By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
The peaceful transfer of power, a hallmark of American democracy did not seem so peaceful on Inauguration day, Jan. 20, 2017. Americans in Washington, DC, and around the country protested the new President Donald Trump as he took the oath of office and embarked on what is already one of the toughest jobs as the most powerful leader in the world. As Trump was sworn in as president promising to give a “voice” to the “forgotten” and ensure “American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” violence hit the streets in his names, and thousands marched against him taking over the office of the presidency.
As per the protocols of Inauguration day, Trump and his family proceeded from the night stay at Blair House to St. John’s Church for the traditional pre-inauguration services. Afterward, Trump and the future first lady Melanie Trump went to the White House for tea with the outgoing first couple President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle and then traveled to the Capitol for the ceremony together.
With clouds hanging over the Capitol on a somewhat warm winter day, at 11:30 a.m. the Inaugural ceremony began. Mike Pence was sworn in as Vice President first followed by Trump as President. Just as Trump took the podium to give his inaugural address, the rain started. Trump delivered a speech that was reminiscent of some his campaign rhetoric. The new president aimed to unite with his speech, but the populist overtones ran high.
In his short 16-minute inaugural address, the new president laid out an “American First” policy, “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”
Trump promised “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. And I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never, ever let you down.” Contrasting himself to other Washington politicians he pledged, “The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”
Painting a “bleak” picture of America, he vowed, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Trump concluded, with repeating his campaign message and slogan, saying, “Together we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And, yes, together, we will make America great again.”
The news media and historians have called Trump’s speech divisive many political pundits were even more colorful and extreme in the analysis. Trump, who was still playing to his core constituents was never going to please the Democrats that still objected to his election. From Congress all away to the streets of DC and across the country Democrats protested Trump. Over 50 Democratic Congressional representatives boycotted the inauguration after Trump criticized Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis for calling his presidency illegitimate.
Among Democrats that did attend, at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s behest, representatives wore blue buttons that said “protectourcare” protesting Trump and the Republicans bid to replace Obamacare, the health care law. Adding to the tensions of the day, Trump’s former opponent former first lady Hillary Clinton also attended the ceremony, contrasting with her former rival and her presence increased opposition especially for his detractors.
In the streets of Washington, there were some peaceful protests, but they were overshadowed by the protests that became violent as the day went on. In total, 217 were arrested, and six DC police officer injured from the often riot like behavior. Protestors in black masks smashed store and car windows, put a limo on fire. Others blocked checks points into the inauguration preventing those that wanted to go to the inauguration.
The protests capped on Saturday, Jan. 21, Trump’s first full day in office. Around 500,000 protesters packed the streets of the Capitol for a Women’s March on Washington for equal rights for all and opposed everything Trump stands for and his potential policies not just for women’s rights. The march was mimicked in sister cities in the US, with one million marching and around the world for a total of 673 rallies and 2.5 million protesting worldwide. The march was the largest in American history and will be linked forever in history to Trump’s inauguration.
As Trump sat in prayers services at the National Cathedral and visited the CIA, women donning cat eared hats opposed his mere election and the fact that he was not their choice, Hillary Clinton. Celebrities trashed the president, even threatening him, female representatives from Congress spoke out against him, while Clinton tweeted, “Thanks for standing, speaking & marching for our values.” On Sunday, Jan. 22, Trump questioned the protesters on Twitter, writing, “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”
Despite the opposition, in between celebrating his inauguration, with festivities such as a post-ceremony Capitol luncheon, a parade, and three inaugural balls, Trump began his duties. The new president formally signed executive orders, nominating his cabinet, ending a mortgage premium cut set to run out, and in the Oval Office ridding the nation of the health care law’s individual mandate, the first step in ending a law Republicans have long opposed.
Trump entered office with one of the lowest approval ratings on record. The opposition was high for Trump’s transition, his cabinet choices, but mostly because he was not a Democrat, he was not the first woman president, and most importantly, he was not Hillary Clinton. During the campaign Clinton chided Trump for expressing that he might not accept the election results if he lost, telling him he had to accept them. In the third presidential debate, Clinton called the thought “horrifying,” preaching, “He is denigrating — he is talking down our democracy. And I am appalled that someone who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that position.”
Clinton, however, has never accepted the results and has silently encouraged her supporters to oppose them as well. Clinton took nearly a day to concede, supported Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s recount efforts and is now basking in her supporters’ protests and outrage. Trump won a majority of states, the king making Electoral College, but he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes to Clinton a point Democrats have used against him, although he was not the first president to win the election without it and certainly will not be last.
The nation is more divided than ever among Democrats and Republicans, a chasm almost as big as the one that led to the Civil War over 150 years ago, resulting in a new ideological civil war between the parties and mostly the American public. In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln took office with half the countries’ states seceding from the Union; the president tried to unite with his inaugural address like Trump now there is nothing he could have said that would have prevented war beginning a little over a month after he took office. Trump too is leading a fractured nation; with an electorate that has separated themselves from the country he serves as president insisting he is not their president.
What makes the United States unique is its democracy, its peaceful transfer of power between parties for over two hundred years. One party and its supporters alternately were disappointed for four or eight years until the next transfer of power. Democrats now oppose not just Trump or his policies or possible personal foibles, but the bedrock of American democracy, as they protest and shout this is what Democracy looks like.
Democrats have been spoiled by the Obama years where every lifestyle was granted rights. They now oppose the transfer of power and are essentially calling for the Democratic Party to run the country, a democratic dictatorship. They ignore the fact that the country voted not only a Republican president but Congress, the House of Representatives and Senate, that all over the nation, most state governors and legislatures are Republican controlled.
Democracy worked, and the nation wanted after eight years of a Democratic president, the Republican Party and its long known values and policies. For the nation to not spiral out of control, Democratic leaders have to stand up and put an end to the opposition not feed its fires. Clinton has to denounce her supporters’ opposition, but she never will. Clinton cannot accept her defeat, finds comfort in the support, and protests in her name.
It is Clinton, not Trump, who in the end could not accept the election results and in her selfishness, she is fanning the flames putting the country at risk and rocking the core tenants that made America the shining democratic example to the world. Despite all the criticism, there is nothing President Trump could have said in his inaugural address that would end the divisiveness. Unfortunately, as the protests prove, Clinton garnered more power in losing that winning, without Clinton and the Democrats in Congress calling for unity; President Trump although in the authority is powerless to unite the country he so badly wants to lead.
Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.