With the departure of Barack Obama from public office, if not from the public scene, and the decimation of other Democratic office holders in the last few elections, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer finds himself the highest ranking elected Democrat. It therefore fell to him to represent the loyal opposition to Donald Trump during the swearing in ceremony. According to the Washington Times, the speech was not received well by many in the audience, Trump supporters for the most part. But it did strike statesmanlike tones and themes, in stark contrast with many Democratic House members who boycotted the ceremony.

One of the most memorable parts of the speech happened when Schumer quoted from a letter that a Civil War soldier wrote to his wife on the eve of the First Battle of Bull Run. The soldier poured out his heart to his beloved, while telling her that he was willing to lay down his life for the preservation of the Union, which he in short order had to do. The words struck a note that was at once conciliatory and sad. It reminded the audience that the nation has been divided before, but got through such time, albeit with the expenditure of much blood and anguish.

It falls to Schumer to lead the opposition to Trump and his agenda, such as it can be, in the United States Senate. As of this writing he is slowing the confirmation of many of Trump’s cabinet nominees, not with much hope of stopping them, but as a way to demonstrate that despite the mayhem inflicted on the Democrats at the polls, there are still a few left who will uphold the liberal cause.

Schumer has to walk a tightrope, however. If he opposes everything, he will risk being seen as an obstructionist for its own sake, an accusation ironically made against Republicans during the now past Obama presidency. Red state Democratic senators, facing problematic elections in 2018, might bolt and abandon him. But, if he goes too easy, he risks alienating the liberal base, which is still numerous and is very, very angry indeed.