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President Trump: Dark Days in DC


Jeff Kelly Lowenstein is the executive director of the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ) and the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Professor of Civil Discourse at Grand Valley State University.

While Donald Trump’s fiery inauguration address railed against political elites, painting a gruesome picture of “American carnage” which he promised to end, only blocks away there were already angry signs of protest, while women – and men – across the US prepared their own massive show of will against the new president.

If there was any doubt before Donald Trump’s searing, angry inaugural address and initial actions as President of the United States, let that be permanently gone.

Everything is on the table:

  • America’s role as a leader engaged in transnational alliances;
  • A national commitment to fight climate change;
  • The right of Americans to healthcare that has been under assault from Republicans since the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act in 2010;
  • Government agencies that have supported the arts and public for decades;
  • The belief that our country’s diversity is an asset to be appreciated and embraced;
  • And, according to some, the core and soul of our democratic nation.

I travelled from New York to Washington, DC on Thursday and stayed through Friday evening.

While my professional purpose was to write a preview story about the Women’s March on Washington and to cover the inauguration, I also had a more personal objective: I wanted to see the transition of power from our nation’s first black president to his successor, in person.

Trump delivered his inaugural address at the end of an inauguration ceremony that marked the culmination of one of the most surprising political odysseys in American history.

The day itself had a restrained feeling that came in equal parts from the weather and the capital’s highly securitised streets. The overcast day hinted at, but did not deposit, large volumes of rain. Law enforcement officials from all manner of agencies collaborated to secure the streets. Inaugural attendees had to walk through a maze of fences and cars blocking access to standard routes.

Markedly smaller than the one that attended Obama’s first inauguration eight years earlier, the crowd felt buoyant but not euphoric. The applause when Trump spoke was enthusiastic but not gripped with passion.

From my vantage point, it was also predominantly, but not exclusively, white.

I chatted with Angel Hill, an African-American woman from Sarasota, Florida, selling Trump merchandise outside Union Station. She told me she had not been home for months. Rather, she followed Trump from rally to rally, eventually becoming convinced by his populist message.

I think she lied about a lot of things,” Hill said about Clinton. “I can’t have that.”

While many may have shared her feelings about Clinton, Hill’s status as a woman of colour made her a distinct minority among Trump supporters.

Trump’s comments about women throughout the campaign and the release in October of a videotaped conversation with Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood, in which he legitimised sexual assault, elicited widespread condemnation.

Yet it did not cost him many votes from the largely male crowd.

Richard Early, a small business owner from Haverhill, Massachusetts, said he didn’t agree with Trump’s views on women, but liked that he spoke “like a normal person”. Several campaign workers from south-eastern Pennsylvania with whom I spoke described a surge in the number of women volunteers after the videotape’s release.

The crowd filed quietly out of the Washington Mall after Trump’s speech, which he concluded by repeating his central campaign pledge to “make America Great again”.

His rhetoric was anything but subdued.

In Trump’s fiery address he railed against political elites, painted a gruesome picture of “American carnage” which he promised to end, and pledged to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism”.

Blocks away, the scene was anything but peaceful.

Protesters, some of whom were anarchists, lit a limousine on fire, smashed windows and stood off with city police. Nearby, marchers aligned with a wide array of causes sang, blew whistles and chanted anti-Trump slogans as they walked.

Their actions previewed the women’s march on Saturday that was expected to draw more than 200,000 people to Washington, according to the website.

Pam Behbehani was one of them.

The 69-year-old San Francisco resident never got involved despite being in the politically dynamic Bay Area during the Vietnam War, but said Trump’s election galvanised her into action.

Along with her daughter and great niece, both of whom are named Shirin Amini, and her daughter’s partner, she flew from San Francisco to Washington to express her opposition to Trump.

While there, the group met Behbehani’s childhood friend, who had travelled 19 hours by train from Florida.

Behbehani said she “didn’t want to go to my grave” without standing up for her beliefs.

More than 600 communities through America were expected to hold marches across the country, drawing an anticipated 1.35-million people, the website said.

The protests highlighted the entrenched divisions within the nation Trump began to lead in a dramatically different direction from that of his predecessor.

On his first day in office he signed an executive order scaling back parts of Obamacare and an order rolling back a discount on the fees for a federal mortgage programme assisting middle-class homebuyers.

Protester Dominique Williams spoke of “signs that history tells us” in decrying a potential weakening of democracy during Trump’s presidency.

Whether the erosion of our nation’s democratic fabric Williams fears comes to pass will become visible in the upcoming months and years. But what is definite are the radical changes Trump will propose for our country and the resistance he will all but certainly encounter as he seeks to convert his dark vision into reality. DM


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