‘I’m just thrilled to be here. I don’t want to be ashamed to be a Republican’
Washington DC sharply divided as new US president Donald Trump takes oath of office
It was still dark as Sue and Gene Bennett made their way up Independence Avenue towards the Capitol at 6am. Their DC hotel room had been booked long before the election and Sue had “prayed” for today and Donald Trump.
The new president’s anti-Washington rhetoric was what encouraged the couple to attend their first inauguration, travelling from Nashville to support him. “I’m just thrilled to be here. I don’t want to be ashamed to be a Republican,” Sue said. “He won’t put up with the lying, the cheating, the stealing. That’s what America needs to go back to, is honesty.”
By sunrise the sea of red “Make America Great Again” caps was greeted at all the main entrances to the National Mall by protesters. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter campaign, women’s rights groups, individuals holding up quotes from Martin Luther King, and homemade signs calling the next president of America a racist and a fool were all to be seen.
The protesters’ agendas varied. Some were organised in large groups; others had arrived in pairs. A group dressed in white sang “we are a land of many colours, we are singing for our lives” as Trump supporters filed down 6th Street and into the Mall.
Passing through the singers were mother and daughter Cynthia and Caroline Christian. They drove up on Friday morning from Maryland to see President Trump take his oath. “What I like about what he said last night, is he is a microphone for the people. He’s not going to do what he wants to do. He’s going to listen to the voices of the people who elected him,” Cynthia said.
Blythe Zayets was here for Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008. “It’s absolutely empty here today compared to eight years ago. You couldn’t move on the streets; you didn’t need a map because you followed the people.” Wearing a pink “Nasty Woman” cap in support of Hillary Clinton, Zayets spent 14 hours on an overnight train from Florida to come and “show that we do not support the values of this person”.
“It’s exactly what I thought it would be, it’s basically the social media comment boards come to life,” said Vish Burra, who had travelled from New York to see “Don the man” take office as the 45th president. What did he expect from the billionaire’s first address in office? “I don’t know what to expect, that’s the beauty of having Donald Trump as president.”
By 10am, a Black Lives Matter protest had blocked one of the general entrances on Indiana Avenue as protesters locked themselves to the barricades chanting “we have nothing to lose but our chains”. Small scuffles broke out as one Trump supporter was pushed back from the entrance, shouting “go home losers”.
Krishana Raghuber (20) carried a sign that read “U Up now Amerikkka?” “I’ve been called disgusting and told to go back to my own country. I’m a US citizen. I live in New York,” he said.
Further along the avenue protesters and Trump supporters stood shoulder to shoulder as they queued to get on to the National Mall. Sam Claiborne from New York held a sign saying “Draft Dodger, Coward, Sexual Predator” as people in the crowd shouted “he’s your president!” and “get over it”. Undeterred by boos and chants of “USA! USA!” from the crowd, Claiborne said:“He is such a disgrace and I do believe that he is not legitimate which is a very hard thing for me to say, as an American.”
Student Matt Barlow (21) from DC wasn’t concerned about walking through protesters to see the man he voted for take his oath. “That’s what America is.”
With an hour to go before Trump’s address, the atmosphere bristled. Hundreds of Trump fans and detractors were penned into slowing security lines. Outbursts of “F**k Trump!” were met with choruses of “USA! USA!”
Those left outside quietened and huddled around phones as the unmistakable tones of the 45th president could be heard giving his inaugural address over the loudspeaker. Cheers for President Trump were countered with chants of “You’re all racists” from men and women carrying placards that read “My pussy won’t be grabbed” and “Putin won”.
Rachel Harmon was one of a group of young women carrying signs who sighed and shook their heads at noon, the moment of Trump’s swearing in. “As a woman, it feels like I’ve been betrayed by all my fellow women who voted for him. It feels like I’ve been betrayed by the rest of the citizens of my country who don’t understand that he’s evil and dangerous,” she said.
From strained to menacing, the atmosphere darkened as the fractured crowds made their way out of the ceremony. Sirens wailed as thousands of protesters danced and chanted up Massachusetts Avenue.
A sole Trump flag was waved on the pavement by Wilson Grafston (18) as the protesters approached. The teenager had travelled from the Bay in San Francisco and wanted to voice his support for the new president. As the chants of “Not my president” rang out, he wasn’t intimidated. “You see all those bikers behind me,” he said as he pointed to a large group of “Bikers for Trump” on a side street. “I’m well protected.”