ON Tuesday, Virginians will celebrate a major historical milestone: the 400th anniversary of the first and longest continuously operating legislative body in the Western Hemisphere. The commemoration in Jamestown will mark the first meeting of Virginia’s House of Burgesses on July 30, 1619—the birth of representative government in America.
Planned festivities include walking tours, archaeological exhibits, living history reenactments, a free evening concert by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, and the 400th commemorative session of the Virginia General Assembly. They will also include events acknowledging that 1619 was also the year the first black African slaves were brought to the New World.
As befitting such an anniversary of national significance, Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox, and Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment sent invitations out last year to a bipartisan group of dignitaries, including President Donald Trump, former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, various members of Congress, and representatives from other state legislatures across the country.
A White House official said that Trump plans to attend the ceremonies.
But now Gov. Northam, the main host of the event, says he “won’t be there” if and when his top-ranking guest arrives. A number of Northam’s fellow Democrats have followed suit, including Virginia Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, saying they will boycott the Jamestown events if Trump accepts the governor’s invitation.
Their excuse for such rude behavior? Recent Trumpian tweets taunting certain unnamed “Progressive Democrat Congresswomen,” who the president told to “go back” to their countries of origin “and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how… it is done.” This was after progressive Democratic Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused Trump of running “a fascist presidency,” and compared U.S. detention facilities on the southern border—which were there long before Trump took office—to Nazi “concentration camps.”
Such over-the-top political rhetoric, coming from both sides and continuously fanned into toxic flames by social media, makes a mockery of what should be serious political discourse on difficult issues like immigration and citizenship. It’s patently offensive, and only serves to further estrange and enrage an already divided electorate.
But events like the Jamestown commemoration give all Americans a chance to pause, come together and celebrate the origins of a remarkable and, yes, exceptional country that despite the efforts of its partisans over the centuries, has somehow, against all historical odds, kept democracy alive for 400 years.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, one of the few Virginia Democrats who has announced that he will not boycott the event, correctly pointed out that the 400th commemoration in Jamestown “is not really about” Trump. But Northam and his petulant fellow boycotters are making it so.
They have the right to boycott this special occasion in the commonwealth if they so choose. But then they also forfeit the right to complain if President Trump takes full advantage of their absence.