The Orange Level passes got you closest to the ceremony, at the inauguration of Donald J. Trump earlier today. A strange if fitting choice given that the penultimate tier, still far down the National Mall, was silver. In the way that the Gilded Age referred to a society that seemed glamorous but hid profound inequity, this was pretty much the beginning of the Spray-Tan Age.
The concept of tiered entry itself seemed incongruous on the relatively uncrowded Mall. The streets of Washington's downtown were empty apart from scattered groups of occasionally tear-gassed protesters. The town seemed not to be populated by people at all, just fences and overlapping security forces. Inside the gates was a throng comprised not of Republicans or Democrats but Trumpists eager to stop what their candidate described as an "American carnage" in his inaugural address.
"No oranges," said a TSA agent going through an older woman's lunch bag, before the speech. He removed two clementines.
"Is that a rule?" someone nearby asked.
"No hard fruit," he explained.
A group of high schoolers posed for a photo in front of one of the gates. They hailed from around the country and were in town for the Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit, which featured talks from the likes of Tucker Carlson and Carly Fiorina, whom they all agreed was the best speaker. Asked what they were most excited about what President Trump would do for their future they said: "Jobs."
It would just be nice, said Alexandria Murphy, 17, in a Make America Great Again hat, to have a president who wasn't a career politician, "someone who knows what it's like to live in the real world."
"Obama's out!" screamed a middle-aged woman with relief, at the end of the oath of office. She declined to give her name and instead lit up a USA Gold brand cigarette. Her companion, Hope King of Durham North Carolina, 63, said now that President Barack Obama was out of office he would most likely "try to ruin Warshington D.C. on the outside." How? "Agitatin'. Lyin'. Murderin'. Ain't that what Chicago's all about now, murderin'? He did a pretty good job of that, in Chicago."
The drizzle started right as the new president began his speech with a dog whistle to restore the country's promise "for all our people." He claimed to have written the speech himself and it contained enough oddities that that may even be true. The references to "our young and beautiful students" and "the mysteries of space." One man on the Mall stopped photographing one of its Jumbotrons to turn to his wife as Trump declared the phrase "rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation." He frowned positively at his wife as if to say, "pretty good line, right?" Poetry, basically. That's what comes from writing on a legal pad unsupported by any surface.
"For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry," said the man whose former campaign is under investigation by law enforcement and intelligence agencies over its communications with Russia. "Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military."
At this Joe Sloop, of Greensboro, North Carolina, 30, crowed. Foreign aid was a major issue for him. He was apparently accompanied by his mother and in the same breath decried Dick Cheney's alleged profits from the Iraq War and the idea that President Obama might be profiting from his promotion of green energy, which is something I couldn't even find a fake news story about.
Asked about Trump's ties to the Kremlin he said he would need to see "hard data" on them and at any rate wasn't bothered by them. "Russia is not our enemy," he said. "Russia has never killed a single American citizen."
In its age, whiteness, sparse attendance (just 250,000, according to estimates, a fraction of the 2 million who came for Obama in 2009) and music choice (e.g. "Simply the Best," "I'm Still Standing," "Rocketman") the Mall resembled some kind of county fair–"And this here is my bride," one older man said, Facebook Live-ing his wife on a viewing stand near the parade–but one where the passive aggression of those crowding the barricades along Pennsylvania Avenue belied the underling tension in the air.
After one woman put up a neon pink sign that said, ironically enough, "Hate Won't Make America Great," a Venezuelan man in overalls started screaming at her.
"Get the sign down!" he screamed. "Get the sign! Down!" He tore it out of her hand threw it on the ground, and began yelling at her male friend who stepped between her and him. "You got a problem?" he asked her friend. "I'll beat you up. You don't wanna f--- with me okay? So back off. Back off! I'll show you how we do in Tennessee." The friend backed down and the Venezuelan received congratulations from several older men with beards.
"I was just defending myself after he manhandled me after I pulled the sign down," he said. The other man had not touched him at all but all the men with beards agreed that the friend had been the aggressor. As for the Venezuelan, he worked in the Tennessee court system, and had in the past worked private security in Kuwait during the first Gulf War, when I probably hadn't even been born, and good luck guessing which of Tennessee's 95 counties he was from, along with his name. He also wanted to know how many times I'd been in a locker room.
"We all have the right to see the parade," he added.
It was not a crowd that acted like it had just won an election that threatened to disrupt nearly every tenet of American government; they were still acting like outcasts. At several points along the parade route, loudspeakers announced exactly what brigade of what division of the armed forces we were ogling, or who was in what SUV ("Thomas Barrack Jr. chairman of the Presidential Inauguration Committee," whoa!). This crowd didn't have much to say about any of that, even the applause for the various military divisions was pretty tepid.
Here's what they did know. When the loudspeaker announced the names of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the crowd booed viciously (loudest for Pelosi), even though they weren't even visible in their tinted SUVs, indistinguishable from those that carried their conservative counterparts.
The loudspeaker naturally didn't announce the flatbed trucks carrying the photographers and camera crews preceding the president and vice president. But the crowd booed the media so loudly that many of them probably missed their shots, looking into the crowd confusedly.
Then the president and vice president sped by so quickly that most of them probably didn't get a chance to cheer.
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