Trump’s inauguration, just like his campaign, breaks Washington norms
Donald Trump gave his first address as president of the United States at his inauguration Jan. 20, 2017.
Bikers for Trump roared into town. Self-described “deplorables” hosted a ball. And thousands of Americans, many with red “Make America Great Again” caps, poured onto the grassy expanse of the National Mall.
A sprinkling of rain did not dampen supporters’ spirits at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday, although protesters made a vivid display of opposition.
For the celebrity businessman-turned-politician, who rewrote the political playbook and shunned the Washington establishment to win the presidency, his inauguration was a decidedly Trump affair.
“It’s going to be more of a blue-collar inauguration,” said Ron Scalzo, an insurance agency owner from Cape Coral, Fla., who was in Washington with his wife, Liz. “He speaks to us.”
Some Trump supporters said they hoped the day would mark the end of partisan division.
“I just want some unity,” said Amy Gonidakis, a mother of two from Columbus, Ohio. Her husband, Mike, an attorney, added, “The election’s over. We’re all on the Titanic. We’ve got to root for the captain.”
Trump’s inauguration reflected his campaign — a mix of the gilded elitism that is the Trump brand and the paycheck-to-paycheck populism of his most loyal backers.
Trump backers have never been bothered by the wealth gap. “You know why that is? Mr. Trump offered his friendship to us,” said John King, a retired power company technician from Michigan. “It felt genuine.”
Almost every president has put his imprimatur on Inauguration Day, with words and actions that became stamped in American history: Franklin D. Roosevelt told Americans in 1933 that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; Jimmy Carter dispatched with the comforts of office by walking the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route to the White House; and Ronald Reagan, the California-movie-star-turned-governor, shifted the nation’s attention with a ceremony looking out from the West Front of the Capitol, rather than the East.
But not since Andrew Jackson stunned the political establishment by throwing open the White House doors to his masses of populist supporters has Washington seen anything quite like what the New York businessman brought to town.
He enters the presidency with the lowest approval rating in modern memory, hovering under 40%. Yet Trump’s supporters relish their outsider status, especially here, in the buttoned-down capital, where they have come to back the man who promised to “drain the swamp” — even if his new D.C. hotel was off limits to all but VIPs.
“We wanted to see history,” said Brandon Eldridge, a service manager for a Mississippi auto dealership, with his son, Landon, both wearing Trump hats.
Eldridge said he donated about $500 to the mogul’s campaign, and he couldn’t imagine missing this day.
“These are scary times and we need a leader,” the 35-year-old said. “He’s not politically correct and we need that right now.”
“We finally have a real president,” said his 13-year-old son.
In this new era, official Washington remains unsure of its role.
“There are a lot of people who are excited because their guy won, but there are a lot of people sticking their toe in the water not knowing how warm it is,” said veteran energy lobby spokesman Frank Maisano. “Whether they’re establishment Democrats or establishment Republicans, they just don’t know how this all is going to work out.”
Several entertainers — and dozens of Congress members — stayed away for the day.
Though past presidents have relied on cultural leaders to help set the tone for their presidency — Maya Angelou read a poem at Clinton’s inauguration; Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma performed at Barack Obama’s first swearing-in — Trump’s day lacked such endorsements in a notably downsized affair. Teen celebrity Jackie Evancho sang the national anthem.
“Normally the grandeur of the ceremony is partly a function of various signs of public acceptance and even enthusiasm for the new president: Famous artists signal this acceptance, a la Obama’s first event. Religious figures endow it with gravity and moral courage,” said David Plotke, a political science professor at the New School for Social Research in New York.
“With an early approval rating that is remarkably low and the refusal of major artists and cultural figures to join the event — my guess is that even fairly conservative country artists worry about what a Trump tribute will do for their careers — then he is thrown back on his favorite theme: his own glorious promise and America’s.”
Even the run-up to Inauguration Day foreshadowed the shift coming to the capital.
Motorcycle bikers promised a “wall of meat” of leather-clad security, and ordinary Americans from across the country — some on their first trips to Washington — celebrated a leader who they say speaks for them. Members of Congress welcomed some European nationalist party leaders to join inaugural parties.
And Trump’s army of “deplorables” — as many supporters began calling themselves following Hillary Clinton’s criticism — held a “DeploraBall” that was interrupted by protesters shouting anti-Nazi chants.
Protesters fanned across the city in recent days, including outside the home of Vice President Mike Pence to spotlight his opposition to same-sex marriage.
A concert Thursday at the Lincoln Memorial drew thousands of supporters, but instead of a star-studded lineup, it included recorded hits from the Rolling Stones between acts, reminiscent of the campaign trail, with a Trump favorite: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Staff writers Del Quentin Wilber and Joseph Tanfani in Washington contributed to this report.
12:10 p.m.: This article was updated with more interviews of Trump supporters.
8:20 a.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from Trump supporters.
6:55 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Trump supporters.
6:15 a.m.: This article was updated with additional reaction.
This story was originally published at 4 a.m.
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