WASHINGTON: Throngs of happy Donald Trump supporters cheered and clapped Friday as they massed on the National Mall to witness his swearing-in as president, hailing the 70-year-old’s unlikely rise to power as “one of the biggest stories in history.” Many wore colorful garb with the slogans or face of their man, and they welcomed the 70-year-old Republican billionaire as an overdue agent of change in a nation in need of a political and economic makeover.
“This is one of the biggest stories in history. My grandchildren will be hearing about this,” said Nick Questel, a 58-year-old utility worker from New York state. Rain started falling just as Trump-who had never held elected office before Friday-was introduced to deliver his inaugural address. “Rain is a sign of God’s blessing,” Franklin Graham, a pastor and son of the prominent evangelical Billy Graham, later told the crowd. The audience clapped when Trump vowed to take power in Washington away from politicians and return it to the people.
Norma Cohen-Minardi, a senior citizen from Florida, blessed herself earlier as the ceremonial invocation was given before Trump took the oath of office. Her daughter Beverly Minardi, 55, said Trump’s denigrating remarks about women were no big deal. “It’s not an issue to stop him from being president. He is a human being that makes mistakes. We are not electing the pope,” said Minardi. “It is a very momentous time in my life,” Steve McDonald, a 52-year-old carpet dealer from Pennsylvania, said as he walked toward the white, domed Capitol building on a cold, drizzly morning to watch it all.
Not everyone was happy, though. “I find him despicable,” said protester Ben Brun, a teacher from New York state banging a blue plastic bucket as a drum and holding a sign calling for the deportation of Trump. Supporters of Trump said they dismissed, or forgave, his perceived offenses: his remarks about women, Muslims and immigrants; his thin-skinned bluster toward opponents; his penchant for conducting foreign policy via Twitter.
But the unhappy ones like Brun bemoaned him as divisive and phony, or worse racist, a circus barker, a con man only in it for money and sure to lead America down a dark, uncertain path. All however seemed to agree on the singular import of the moment: the rise to the presidency of a blunt real estate billionaire, a political neophyte, a former reality TV star whose White House run was once mocked as a joke. “It’s time the country goes to we, the people. We have our signs that say ‘we the people,'” said Darla Clark, a 66-year-old banker from California wearing a glittery plastic cowboy hat with the red, white and blue of the American flag.
She then smiled broadly and spun around to show a picture with that line from the preamble of the US constitution and a bald eagle, the US national emblem. “We are the ones who pay the taxes. Things have to be done for us and I think Trump is going to accomplish that,” Clark said.
‘Not my first choice’
Damaris Schuler, a 36-year-old history researcher from Texas, said Trump was not her first preference for president but she has come around to him. She added that when Trump has spoken insultingly of women and immigrants, she was not pleased but he could say what he wanted. “It would not be my first choice. However, everybody expresses themselves in different ways and that is the great thing about freedom of speech,” said Schuler, who carried her 18-month-old son on her chest in a harness. He wore a Stars and Stripes ski cap.
Such memorabilia was on sale all over the place: Trump flags, Trump baseball hats, Trump scarfs, and vuvuzela horns to trumpet his arrival to power. In one of several protests around the city, about 100 people who were kept away from the Capitol grounds by police chanted against Trump at a fountain outside Union Station, the city’s main rail terminal.
They carried signs labeling him a racist, and at one point shouted “el pueblo unido jamas sera venido”-a Latino civil rights battle cry alluding to Trump’s pledge to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. David Schein, a 67-year-old actor from Vermont, carried a cardboard sign calling Trump a “loser by 3 million.” That was defeated Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the popular vote. Trump won what mattered, the electoral college. Schein called this moment of American life appalling. What bothers him most about Trump? “That he is a corrupt liar, racist, xenophobe, in-it-for-profit con man, thief, and he has no moral character and he lies. I could go on,” said Schein. – AFP