisfied and became quite agitated. The conversation quickly shifted to what constitutes “selling out” and the somewhat rhetorical questioning of whether or not selling is a natural side effect of aging. It then detoured into uniformed suspicious speculation on the Electoral College, which gave way to pure conjecture about the role of Putin in the electronic balloting process. This, predictably, boiled down to a conclusion that the election itself was not legitimate (and by deduction, that voting itself is a waste of time).

It was all so sincere and heartfelt that the veteran in me had to smile, chuckle and shake my head. “What’s funny?” they asked. I replied, “When a process yields results you really don’t like, that’s the perfect time to endorse that process. It proves your belief in the larger agenda. And that’s why, if asked, I would be happy to play. As far as protesting goes, I did that on November 8th. The election was the protest.”

It got me thinking about my great uncle, born in 1883 in rural Louisiana. He was known for going to vote on every Election Day, in spite of being turned away. He was said to be so persistent that after some absurdly large number of years, he was finally allowed to cast his vote. When I asked why he would return year after year to face that humiliation, he told me,“Make people cheat you to your face, son.”

Being a child of the Civil Rights Movement, I grew up knowing that activists from all walks of life courageously faced injustice head on. They even had the theme song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” Being present was their calling card. I think that many of the people boycotting this inauguration seem to have forgotten our democratic mandate to participate and our responsibility to be present. Now is not the time for leaders to disappear and allow the national dialogue to be shifted away from the sometimes impossible negotiations of conflicting viewpoints that are essential to the well being of our democracy.
Participation is the way to honor all of the sacrifices of our ancestors and to create the world we would like to bequeath our descendants. Let’s be present.

Wynton

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Discussion

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  1. The great thing about Wynton’s view, in my opinion, was the wonderful spirit in which it is offered. I marvel at that, because I see Trump as an ignorant, mercurial, angry, egotistical, domineering, vindictive, low-life menace, and therefore I am tempted to respond to him unthinkingly, with anger, ridicule and knee-jerk opposition. Wynton seems not to lower himself in that way. Even if he is wrong on the inauguration thing — and I am open-minded about that — there is no denying that his thinking is idealistic,well-informed, measured, forward-looking and crystal clear. These are qualities against which the forces of injustice, malevolence and ignorance can quickly become impotent. Think how Gandhi calmly shamed the British Empire into a peaceful exit from India, how Mandela’s dignity and moral stature turned the international community against apartheid., how Martin Luther King …. well, you’ve got the point. Such leaders can force their critics to either up their game or expose themselves as dangerous morons. The result is that the reactionaries, first of all, are forced to argue for their view in a more intelligent-seeming way and then, when that proves beyond them, many of them will accept the need for change and some actively work for it. So, leaders like Gandhi, Mandela and, yep, Wynton Marsalis (in his role as a public intellectual) don’t have to be saints or get everything right — in fact, they are typically frank about how human they are — but their uplifting effect on the rest of us simply must become the way of the future, if we are to have one.

    Gilbert Haisman on Apr 1st, 2017 at 11:39pm

  2. Must admit you have to give your new president a chance. See how the actions match up to the rhetoric.
    The jury is out. If he is in the dock it’s a good time for him to pick his words.
    I like your great uncle’s voting philosophy, certainly helps sort the wheat from the chaff.
    Cheers
    Steve

    Steve Jew on Mar 23rd, 2017 at 4:07am

  3. @Carolyn: I don’t want to get into a back and forth either, especially since this blog belongs to Mr. Marsalis and not to either of us. Maybe I’ve already said more than I needed to (I did respond to you with two comments), but I don’t see that I need to say anything more. The most I will say is this: you seem to have missed my whole point in the paragraph of mine that you yourself quoted, given your response to it. You don’t have to respond to me again here, but I would suggest that you read it again and try to understand what I meant when I said that, whether you agree or not. I trust you when you say “With all due respect” and that you don’t mean to be condescending, and I hope I return the courtesy. If not, please forgive me.

    @Mr. Marsalis: If any of us have bothered you, please forgive us. And thank you for not deleting our comments. I will try to make this the last time I comment to this particular one.

    Michael on Mar 1st, 2017 at 12:17am

  4. Oh, my god forgot about politics, I just listened your interpretation of Mozart, hydn, Hummel. I loved it to dead, I thought from the black and white cover you are like a guy who lived in 1920s era but later found out that you are barely 50s. Where can we see you performing

    Mesut on Feb 27th, 2017 at 8:49pm

  5. @Michael,

    With all due respect, I have no desire to get into a back-and-forth with you. But just to respond in general to you, Trump’s behavior is completely unprecedented in terms of presidential campaigns I have witnessed in my lifetime — going back to Ronald Reagan’s campaign. There is no debate about this. Not to be condescending, but I wonder how much attention you have paid to presidential campaigns. It’s alarming to me that you are puzzled by something that happened right before your eyes.

    But even more alarming is this statement you made:

    “And let’s not forget that, whatever else was true, it was the northern states who didn’t want black slaves to be counted for purposes of representation—which is arguably more demeaning and dehumanizing than their being counted, whatever the Southerners’ reasons for wanting that were.”

    Really The Southern slave states wanted the slaves counted to increase the representation of the less populated southern states, not to actually give the black slaves, who were considered property, any representation. Nor did it. So, to give the white slaveholder more power, black slaves were counted as 3/5th of a human being (thus the name three-fifths compromise) for the purpose of determining how many electors each state received in the electoral college. This is common historical knowledge

    Again, not to be condescending, please pick up a few U.S. history books and read them. Don’t just “google” to find information, or look on Wikipedia and think you can get a comprehensive understanding of issues.

    Carolyn on Feb 27th, 2017 at 5:22pm

  6. @Carolyn:

    Sorry for not putting this in the same comment as below but I sent my previous comment too early.

    You said the following:

    “It sounds all well and good to say wait and see what Trump does, but that ignores what he has already done. He lied every day of his campaigned. He belittled and demeaned women, Mexicans, African-Americans, disabled and many other people. He threatened to jail his opponent were he elected, which is something anathema to democracy and which is a very real practice of dictators, including Putin. His proto-fascist tendencies are something we must protest immediately and vigorously, before it’s too late.

    While the young people to whom you were speaking were perhaps unable to articulate a completely coherent reason for boycotting, they relied on their visceral (and correct) sense that Trump should be rejected out of hand. Participating does not require us to co-sign evil or madness. Being unwilling to normalize this despotic president may be precisely what saves us.”

    Is Donald Trump the first to lie every day of his campaign? Is he the first to say the kinds of things he did? If I’m not mistaken, it’s become a very normal state of affairs for politicians to participate in dirty tricks and smear campaigns. Why else have there been politician jokes for as long as there have been?

    That’s not to excuse Donald Trump’s misdeeds any more than it’s to excuse those of any past candidate, whether they won or whether they lost—but the point is that if you want to be sincere in your beliefs you have to hold everyone to the same standard. And if you think it’s right to reject Donald Trump’s victory in the past election, logic dictates that you must also reject a LOT of the past presidential victories, I daresay including ones that you might actually have supported. Otherwise your issue isn’t with what Donald Trump is doing but with who is doing it. And that way lies anarchy: a refusal to accept the outcome of any election simply because you don’t like the outcome. And you and those who agree with you certainly aren’t the only ones living in this country.

    True respect for an office only comes when we respect the office in spite of the occupant not being who we want in it. Conditional respect is no respect at all. I didn’t refuse to accept Barack Obama’s victory in 2012 even though I thought it was a huge mistake on the part of the American people to reelect him after four years of seeing what kind of President he was. I still called him “President Obama” and didn’t boycott that. I simply didn’t vote for him in 2012, just as I didn’t vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

    I do understand how you’re feeling: I felt similarly when George W. Bush was reelected. But I can’t live like that for the rest of my life. It will destroy me. Too often, even if people don’t realize it and so don’t mean to, they mistake envy for justice—and I’m one of those who did. But that’s dangerous, and I realize that now.

    We don’t live in a meritocracy and we never have. I fear too many people think we do. If we won’t trust our leaders (and ultimately trust God that evil is only indulged for a greater good that we may not see), we give our leaders permission not to trust us—and that way lies totalitarianism.

    Michael on Feb 24th, 2017 at 1:40pm

  7. @Carolyn:

    Thank you for being respectful and civil in your disagreement. I will try to be the same, and if I fail please forgive me because that isn’t my intention.

    While I didn’t want Donald Trump as President, and while I was until recently afraid for what might happen under a Donald Trump presidency (and I’m still not 100% convinced that my fears won’t happen even though I’m trying not to worry about it anymore), I honestly think you are being overly paranoid in your particular fears. The President of the United States isn’t even the most powerful person in the United States.

    And I’m honestly surprised that you claim that threatening to jail one’s opponent is anathema to democracy and that you compare it to dictators: looked at another way, that would seem to suggest that you think political candidates are above the law, if you think the one who wins (and so becomes government authority) is not allowed to prosecute the one who loses (and so remains a private citizen) even if the one who loses has committed crimes that deserve prosecution. The President’s job is to enforce the law: why should that stop at other people who have run for office? Quite frankly, putting political candidates above the law in that way sounds a lot more conducive to a dictatorship than jailing one’s opponent—because that would make political office a lot more attractive to those who couldn’t care less about following the law themselves, and then what’s to stop them from doing whatever they want? I fear you’re not seeing the big picture.

    Also, I have looked up the “three-fifths compromise”, and I still don’t see what Chris Cephas was talking about. The impression I’m getting is that the Electoral College existed before that compromise, not that it was invented specifically to allow slave states to have more of a voice in electing the president. And let’s not forget that, whatever else was true, it was the northern states who didn’t want black slaves to be counted for purposes of representation—which is arguably more demeaning and dehumanizing than their being counted, whatever the Southerners’ reasons for wanting that were. And that was the North doing that.

    And I stand by my rhetorical questions: you could just as easily claim that the United States Congress was rooted in slavery (since each state has the same number of Electors as Representatives and Senators combined, and the House of Representatives represents by population). And New Jersey was the state that wanted all states to have an equal voice (which resulted in the United States Senate), and New Jersey was a northern state—once slavery was gone in the North, New Jersey was a free state. I think you should check your sources before making such claims.

    God be with you.

    Michael on Feb 24th, 2017 at 1:24pm

  8. Wynton,

    I must respectfully disagree with you. Frankly, I am glad you were not asked because had you performed at the inauguration – however well-meaning your intentions – it might have taken a little of the shine off of you. (smile)

    Boycotting is not the opposite of participating. The opposite of participation is nihilism. As long as one is out raising their voice, be it affirming something or someone, or disavowing it, one is participating. I am grateful for the boycotts surrounding South African apartheid which lead to the US and much of the world divesting in their economy and, ultimately, along with all of the protests of Nelson Mandela and Black South Africans, to the dismantling of that heinous system. And as Chris Cephas pointed out, our boycotts were extremely effective in the campaign for civil rights.

    It sounds all well and good to say wait and see what Trump does, but that ignores what he has already done. He lied every day of his campaigned. He belittled and demeaned women, Mexicans, African-Americans, disabled and many other people. He threatened to jail his opponent were he elected, which is something anathema to democracy and which is a very real practice of dictators, including Putin. His proto-fascist tendencies are something we must protest immediately and vigorously, before it’s too late.

    While the young people to whom you were speaking were perhaps unable to articulate a completely coherent reason for boycotting, they relied on their visceral (and correct) sense that Trump should be rejected out of hand. Participating does not require us to co-sign evil or madness. Being unwilling to normalize this despotic president may be precisely what saves us.

    And in response to Michael, who wondered where Chris Cephas got his information about the electoral college being rooted in slavery, look up the “three-fifths compromise” for details.

    On another note, I’m looking forward to your upcoming concert at Orchestra Hall in Chicago!

    Carolyn Odom on Feb 16th, 2017 at 5:49pm

  9. Mr. Marsalis:

    I wanted to commend you for being a voice of reason amid all the craziness going on over this election. The whole point of an election is that there’s a chance of losing—just like with a sports competition. If everyone refused to acknowledge results they didn’t like, precious few people would accept reality itself. I also wonder if people have forgotten what happened when people refused to accept the result of the 1860 presidential election.

    I literally voted for “None of these candidates”. I’m glad Hillary Clinton lost, I’m not glad Donald Trump won. There’s too much refusal to see those as separate things. I had no dog in this fight at all—I just wanted it to end. But Donald Trump isn’t president yet, and so hasn’t done anything as president yet. We’re called to pray for our leaders, not judge them—especially not negatively.

    It’s refreshing to see someone choosing to be charitable and a good sport—especially in the face of people being disappointed in you for standing up for what you believe in. That shows you practice what you preach: surely you don’t like being accused of selling out or anything else others have accused you of, but you don’t refuse to accept that outcome. You don’t let them define who you are for you.

    Also, I wonder where Mr. Cephas’s information is coming from about the basis for the Electoral College being rooted in slavery. Was the United States Senate also rooted in slavery? Was New Jersey a slave state?

    I also respect you, Mr. Marsalis, that you are a veteran. My grandfather was too (God rest his soul). I remember when I didn’t respect the military and I’m sorry for that.

    On a lighter note (I know this is off-topic, but I thought you might like to read it after all this), I first found out about you from that “Peanuts” album you and your father were on, which I very much enjoyed. I also loved your appearance on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. That must have been wonderful both for yourself and for Mister Rogers, that you grew up watching his show, and that he was a fan of yours. You’re very good at what you do, and while I don’t know you, you strike me as a good person.

    In addition, I’ve just discovered the trumpet myself (got one for Christmas) and I am loving it, and I want to pursue it in earnest.

    Thank you again for this blog entry, and for just being who you are. God bless you.

    —Michael

    Michael on Jan 19th, 2017 at 8:49pm

  10. Wow! I am sooo disappointed in your view about boycotting Trump’s inauguration, Mr. Marsalis. I agree with a comment made by Delano Raphael, “to boycott is not the same as to disappear.” Boycotting IS participation in the democratic process. It is a democratic statement, and was one of the most effective tools of The Civil Rights Movement. You say that you will wait until Trump does something for you to protest – you mean to tell me that Trump hasn’t done enough or said enough already for you to protest?? Trump’s actions are reprehensible, and his words are expressive of his deeds! You don’t see that??!! I, too, support the transition of power; but not when the power is transitioned to a person who spouts racist, misogynistic, and divisive idealogy. And let’s not forget that while Trump won the Electoral College vote, he lost the popular vote by close to 3 million!! The basis for the Electoral College is rooted in slavery; so while we protest Trump’s election, let’s also protest the system of the Electoral College. Please, Mr. Marsalis, rethink your view.

    Chris Cephas on Jan 19th, 2017 at 4:49am