Amy Fedeski reports back from Inauguration Day
In my defence, the plane tickets were cheap. That’s what I told everyone when I mentioned I’d be going to Donald Trump’s inauguration. My left wing, politics student friends raised their eyebrows. ‘Why the hell would you want to do that?’ they asked, eyes wide. ‘I got a great deal!’ I said. ‘I’m only going for the experience! Just to say I’ve been!’ They didn’t look convinced.
To be honest, I wasn’t convinced myself. For one thing, I hate crowds. They told me it was going to be busy- the websites, the inauguration committee and the travel companies all warned me to arrive early and expect long waits. A friend who’d been to Obama’s first inauguration told me the crowd had been packed like sardines, unable to move or turn around. And yet despite my misgivings, there I was, the proud owner of a train ticket to Washington DC for Inauguration Day. Not just any Inauguration Day, but that Inauguration Day. His Inauguration Day. Oh dear.
I needn’t have worried about the crowds. The first clue that it wasn’t going to be as busy as I’d feared came on the early morning train from Philadelphia. Sure, there were plenty of passengers- many sporting the ubiquitous red caps- but there were also plenty of spare seats. The passengers weren’t worried about attendance. Americans don’t take the train, they told me, they’re all driving to the inauguration. You’ll see when we arrive.
Anti-Trump protesters on Pennsylvania Avenue [Picture taken by author]
They were right, to an extent- it got much more crowded as I walked closer to the National Mall and the parade route. But this crowd wasn’t wearing red caps. Instead, they were sporting t-shirts and signs saying ‘Black Lives Matter’, ‘Inaugurate the Resistance’, ‘Not my President’. At the inauguration, just like in wider society, it seemed you either loved Trump or you hated him. Protesters were everywhere, and so were supporters.
Donald Trump is the most divisive President in years, even generations. So it was hardly surprising that his inauguration acted as a microcosm of that division. As I waited in line to get into the parade route, the depth of the split became apparent. A group of protesters- ethnically diverse, young and including many women- gathered either side of the line, chanting ‘No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA’. Supporters standing in line- mainly white, mainly male, mainly middle aged or older- responded: ‘Get a Job!’ or ‘USA USA USA’. The depth of feeling- of hatred- was palpable from both sides.
Protesters block a security gate at the inauguration. [Picture taken by author]
Security was predictably tight. After a 90 minute wait to get to the security gates, I was required to hand over anything that could be used as a projectile- including the fruit and bottled water I’d bought for my lunch. Inside the gated area on Pennsylvania Avenue, the protests continued. The general protest sometimes deteriorated into arguments between individual supporters and detractors. I saw a middle aged woman holding an anti-Trump placard facing up to a young man in a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat – both yelling, neither listening. Given that this was the climax of a hard fought, aggressive, ugly campaign, it wasn’t surprising to see such spats breaking out.
I had wondered what the reaction to a foreign tourist at the inauguration would be like. Overwhelmingly, the crowd were friendly, chatty and welcoming. But instead of the questions I’d got used to hearing during my trip, the Trump supporters I spoke to at the Inauguration wanted to talk about just one thing- Brexit. ‘It was so inspirational to us!’ one woman told me ‘You’ve taken your country back!’ Another man, on hearing I was British, insisted on shaking my hand to congratulate us on leaving the EU. It was all a bit baffling.
When Trump gave his inaugural address, I could feel the admiration, the belief, the hope in the air. The supporters around me hung on to his every word, cheered and echoed at his statements. The inaugural address spoke to their deepest concerns and their most profound wishes. For millions of Americans, Donald Trump represents a new beginning- a chance, as one man told me, to get their country back. Hearing the new president repeat ‘America First’, however, sent chills down my spine. I was suddenly highly conscious of being the only foreigner in a crowd full of Americans. If this was my reaction, as a tourist from a country with a ‘special relationship’ with the USA, I wonder at the fear and worry those words must have inspired in others not in such a comfortable position.
Amy Fedeski is the Crick Centre’s Administrative Assistant, and a final year BA History and Politics student at the University of Sheffield. Over the summer, Amy completed a SURE (Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience) project supervised by Prof. Matt Flinders. Her research focused on the politics of parliamentary renewal and reconstruction in former Eastern bloc countries following the end of the Cold War.
This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Crick Centre, or the Understanding Politics blog series.