USA Politics

On Inauguration Day, Washington offers portrait of a polarized America (+video)

How both sides see it

The scene in Washington on Donald Trump's Inauguration Day illustrated the powerful emotions the president has evoked.

The crowd on the National Mall reacts to the swearing in of President Trump in Washington Friday.
James Lawler Duggan/Reuters | Caption

“We all want the same thing,” President Donald Trump said Friday to members of Congress and other dignitaries. “We're all good people, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, it doesn't make any difference. We're going to get along.”

President Trump’s message of goodwill at the traditional post-inaugural congressional luncheon seemed more an expression of hope over reality, in a political system that has grown increasingly polarized over the years.

And as violence broke out on the streets of Washington Friday – away from the inaugural festivities but aimed at marring an otherwise orderly transfer of presidential power – it was clear that words alone will not be enough to heal the nation’s divisions.

Protesters threw rocks, smashed windows, and lit small fires; police deployed tear gas and flash bangs. Six officers were injured, and 217 protesters were arrested. The last time there was large-scale unrest at an inauguration was in 1969, when antiwar protests led to dozens of arrests.

In all, it made for moments of anger and frustration, but violence didn’t typify the day. Groups of people wearing “Make America Great Again” caps walked by anti-Trump groups wearing pink knitted hats – the headgear of choice for Saturday’s big women’s march – and seemed to largely ignore each other.

Inauguration Day, of course, brings many who wish to celebrate and support the man they sent to Washington. Theirs were expressions of joy on a day meant to celebrate a hallmark of American democracy – the peaceful transfer of power.

From left, Amy Kelash, Ann Kelash, and Jeb Strehlo call family members from National Mall after arriving on a bus from Gilman, Minn., for the 58th Presidential Inauguration on Friday in Washington.
Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor | Caption

The Graham family – mom, dad, and college student son – drove in overnight from Bristol, Tenn., to show their support for the new president, waving Trump flags and wearing Trump hats and T-shirts.

None had ever attended an inauguration before. So why now?

“Because I’m a huge supporter of Donald Trump, and I think he’ll make America great again,” said Steve Graham, an electrician.

How? Mr. Graham has a ready list: fixing the economy, securing the border, strengthening the military. “I think he’s a man of his word, and he’ll hold true to it.”

His wife, Darlene Graham, a realtor, says her No. 1 reason for supporting Trump is “his stand with Jesus Christ and his support for the state of Israel.”

Mr. Graham expects quick action, and quick results. Ms. Graham gives Trump a year to improve the nation. And son Justin says he’ll assess Trump’s performance by the midterm elections in 2018.

Everybody, it seemed, was eager to express their opinions – with both supporters and detractors expressing outsize views about the man and what he can accomplish.

Polarized opinions

Mary Moga did not vote for Trump. Nor did she vote for Hillary Clinton. And yet, standing before the festooned Capitol as the seated inaugural audience began to break up, she described the experience as “electric” and “surreal.” She came, she said, because “it’s about the US.”

But she also came to march. Ms. Moga, who is from Seattle, and her cousin, Debby Burger of San Diego, both plan to take part in the Women’s March on Washington Saturday. Ms. Burger campaigned for Hillary Clinton.

Just as a reporter asked what they thought of the speech, Moga’s daughter – one of five children she’s raised – passed by answering, “It was a joke.”

Cousin Burger chimed in. “He’s promising all these things he never could do.”

“I just hope and pray he surrounds himself with quality people,” added Moga.

Spectators wait in the rain on the National Mall in Washington Friday before the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.
John Minchillo/AP | Caption

Chad Suenram, standing rows away from where Donald Trump had just given his inauguration speech, came away feeling completely the opposite.

He says he was “blown away.” What he really liked was Trump’s message about “the positivity of the US prospering, of everyone growing together and just bringing back America.”

The promise of prosperity was the main reason Mr. Suenram, who has four kids, voted for Trump.

The Kansan, wearing an “All Lives Matter” button on his sweatshirt, says he came from “a struggle,” growing up in a trailer park. He started his own business in landscaping and has combined it with a foreclosure business. Through that, he’s seen a lot of families get kicked out of their homes.

“Like Barack Obama said, ‘It’s time for change,’ ” Suenram grinned. The businessman, who jumped on a plane at the last minute to get to Washington, echoed much of what Trump said in his inaugural speech. His greatest hope for the years ahead is that America prosper, “and for the wealth to come back to the common people.”

For Gordon Swanson, a retired Boeing employee from Everett, Wash., who flew in two days ago to celebrate, the joy of watching Trump came with a bitter note. He hadn’t put on his crisp, red “Make America Great Again” cap until he arrived at Union Station that morning, when inauguration revelers began to arrive.

“I knew I potentially would be challenged by somebody” who didn’t agree with Trump, he said. “It didn’t used to be this way,” he lamented, saying that the country had turned too far to the left under President Obama, whom he described as “negligent.”

This day was about the future, he said.

“I hope his nominee for the Supreme Court will have a big effect. I’m not so worried about myself, but I’ve got three grandkids,” he said, perched on a stool beside an eatery at Union Station, Washington’s main train station.

Beyond the pageant

Outside the secure inauguration area, the scene was dramatically different. By early afternoon, thousands of protesters walked down I Street toward Franklin Square waving posters for Black Lives Matter, Dakota Access Pipeline resistance, and lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual rights.

The march seemed orderly enough – thousands of people sticking to the streets while pedestrians took pictures from the sidewalks, some of them wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. But an undercurrent of hostility eventually broke through.

A nearby Starbucks and Bank of America ATM station had their glass windows shattered by protesters. Armed guards stood nearby to prevent looting, and stores put up makeshift “closed” signs – though customers were still inside.

Pro- and anti-Trump chants sprang up, with one protester telling a young man in a red hat, "Join us. We are doing this for you, too."

Protesters burn trash outside the offices of The Washington Post as they react to the swearing in of President Donald Trump in Washington Friday.
James Lawler Duggan/Reuters | Caption

Eventually, some of the demonstrators began throwing rocks and bottles at police officers. Newspaper vending machines outside The Washington Post were tipped over and set on fire. At other locations around the city, protesters tried to block access to various inaugural events, though there were no other reports of violence.

Beneath the tension was a sense of determination.

Hillary Klein was at the protests with her sister, who was dressed as Lady Liberty with a red sash reading “RESISTANCE.” To her, the day reinforced a sense of community.

“The one thing that has given me a real sense of hope since the election is the real sense that we do have each other's backs – people saying that to me, and me saying that to other people. [We’re] saying, 'I've got your back, and I've got your back, and we're going to get through this together,” Ms. Klein said. “It’s about making sure nobody feels alone in these moments.”

Everyone – “black people, white people, women, men, Muslims, old people” – wanted to take a picture with her sister, Melissa, dressed as Lady Liberty.

“She is a symbol of welcoming of immigrants. Wearing a costume of this kind helps people smile and feel a little togetherness,” Melissa said. “I think it is important to come out and be connected to other people today.”