WASHINGTON — With the subdued air of a reunion tour that sold just enough tickets to avoid cancellation and some of the aggression of a nu-metal show, President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration festivities drew far fewer people than President Obama did in 2009 and 2013. Many said it was the most sparsely attended inauguration they could remember.
Blocked off with Humvees and well-guarded by military police in neon vests offering hellos, Pennsylvania Avenue became a breeze en route to the National Mall on Friday morning. The red “Make America Great Again” cap ubiquitous among the walkers, a group of teenage girls exclaimed, “We’re in the same place as Trump, how cool is that?”
Women in furs smiled and stood watch along a security fence as small groups of men in their 20s draped in American and “Pepe the Frog” flags darted through the scattered crowd. Inauguration-goers mumbled to one another, ‘Where is everyone?’
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As women’s marches planned in the capital and around the world on Saturday threatened to upstage Trump’s inauguration as the weekend’s main event, his supporters and his opponents coexisted in relative peace for a time Friday. But the quieter atmosphere did not reassure anti-Trump demonstrators worried about the future of America’s domestic and foreign policy.
For them, it was the quiet before the storm, an overconfident and understaffed administration riding a wave of populism into deeply uncertain waters.
With the obelisk of the Washington Monument standing tall and grey behind him, Kieran McLean, 21, stoically held a sign reading, “This is fucked up.”
McLean came from Pennsylvania earlier in the week to wield the sign all over town, he said, and to advocate progressive positions on climate change and civil rights.
“The first two days were okay – angry, but civil.” McLean said. “But midday yesterday, outside the inaugural concert, I was attacked by a group of 20 or 30 Trump supporters. They pushed me down and ripped the sign out of my hands. So, I made another one.”
Flickers of rage among Trump’s backers leapt out as the jumbo screens posted along the Mall projected Democratic leaders like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, drawing epithets and boos. Young men in T-shirts reading “Misled Youth” and “We Don’t Care What You Say” shared the grass with older lefties holding signs like “Resist.”
One of the biggest cheers was reserved for Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent populist who seemed to be something most could agree on.
As the speakers began to warm up the dais in front of the Capitol building, another consensus was the celebration of America’s steady tradition of peaceful transfer of power from presidency to presidency.
In his inaugural speech, President Trump took it a step further.
“Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning,” he said. “Because today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”
Hard on established parties on both sides of the aisle and on established norms, Trump’s inaugural speech was more doomsday than peaceful, speaking of “American carnage,” and more nationalism than globalism.
His “America First” message has been interpreted by religious, ethnic, racial and sexual minorities as being most inclusive of those who are white, Christian and straight.
Trump’s speech refuted that notion, though as he spoke key sections of the White House website related to civil rights, LGBT rights, climate change and health care were taken offline.
“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” Trump said.
Two young men holding “Meet a Muslim” signs along the walkway, Sarmad Bhatti and Saud Iqbal, came to the inauguration from nearby Virginia to express a similar message.
Representing a group called Muslims for Loyalty, Bhatti sought to educate the public about Islam.
“The real Islam is loving your country,” said Bhatti, 21. “We’re just here to spread the message of peace, love and understanding,”
Iqbal, 31, said 60 percent of Americans have never met a Muslim, and that the inauguration crowds had been largely positive so far.
Trump was sworn in on two Bibles by Chief Justice John Roberts. A light rain and a sense of finality began to fall over Washington as the new president delivered his remarks.
“I trust you!” yelled one young man across the green, though there was no way to know for sure if he was earnest or facetious.
As Trump finished with another call to make America great again, chants of “USA! USA! USA!” rippled through the rain and the assembled began to file out, some to view the parade and some to prepare for the evening’s inaugural balls.
Others joined progressive marches opposing Trump, and later in the afternoon a violent skirmish broke out on K Street, pushing police to fire tear gas and stun grenades and capturing the television networks’ attention before calm again prevailed.
As the inauguration crowds blended into the rest of the city, women in pink hats and bright outfits were moving into the city from across America. The Women’s March, expected to draw more people than the inauguration, was on the horizon. A new energy crept into the capital.