Trump to lead the most unethical administration of modern times
In 2009, the air in Washington DC was filled with joy - Friday will be different
Dateline: January 20th, 2009. Washington DC.
Hours before dawn and a crescent moon hangs over Washington DC, where the temperature is a bone-chilling five points below freezing. A tidal wave of humanity is streaming from the subways and on to the streets, cocooned in thick layers of clothing, armed with hand and foot warmers, folding chairs, rugs and picnics.
Many have endured gruelling 24-hour bus rides through ice and darkness, shared bunk beds more than 160km away at a park-and-ride or set off to walk from city drop-off points before 3am.
Yet they are skipping, singing and chanting their way to the National Mall.
They know that when they finally claim a spot there on the icy grass, they are never going to get closer to him than his image on the giant screens. But the soaring joy of physically sharing this space with him eclipses all else.
The first glimpse of Barack Obama on screen triggers a frenzy of flag-waving and wracking sobs.
A woman falls to her knees: “Thank you, God. Thank you, thank you, oh thank you for keeping him safe for this moment.” An extraordinarily diverse crowd joins her – civil rights veterans, African-Americans from the deep south, tearful New Yorkers – finally articulating what had been their greatest dread; that their new president “might have been snatched from us by an assassin’s bullet”.
For this outsider, the enormity of the occasion suddenly swims into focus. The expectation invested in this skinny mortal some are exalting as “our Jesus, our Moses” is terrifying.
“He used his middle name, Hussein, that bodes well”, murmurs a (white) doctor from Johns Hopkins Hospital as the ceremony ends.
An African-American woman from Selma, Alabama, shucks off her numerous blankets, seizes my hands and exclaims: “We heard freedom ring! YOU heard freedom ring!”
Then the doctor, astoundingly, starts up the primal chant synonymous with the George Bush years: “U-S-A! U-S-A!”. No-one joins in. “I’ll keep trying,” he says mildly. “I’m not going to let Bush take our flag. It’s our country.”
And so it seemed eight years ago. On that glad, confident morning, in that 1.8 million-strong crowd of every creed, colour and generation, it was easy to be fanciful, to believe the US capital had been reclaimed for all the people of America.
That even in the depths of a terrifying global financial crisis, all they had to do was adopt their new messiah’s message of unity, sacrifice and hope.
It is a fair guess that neither the doctor nor the woman from Selma will be on the Mall on Friday, where unity will be the first casualty, dignity the second and hope the third.
Watch as Bikers for Trump (Trump having proudly tweeted they were “on the way” ), form a “wall of meat” to “defend” his inauguration from the protestors who have poured into the city.
While journalists – condemned in Trump’s brutal, sustained assaults as the “crooked” media – were being advised to keep their press credentials out of sight amid possibly hostile crowds, Obama in his final press conference was applauding and encouraging them: “America needs you. Democracy needs you.”
Meanwhile, within 72 hours of inauguration, the president-elect was launching into his fourth consecutive day of attacks on John Lewis, the 76-year-old civil rights icon and Democratic congressman, while some 60 Democrats announced they would be staying away from the inauguration, unwilling, as they put it, “to legitimise or normalise . . . this presidency”.
Far from healing the wounds, Trump – the self-described ratings machine – said he hoped they would give him their tickets “because we need seats so badly”, such were the crowds he expected.
But no, the stores in DC have not sold out of dresses for the inauguration balls, as he claimed.
As for crowd numbers, officials are predicting around 800,000. That compares to Obama’s estimated 1.8 million in 2009.
And since Trump’s transition disapproval ratings – “rigged”, he claims – are at 52 per cent, compared to Obama’s 14 per cent in 2009, no-one yet knows how many of those 800,000 will be there to protest rather than celebrate.
More than 200,000 women will participate in the “Women’s March on Washington”, in the week their president-elect stands accused of defamation by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, Trump’s TV game show.
She is among a dozen women to have alleged sexual harassment by him, while her lawyer threatens to subpoena reportedly explosive out-takes from the show. By then he will be leader of the free world.
Meanwhile, Obama takes his five favourite writers to lunch and talks to the New York Times about a life and a presidency that have been shaped by books.
In stark contrast to 2008, as Trump steps into Obama’s shoes tomorrow, he inherits “a US economy in rude health”, according to the Financial Times, where “much of the repair work” on the 2008 crisis “has already been done by his predecessor”.
Yet already he is claiming the laurels for others’ blood and sacrifice, as he prepares to lead the most authoritarian, unethical administration of modern times.
He has been lucky so far. How long can it hold?