Two days in D.C. illuminate America’s divide
WASHINGTON — Fran Ginter, with a fistful of Trump signs in one hand and a box of Raisinets in the other, stood on the National Mall savoring the sweet taste of victory. The 61-year-old retired insurance adjuster had made 25 previous trips from her home in Long Island over the past eight years to join in protests.
“Now,” she crowed, “I’m getting a victory dance. I’m doing the Snoopy dance today.”
Twenty-four hours later, on the same patch of land in the shadow of the Washington Monument, stood Anne Griffith. The 68-year-old retiree from Arlington, Va., hadn’t been to a demonstration since marching in antiwar protests in 1969. Now, she wore a pink hat and carried a handmade sign: “Women’s rights are human rights.”
“We feel this sense of doom and hunkering down. We’re afraid. The whole aura of the climate is really scary,” she said. “I keep telling myself, ‘This too shall pass.’ But it will be awful.”
They live in the same country and, on two dreary and overcast days, were drawn to the same spot on the national lawn, where Americans so often go to remember and make history.
They speak a common language, but cannot understand one another. And don’t feel much motivation to even try.
The past two days — starting in the capital and spreading around the country and the world — have put on full display the deep wounds that were ripped open by this election and show little sign of healing.
Inaugurations are often a time of unity, quadrennial rituals that signal the country is moving forward and leaving behind heated election battles. But the inauguration of 2017 has been marked by two primal screams aimed at one another.
Donald Trump’s inauguration address dwelled on dark imagery of “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” and ”American carnage.”
It was, like his campaign, confrontational and a direct rebuttal to the politicians and presidents who sat on the stage behind him, including the first black president and the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party.
The protests Saturday were meant as a direct rebuke to Trump, with women upset over his sexist comments and antiabortion proposals, gays afraid that he won’t protect gains in equal rights, and immigrants worried that he will soon begin deportations.
The red “Make America Great Again” hats on Friday gave way to Saturday’s pink, hand-knitted sea of headgear. A celebration of pageantry turned overnight to defiant protests. Outfits that featured Trump scarves, flags, and pins were replaced by signs that read “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” “And still we rise,” and “Pussy grabs back.”
On Friday, some Trump partisans wore shirts that said, “Deal with it.” On Saturday it was clear millions will not.
The historic divides in America seem deeper than in recent decades, broken down along class, income, race, geography, and education level. The disconnect on display in Washington over the last two days is reminiscent of moments of deep upheaval in US history — the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and Watergate.
If the new president thinks he has a plain mandate, he need only look out the window of his new home: By most estimates, though not his, more people protested his inauguration than attended it.
But if protesters think that with their sheer number and unity they can quickly trigger change or force the new president to back down, they should look at a wall Trump and his party have already built: the Republican-held majorities in the House, Senate, 33 governorships, and 32 state legislatures.
The mood of inaugurations past, with the National Mall transformed to a celebratory stage, was perhaps best captured by President George H.W. Bush during his 1989 address: “We meet on democracy’s front porch, a good place to talk as neighbors and as friends.”
But over the past two days, it has been claimed by two different Americas, neighbors but hardly friends.
“I hate seeing the fighting. I hate the level it’s gotten to,” said Logan Reynolds, a 19-year-old sophomore at Marietta College who boarded a bus in Ohio at 2:30 a.m. to get to the inauguration. “Many will call us racists and bigots. As a Trump supporter, I support LGBT rights. I’ve got no issues with Muslims. . . . That hatred for other people is untrue. I want us to come out in droves to disprove the stereotype.”
As he walked onto the National Mall, wearing his scarf and readying a tobacco pipe to smoke, he passed by another man who had been walking around to various events in recent days with a sturdy cardboard sign that has a basic message: “This is [expletive] up.”
“This needed to be said,” Kieran McLean, a 21-year-old waiter from Yardley, Pa., said simply.
He has been attacked by Trump supporters and had his sign ripped away. But still he stood, his right arm aloft.
“It’s bad,” he said. “The politics are horrifying; but on a personal level, he unleashes a savagery and cruelty in otherwise very normal people.”
Ginter, the Trump supporter, couldn’t be more hopeful. She’s ready for Trump to repeal former president Barack Obama’s health care law, and, especially, to usher in a blunt, plain-spoken style.
She has little love for the Republican Party (“weak”), House Speaker Paul Ryan (“a traitor”), Hillary Clinton (“she should be in a hangman’s noose”), or Obama (“raised by communists”).
To her, the country is about to enter a period of radical change — for the better — and she’s looking to one man to make it real.
“I’m a total lunatic,” Ginter said. “I love my country more than my own life. And I would take a bullet for Donald Trump.”
Griffith arrived at the same spot the next day, rattled and unfamiliar with her fellow Americans who flocked to Trump’s message. She is glued to the latest news and disgusted by most of it.
“Nixon? I didn’t feel like this for Nixon. Reagan? Maybe nervous, but not scary,” she said, astounded by those who have supported Trump. “It is totally different groups. The fact that people don’t have the same facts appalls me.”
Trump on Saturday was largely insulated from any of the protests that had erupted around him. He went to the National Cathedral for a prayer service and to the CIA headquarters in McLean, Va. Inside the White House, his children used the bowling alley in the basement. Donald Trump Jr. remarked at how well his wife played, considering she was in heels.
But Trump may soon realize that it’s not enough to just win the White House. Will his uncompromisng ways, and us-or-them tone, help him become a true national leader?
Some in his own party warned him Saturday to keep his eyes open. Eight years ago, a vibrant opposition rose to derail Democratic majorities and eventually stymie the agenda of a newly elected president.
“Obama was unwise to dismiss the Tea Party,” Amanda Carpenter, a Republican consultant and commentator, wrote on Twitter. “Trump would be unwise to dismiss this. Mock it, and it will grow.”