America prepares for reign of President Donald J Trump

Security tight in Washington as billionaire to be sworn in as 45th US president

Donald J Trump, the New York property mogul and reality television star, will today appear before his biggest audience as he is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States at the Capitol in Washington.

In front of an estimated 800,000 people, the 70-year-old businessman will take the 35-word presidential oath with a hand on the Bible used to swear in Abraham Lincoln on 1861 and his predecessor Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013 and another Bible his mother gave him in 1955.

As this happens, a military aide with a briefcase known as "the nuclear football" containing the launch codes for a nuclear strike, will move from Mr Obama's side closer to Mr Trump, signifying the enormity of the responsibility falling on the first president never to have held public office or been a military leader.

The billionaire will then deliver his inaugural address, a speech he has said he has written himself.


"It's going to be a very personal and sincere statement about his vision for the country. He will discuss what it means to be an American," his incoming press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Thursday.

New York University history professor Timothy Naftali, a presidential scholar, said that an inaugural address was "an opportunity for empathy" and a chance for Trump to break from past pessimistic speeches.

“Up to now, via social media, Donald J Trump has shown us that he doesn’t have the capacity for empathy. [On Friday] he gets his biggest chance to surprise us and show empathy,” he said.

Presidential records

After being sworn in, any messages that Trump posts to his 20 million followers on his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump – his favourite method of communication – will be archived as presidential records.

An unusually mild Washington is in lockdown as US police and military have closed down large parts of the city around the US Capitol, the White House and the National Mall where hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters will gather alongside tens of thousands of protesters expected in the city this weekend.

“Security will be enormous,” said the outgoing secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson who will be in charge of 28,000 law enforcement and military personnel providing security.

As Obama White House staff cleared out their offices and emailed farewell notes, the outgoing president used his final day in office to commute the sentences of 330 non-violent drug offenders in a final act of presidential clemency. He has granted commutations to more people than the last 12 presidents combined.

In his first official act of the three-day inauguration weekend, the president-elect and vice president-elect Mike Pence laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday and were due to attend the "Make America Great Again! Welcome" concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

Country music stars Lee Greenwood and Toby Keith and actor Jon Voight are schedule to appear at the famed monument near the spot where Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963.

Michael Flatley

Where other more famous stars refused to perform in protest at Trump, Irish dancer Michael Flatley has come out of retirement to perform at the Liberty Ball, one of Trump's inaugural balls on Friday night.

“Michael will set the scene for his dance troupe who will do most of the dancing,” said a source.

Trump’s supporters who travelled to Washington were nonplussed about the absence of A-listers.

"This is about us," said Leslie Baum Rossi (46), who travelled to Washington from Pennsylvania, one of the states that sealed Trump's election victory. "We never needed celebrities in this election and we don't need them now. We want to hear Trump's message and his plan to make America great again."

More than 103 groups have either applied for permits or signalled their intention publicly to protest against Trump’s inauguration. Organisers expect as many as 200,000 people to attend the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, though some of those protesters plan to demonstrate at the inauguration.

"We are going to be outside raising some noise," said Katherine O'Brien (54), who travelled from North Carolina to protest. "I have been through many presidencies and it is the first time I feel compelled to not legitimise a president," she added, wearing a pink cowboy hat with the words "Lady Parts Justice" on it.

Her friend Joanne Andrews (47), a teacher, fears the actions Trump might take on immigration, education, healthcare and women's rights after the changing of the presidential guard and he knuckles down to business on Monday.

“He is crazy, really crazy,” she said. “It’s like we are in this alternate universe where everything has just been tipped upside down on its head and everything that was good for people is now being taken away.”

Heightened security

Despite the heightened security presence, the lead-up to the inauguration has been low key in contrast to both Obama inaugurations where the city was gripped by a sense of excitement.

Ruairí de Burca, who is originally from Cork, has seen a steady of drinkers into Unpresidented, his Russian-themed basement pop-up bar on Capitol Hill named after one of Trump’s tweeted spelling mistakes.

In a bar festooned with Russian and American flags and cartoon portraits of Trump's cabinet picks, patrons can order Russian beer and cocktails from a giant menu (to make their hands feel as small as Trump's) or have their photograph taken with life-size cut-outs of Trump or Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“Everyone’s getting a good laugh out of it,” said de Burca. “It’s taking away some of the depression that people are feeling with what is going to happen.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent