I saw my first red baseball cap at around 5:45 AM. It was on the way to the Capitol, just before sunrise, hours before Donald Trump would be sworn in as commander-in-chief, ending—or maybe just beginning—what has been the strangest presidential tale in our nation's history. It was officially morning in Trump's America.
I was a member of the media but not elite enough to get onto the riser right behind the stage. That meant I had to walk nearly an hour on the outskirts of Capitol Hill to enter the National Lawn, making my way through throngs of proud Trump supporters who had come a long, long way to see America made great again. There were teenagers flashing dollar bills emblazoned with Trump's face, bikers with "Don't Tread on Me" patches stitched to their denim vests, tour groups wandering through the dark streets.
The gates to the lawn opened just after 6 AM, with crowds pushing in to get a good seat. My press badge allowed me to cut the line—which went over real well with this crowd—and had me in view of the Capitol just as the sun was coming up. Thankfully, there was a coffee stand. I asked its employees if they remembered Obama's first day here. "It was magical," the manager said. "This one, though…" She trailed off.
My photographer and I had six hours to kill before Trump took the presidential oath, so that gave us plenty of time to get to know the crowd, which was slowly streaming in to the space between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. I met Trump supporters from Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, and upstate New York; people who told me they've been waiting years for a man like Trump to come into their lives. One man said he'd been waiting 40 years—and he was just over 60.
In his inaugural address, Trump made sure to emphasize that he was taking Washington, DC, back for the "forgotten men and women," and though it struck many in the media as a dark, divisive speech it matched the mood of Trump's most ardent fans. They had put up with eight years of them, although who they were exactly varied depending who you spoke to. When I asked one supporter from Illinois why he was here, he replied, "Because I can't wait to see Obama leave."
In a New York piece published right after the election, the writer Rembert Browne said that "Make America Great Again" should really be "Make America Slow Down." And I couldn't get that idea out of my head. The America that Trump supporters described to me was dark, gloomy, and godless— in that, they matched their leader's vision. They felt left out, unmoored by the speed of change. But maybe they wouldn't be left out anymore.
There were a few signs that read "Resist," or "Pussy Grabs Back," with a picture of a cat. These protesters filtered through the crowd, but somehow managed to keep to themselves—any jabs from Trump supporters came sotto voce, after the targets had passed. No punches were thrown, there was no danger of a physical fight. Which made sense, because Trump's people had nothing left to fight against. They had won. (The violence that came later as a result of anti-Trump protests—the broken windows, the tear gas, the burning limo that got so much attention on social media—was all far away from the inauguration.)
When Trump and Obama arrived, the red caps turned to the Jumbotrons. Each appearance on screen was met with a different reaction from the crowd I was crammed in with. It felt like watching a football game at a bar. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—boos. Leftist fave Bernie Sanders—"Socialist scum!" House leaders Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan—even more boos. (Ryan is a Republican, but insufficiently onboard with Trump's agenda for many in the MAGA crowd.) Hillary Clinton—an eruption of disapproval, "lock her up" chants.
Two guys behind me scoffed when Michelle Obama and Jill Biden arrived. "Did you hear she said 'This is what no hope feels like'?" one asked his friend about the outgoing First Lady. "That was retarded. She should ask a single mother that question. She'll find out real soon." He then added, "I hope she falls," as the two came down the stairs. "Just trip on her way out."
When he appeared on screen, Barack Obama was met with disdain, as Trump voters started to sing "Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye!" It was a glorious moment. When Melania Trump showed up on the Jumbotron, cat calls, whistling, and "Ooh la las" rippled through the crowd.
And then Trump himself appeared. Fans screamed when his name was announced over the loudspeaker. In front of me, a group of college bros sharing a Poland Spring bottle full of whiskey hugged one another when he officially took the oath of office; some wiped away tears. Only a few minutes ago, they were flipping off Crooked Hillary.
Even though it was an amalgamation of his usual stump speeches, every sentence of Trump's inaugural address was met with cheers. As journalist Matt Taibbi noted on Twitter, "America First" could've just as easily been "America, Fuck Yeah!" and I think this crowd would've screamed even louder. It was their time now. The liberals, the elites, the snobs had lost. When Trump said, "From ocean to ocean," a supporter behind me interjected, "From snowflake to snowflake!"
After the inauguration, Trump supporters met their counterweights, and watching it felt like watching a pair of planets collide in space. Jeers and boos ensued. On my way out, one small girl, wearing her red hat, stood staring at a sign that read "Fuck This President." Her mother tried to usher her along.
In the distance, the Obamas' helicopter took to the air. One woman yelled up at it, "You're fired!" while her friend, chuckling, added, "You can leave—we've got this now!"
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