By Jonathon Van Maren
The day before the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as 45th president of the United States, I headed to Virginia to stay with my friend Andy Moore and his family. The drive took longer than expected: I had to drive around Washington, DC, as the entire city was on lockdown. Threats and promises from left-wing groups of every stripe to disrupt the inauguration had led to a city seized up and clogged with cops and soldiers. The little towns nestled in Pennsylvania hamlets along the way featured dozens of Trump-Pence signs, indicating the handfuls of Rust Belt voters who had handed Trump the most powerful office in the world. Through the blue hills, I spotted signs for Shenandoah, Shiloh, Stonewall Jackson Hill, and Manassas, all marking places that had exploded into bloodshed the last time the United States was as divided as it is now.
I attended Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, but had stood in the crowd on the National Mall. This time around, I had tickets to the Inaugural Ceremonies courtesy of Andy, who works for the Susan B. Anthony List. The SBA List is one of the most effective political pro-life groups in the country, and knocked on a million doors for Donald Trump, consequently extracting a list of pro-life commitments from the president-elect and his administration. Pro-lifers were not fans of Donald Trump during the primaries—reporters struggled to find activists willing to endorse him—but once they were forced to choose between Planned Parenthood’s best friend or the New York TV show star, most swallowed hard and voted for him anyways. The Trump Train wasn’t anyone’s first pick, but the Clinton Cavalcade was headed straight off a cliff.
Andy and I headed into DC early Inauguration morning, and the streets were already packed with military Humvees and police officers and metal detectors. To get in front of the Capitol, we had to head through security checkpoints manned by TSA agents who patted us down carefully and rummaged through purses and bags. The garbage cans were soon overflowing with half-drunk coffees and water bottles that were not permitted onto the Capitol grounds. I checked my social media as I headed through the crowd, and saw that my feeds were already filling up with triumphantly captioned photos of people’s television sets, capturing the moment Barack Obama left the White House for the last time. For the pro-life movement, it had been a very long eight years.
The crowd in front of the Capitol was a sea of red “Make America Great Again” hats, often ridiculously paired with expensive overcoats, suits, and dresses. Nobody seemed to mind. Exuberant chants of USA! USA! USA! sporadically erupted here and there, and then petered out. The jumbotrons featured politicians telling stories about other inaugurations they had attended, with the tone and the detail indicating that not even their children would want to hear such boring anecdotes. At Obama’s inauguration, I recalled, the screens had rotated pre-recorded messages from celebrities like Ellen De Generes and Jimmy Kimmel. There were no celebrities this time. Brass bands and choirs provided the entertainment, playing martial tunes and the Washington Post March. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir backed the dais.
As helicopters growled overhead and snipers shifted on the Capitol dome, the grey skies threatened rain, coughing and spitting. Dignitaries began to file out onto the dais. Members of Congress and the Senate received nearly complete disinterest, but greeted one another with great pomp and barely disguised glee, smacking backs and smiling widely. I narrated their conversations in my head: What? You’re an Important Person, too? So good to see you here, then! Jimmy Carter shuffled carefully out of the red doorway, followed by George and Laura Bush, who received a rousing cheer from the crowd. I was excited, as well—Bush was my first political hero (he was elected when I was in Grade 7), and this was the first time I’d seen him.
When the Clintons emerged, the tone turned ugly. The boos were loud and long, swelling up from the crowd from the dais to the back of the National Mall—it’s nearly impossible that she didn’t hear it. Chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” started somewhere near the front and echoed over the waves of red hats. One woman near me turned to one of the particularly loud shouters and snapped, “Grow up!” The bubbling hostility, which was to surface again and again, proved that the Americans on either side of the Trump divide were not yet ready to make nice.
After the Supreme Court filed out—Merrick Garland mercifully not among them–the Trump kids were next. The crowd started to get excited. “Ivanka for prez!” one guy shouted. “I wonder if anyone told the girls to stay away from Uncle Bill,” a fellow with a military haircut said behind me to cackles. “She’s so hawt,” another star-struck fan said to much amusement. Melania was channeling Jackie-O in blue and looking positively feline. Michelle Obama received the distinction of being the only Democrat who emerged to a few scattered cheers, while Nancy Pelosi’s frozen face incurred instant ire. When the jumbotron featured Obama and Biden making their way towards the dais, the chants began again: Hay-ai-ai, goo-ood byyyyyyye! The catharsis and the hostility of it all jostled about in the crowd as they awaited their man.
When Donald J. Trump made his entrance, sporting a slightly-too-long red tie and giving the thumbs up, the crowd went crazy. Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! In every way, the moment seemed surreal. The brash Manhattan billionaire with a sleazy past had gone to war with everyone, and he’d won. The media was left reeling, celebrities irrelevant, political foes stunned. He was going to be the leader of the free world. He filed past three former presidents and the current president he was about to replace. It was really happening.
Roy Blunt, the chairman of the Inaugural Ceremonies, opened the proceedings, followed by Cardinal Dolan and several pastors offering prayers for the incoming administration. (Franklin Graham and a rabbi would complete the posse of clergy later.) The crowd was respectful, many bowing their heads and mumbling amens of their own. But when Democrat Chuck Schumer took the podium and began to give a speech, irritation quickly gave way to anger. Just as he began to lecture the crowd on the importance of respecting diversity, including “gender identity,” they began to roar, booing, chanting Trump’s name, and then settling on another favorite: Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! “Shuck you!” one military fellow bellowed. The protests got so loud I couldn’t hear the entire second half of Schumer’s speech. Nobody was in any mood to be given progressive talking points.
Everyone calmed down when Justice Clarence Thomas stepped out to swear in Mike Pence as vice president, his face glowing rosy red and his smile only matched by that of Paul Ryan behind him, who looked happier than he’d ever been. “Goodbye Joe!” yelled a few people. Trump followed Pence, giving the thumbs up to the crowd like it was a campaign rally, and John Roberts administered the Oath of Office to a thunder of applause and cheers, and then President Donald John Trump turned to address the citizens of the United States.
The Inaugural Address was stunning. I was expecting what most people were expecting: A speech that promised to govern for all Americans, a typical appeal to a common identity, or an attempt at oratory. But that was stupid of me. Donald Trump does not change, and he does not conform. His address was a campaign stump speech on steroids, and he told his loyal followers, the people who had put him there behind that lectern, that the Washington Establishment was a cadre of bloated fat cats who had lived off the country at the expense of its people. He painted a dark picture of the country he had just promised to lead, a country of ravaged Rust Belt towns, rampant drug deaths, and economic devastation—and promised, in the phrase that would make headlines across the nation the next morning, to end “the American carnage.” America sounded like Mordor. It wasn’t a conservative speech, it was pure populism framed with muscular nationalism— “America first!” he roared. He was speaking for the “forgotten Americans,” and he was going to give the country “back to the people.” The crowd was nodding along, and began to mouth his closing words along with him, waiting for what was coming: “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,”—and here the crowd lifted up their voices in unison with him— “we will make America great again!”
This was not just another speech. This was Donald Trump’s declaration of war and his pledge of allegiance: He was not going to go along to get along. He was not going to work with other politicians just for the sake of unity. He was going to implement the agenda he had promised to the voters who had poured into his rallies, and he was going to let nobody stand in his way. The forgotten Americans listening ate up every word. Trump had set an extraordinarily high bar for himself. Time will tell if he can accomplish what he has promised. The camera panned over the politicians sitting silently behind him, and the stony expressions of the Obamas and the Clintons projected their longsuffering loathing. One can only imagine the thoughts passing through Hillary’s mind, forced to witness a man she despised receive the prize she had fought for her whole life. That, at least, was pleasant to contemplate. People were still jumpy, though–when the twenty-one gun salute went off after Trump took the Oath, people began to duck and look around.
As we filed out of the Capitol grounds—brushing past former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was dodging selfie requests—the protestors began to materialize. Amerikkka Was Never Great, one sign announced. Trump supporters smirked, the protestors snarled, and the mutual hatred was palpable. Later, as I caught up with David Daleiden, Andy, and a few pro-life activists, the scene on the restaurant television showed demonstrators setting a limo on fire, smashing the front windows of a Starbucks, and overturning trash cans. The climate change activists seem so unnerved by Trump that they’ve forgotten how to be environmentally-conscious. Late into the evening, clashes continued, while thousands of others streamed into the city for what they had promised would be the biggest event of the weekend: The Women’s March on Washington.
The Women’s March on Washington was one of the biggest events I’ve ever seen—I don’t know if it was bigger than the Inauguration, but it was enormous. Beginning early in the morning, every restaurant and coffee shop in the downtown had lines stretching out their doors and down the sidewalk. Signs began to spring up on lawns, helpfully provided by one of the nation’s top abortion groups, NARAL Pro-Choice America, ambiguously advising passersby that “This Neighborhood Trusts Women.” One fellow, featuring a scraggly beard and scragglier clothes held aloft a sign with a simple instruction: “White Males Listen Up.” Near him, a young woman dressed up as a vagina holding a sign that declared “Vagilante” attracted the support of a gaggle of elderly women who were unaware that dignity occasionally accompanies age. “That is fantastic,” tittered one grey-haired grandma.
Activists of every stripe turned up near the Capitol in their hundreds of thousands: Black Lives Matter, environmentalists, immigration activists, feminists, LGBTQ radicals, and every abortion group in the country. Everyone seemed very aware of his or her position on the oppression totem pole—I overheard one fellow explaining that he was there to listen, because he and his partner, after all, were “two white cis gay dudes.” White people were very apologetic—a favorite sign seemed to be “White Silence Costs Lives.” Even buildings did not escape the color coding: “The White House Is Unfair, Trump is in there” read one cardboard placard. “Decolonize Your Feminism,” demanded another. One less introspective protestor waved a sign declaring that “Women Are Perfect.” An ironic example came in the form of a white guy holding a sign that said, ‘No One Needs A White Man’s Opinion,” which I thought was true if he was referring to his own self-contradictory statements.
The crowds were so huge that it was soon impossible to move, stretching up streets converging on the stage in every direction. The sheer number of bodies made it stiflingly hot, and the palpable anger didn’t help much. Yesterday’s crowd had sported their red caps—today’s crowd was an ocean of pink knitted “pussy hats,” which even most of the men who showed up were wearing. Pink is Planned Parenthood’s color of choice—hundreds of “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” signs dotted the sea of people, which eventually grew so large that people began climbing into trees, up traffic poles, and onto the signs of a nearby museum.
The defining characteristic of the crowd was a jarring crudeness. One woman held up a drawing of Trump performing oral sex on a triumphant woman. Hundreds of signs simply stated “F*** Trump.” Shirts featured weird, animated uteri and ovaries giving onlookers the finger. “Pussy” was a favorite word, and showed up on thousands of signs and banners. So did references to male genitalia. The weeping Hillary voters who had demanded to know how they were “supposed to explain Donald Trump” and his history of crudeness to their children clearly forgot all about their opposition to vulgarity, profanity, and sexually-charged language as soon as they realized that nobody was listening to their bonfire of hypocrisies, and reverted to it the moment they could. Thousands of parents took their children with them.
And so the children got to hear the roster of speakers featured at the Women’s March on Washington. Ashely Judd delivered a bizarre slam-poem free verse battle cry, actually claiming that that the court system “sees melanin as animal skin” and that we have “reinterpreted slavery as the prison system,” that we are using electricity to shock gay people— “our new gas chambers”—and that we have our own Hitler, but we just swapped a “toupee for a moustache.” Then there were a few incoherent verses on her menstrual cycle, with references to bloody sheets and clothing. Finally she reached her apex: “Our p***** are for pleasure and for birthing more vulgar, nasty…women. Can I get a h*** yeah?” She could, and she did. Hundreds of thousands of voices roared “H*** yeah!” back at her.
Madonna, the boundary-smashing pop star famous for her sexually-charged performances and her propensity for wearing a belt buckle that read “Boy Toy” nearly managed to top Judd, dropping f-bombs like Jay-Z and informing the cheering throngs that she often wanted to “blow up the White House.” The corpulent filmmaker Michael Moore was somewhat less violent in his suggestions, demanding a takeover of the Democratic Party— “It’s time for the old guard Democrats to leave!” –and urging “gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender” Democrats to start getting involved. He left off on everyone’s favorite topic: abortion. Roe v. Wade happened, he said, because California and New York had already legalized abortion. “They created the New Normal,” and it was time for them to do it again. Moore was an insightful guy during the election, but here he gets it all wrong: This election was a rejection of the New Normal, and a repudiation of New York and California. In fact, nearly all the votes that Hillary Clinton earned to put her over the top in the popular vote count were in California.
The Women’s March was nothing more than an abortion rally. Scarlett Johanssen came out on stage to praise Planned Parenthood and say that she’d been drawn out of solitude by the worry that pro-life court appointments could one day deprive her daughter of having an abortion she might want. “Keep your hands off Planned Parenthood!” Maxine Waters yelled. Kiara—I missed her last name—of Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equality showed up on stage with a shirt that had “Abortion” written all over it, and said to great enthusiasm that she was “abortion-positive.” I spotted Ilyse Hogue of NARAL and Stephanie Schriok of Emily’s List on the stage, and even Gloria Steinem showed up. The hugest cheer of the day was for Cecile Richards, the CEO of Planned Parenthood, the world’s largest abortion provider. There was something nauseating about the roars of approval sweeping through the streets to greet a woman who has presided over and profited from the physical destruction of millions of pre-born children in the womb.
It took three hours to extract ourselves from the crowd and make our way to Union Station, leaving behind chants of “My body, my choice!” and “Power to the people!” And that was the irony of it all. Donald Trump couldn’t appeal to shared values in his Inaugural Address even if he wanted to, because increasingly there isn’t any. He promised to give power back to the people on Friday, while hundreds of thousands of other people swore to take it back on Saturday. Where is the common ground between people who believe that killing human beings in the womb and profiting from their deaths and severed body parts is horrifying, and those who celebrate it enthusiastically as a fundamental right? Where is the common ground between those who see Hillary Clinton as a noble defender of all that is good, and those who see her as the enabler of a human death toll rivalling the worst carnage in human history?
America is divided because nothing is holding the nation together. This was a half-century long process, but the 2016 election has revealed the fault lines like nothing before. The crowds streaming into Washington to celebrate Trump’s inauguration didn’t see November 9 as an election, but as an exorcism. And the swarms of protestors who mobbed the capital to howl their defiance didn’t see Trump’s ascent to the presidency as a democratic event, but as the catalyst for a revolution. People cite the battles of the Civil Rights Movement as another example of such a divide, but the analogy fails. While Martin Luther King Jr. and many other Civil Rights leaders were certainly left-wing in their economic proscriptions, they challenged the conscience of America in explicitly Christian terms. Segregation was not a crime against “diversity” or “inclusion,” it was a crime against a just God. King’s speeches and sermons inevitably feature appeals to the Creator, psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and Scriptural references that would be foreign to today’s Left, and completely out of place at the carnival of crudeness and celebration of human destruction that was the Woman’s March on Washington.
The secular progressives and abortion activists thought they had won, and after nearly ten years of Barack Obama it was starting to look like they had. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a former liberal from New York City smashed his way through a lineup of traditional Republicans, selected a rock-ribbed Christian conservative pro-lifer as his running mate, survived successive media firestorms, and took the presidency out from underneath Hillary Clinton’s nose. The Left, instead of lobbying Trump to listen to their concerns, had already decided that he was Hitler reincarnated and are now desperate to destroy him. Ironically, Trump may have been amenable to liberal social policy in the past, but now sees those who tried to bring him down as his enemies, and men like Mike Pence who stuck by him as his friends. Trump values loyalty above all else, and he has now picked his team. He will try to give America back to his people, who have earned his loyalty by giving him theirs. And the revolutionaries marching in the streets will do everything they can to reassert their control over the institutions that have been wrested from them in a rural uprising no one saw coming.
So it begins.