I went into the Inauguration of Donald J. Trump with a faltering open-mindedness. I met a young woman who was giving out free hugs in celebration of peace and happiness. I watched a poor merchant lead a chant of “1, 2, 3, 4” only to shout “Ahhhh!” when everyone else said Trump. “I don’t care what you shout,” he said. “As long as you buy something.” I witnessed two young, college-age protesters, a black male and white female, threatened with punches to the face by a throng of pro-Trump bikers. I overheard a scuttle of high school students shout out “MAGA, MAGA, MAGA!” with wooly ideas of what would make America great again: “More jobs”; “Making America the best nation on the planet again?” They didn’t seem to recall the Bush era. A high schooler from Miami said he was excited to be here since he had taken a government class and “kind of knew how government worked.” Another student from Houston wanted to tell his kids that “he was here when the big man took office.”
“It’s a sea change,” a sales manager from Chester, Virginia, told me. “It’s the dawn of a new era. One where we take back America from the people up in the I-495 corridor who are ruining it.”
The 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama was the highest attended in US presidential history. According to a stat tweeted by the DC Metro, by 11 am that day, 513,000 people had taken the metro to be at the event, give or take a few thousand stalwart city employees (it was, after all, a weekday). At that same hour, for Inauguration Day in 2013, attendance had dwindled by nearly a third, to 317,000. These are still much higher numbers compare to the second inauguration of George W. Bush, which stopped short of 200,000 by a mere 3,000 people. If you subtract another 4000 people from that number, 193,000 people, you’d hit what the MTA tweeted was the ridership of Jan 20, 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration.
The lines for the inauguration of the 45th president were long, but not forebodingly so. Everyone who wanted to see Trump sworn in would be able to do so within an hour’s wait. A great many of these people were visibly pro-Trump—the lines to get onto the mall were streaked with red. Red caps, red jackets, red pants, red gloves. Close behind in the day’s most common attire was American flag apparel often superimposed with the ornery face of the new leader of America. Stars and stripes, socks and spandex, Trump and Trump. No body part would be deprived of Trumpacious patriotism.
By the entrance to the gate, a group citing themselves as Street Preachers for Trump commenced a demonstration: “Trump has been given to us by the grace of God,” they belted into a bullhorn. “And he cannot and will not take oath as President without placing his hand on the Bible. To be pro-Trump is to be be pro-Jesus. This is just a friendly reminder.” Nearby, a 24-year-old entrepreneur named Travis Cook was hawking around a talking Trump plush doll that, with the pull of a string, would tick from an itemized bucket list for America. “Build a wall, a Great, Great wall,” it said with a tug. “Win a lot.”
We left the gated area and headed to McPherson Square where people were assembling for Disrupt J20, an inaugural protest. I watched an anarchist black bloc erect a large sign that said “Make Fascists Afraid Again.” A little but lively group accompanied by an eye-patched percussionist had begun dancing in a conga line to the rhythm of “No pussygrabbing, no patriarchy, no fascist USA!” Raphael Kaderés, a organizer for refusefascism.org, told me that we were only the midst of an longer occupation. “We need to bring DC to a halt,” he said. “We want to build a mass resistance against Trump’s fascist regime. And we’re uniting democrats, anarchists, and even Republicans who oppose Trump, to call for the end of his presidency. Anyone can join us!”
A call was given, and the McPherson Square group began its slow and peaceful march toward K Street, which served as the northern boundary of the inauguratory perimeter. The march was like a snowball in its acquisition of participants as it rolled toward K. One female newcomer held up a sign that read “Girls just wanna have fun-damental human rights.” Another joiner, a human donned in a polar bear costume, held a sign that read “HUMANS CAN DO BETTER. #Earth2Trump.” By the time we reached K, the number of protesters had multiplied beyond counting.
We walked along K Street toward the Capitol looking for an entrance into the Mall. The gate at K and 13th had grown into a hub of amorphous dissent; at K and 10th, protesters had arm-linked themselves into a barricade; at K Street and 7th, protesters had plugged up the admission line. Whether they hoped to continue the protest from the inside was unclear. K was also same street the “Official Inaugural Merchandise” marquee had chosen to set up. Its tables were filled with officious-looking shirts and hats, not MAGA-branded but stamped with Trump’s presidential seal. One almost felt pity that they had set up shop on the wrong side of the mall.
The only entrance that was seeing no action was at John Marshall Park, a small, hilly public space adjacent to the rather stately Canadian embassy and the US District Court. Trump’s Inauguration ceremony had by then begun, and giddier members of the crowd were only too happy to broadcast the event. There was a particular hushed awe when Trump spoke in quips: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now”; “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
The speech lasted 15 minutes. Cannons were fired, a cacophony of yelps and yawps popped off to join them. Near the park entrance above us, four young white males unfurled a black flag displaying a white Celtic cross. I googled it and found it circumnavigated by the words “White Pride Worldwide.” Minutes later, we passed through the gates. We were in the Mall. It was 12:30 pm. The parade wouldn’t start until 3.
While the photographer staked out an ideal spot, I killed time by wandering the two-block lot along the parade area. Here was a brood of Trump supporters, nearly entirely white. In attendance were dozens of “Bikers for Trump.” On a stage near the motorcade route, I watched its founder, Chris Cox, speak to a crowded audience about bringing the positive influence of white males to inner-city black kids. He invited another biker up on stage to show off a newly needled Trump tattoo, then brought up Travis Spock, the founder of Rolling Thunder. “I heard the cops arrested 93 protesters! They ought to bring back public hangings!”
Trump had a knack for bringing out the worst in people. People were still chanting “Lock Her Up,” or confronting the press. “Fucking fake-ass news” I hear someone shout to a cameraman and reporter team. Meanwhile, I’d been getting updated texts from a friend. She and her boyfriend were in the thick of the K Street protest, which had broken out into a near riot against the police. She described meeting an old colleague who was hurrying off to find goggles, only to be running from smoke bombs moments later. She and her boyfriend had ended up at a park where trash cans had been set on fire.
As this was happening, Trump’s motorcade, near an hour late, began its lurch toward the White House. When Trump finally passed by, it was with intense bathos — the man that these people near worshipped may have descended Capitol Hill as if it were a sort of Mount Olympus, but he remained, at least for this early portion, in a Presidential limo, waving in profile with the window up. “He probably doesn’t want to catch a cold,” someone offered. It had been raining all day.
Hours later, according to the New York Times, among Trump’s first acts would be an order to trim the Affordable Care Act. Reports on the White House website on gender and minorities in the workplace and climate change have been deleted. For reasons such as these, there are people happy to call Trump president; there are also people who never will. It doesn’t matter. We have all been ushered into the Era of Trump whether we like it or not.