Donald Trump has been sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. (Feature photo courtesy of Center Stage)
By Evan Kolin (‘18)
Eight years ago, as Barack Obama entered office and became the first African-American president in history, Senator Dianne Feinstein opened the 56th presidential inauguration with a praise to the democracy of the United States: “The freedom of a people to choose its leaders is the root of liberty.”
This past Friday, Senator Roy Blunt introduced the 58th inauguration with a similar exuberance of American unity and call for peaceful transition. Blunt turned the clock all the way back to 1797 as he applauded George Washington’s readiness to turn over his presidential status, indicating that “many people had taken control of a government up until then, but few people had ever turned that control willingly over to anyone else.”
Blunt continued his speech in analyzing the subsequent shift in American leadership four years later, when the Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson was elected as the third president following the Federalist John Adams:
“As important as the first transfer of power was, many historians believed that the next election was even more important: when in 1801 one group of people, arguably for the first time ever in history, willingly, if not enthusiastically, gave control of the government to people they believed had a dramatically different view of what the government would, could, and should do…So we come to this place again, commonplace and miraculous, a national moment of celebration. But not a celebration of victory, a celebration of democracy.”
Roy Blunt’s command for a nation united could not be more truthful, yet this past weekend showed that this was far from the true reality of America today. You couldn’t walk a block down Washington D.C. without an argument breaking out between two people who are supposedly citizens of a single country. Insults flew out of mouths between men and women who were allegedly on the same side. Remember Blunt’s comments on how this was a celebration of democracy rather than a celebration of victory? In our dreams.
First of all, only half of the population treated inauguration weekend as a joyous ceremony. The other fifty percent was angered by a bitter defeat that few saw coming. And unlike 1797, this was not a year in which the losing party would enthusiastically hand over the power to those with differing viewpoints. There were as many protesters in our nation’s capital this past Friday as there were supporters, and there couldn’t have been more antipathy between the two sectors. Let me stress that any peaceful protest is perfectly fine, as that is yet another great freedom we enjoy here in the U.S. But when these demonstrations turn violent, problems arise.
However, fault must be given to those on the “winning” side as well, because they also went against the honest words of Roy Blunt. For once, the Republican Party actually agreed with the Democrats on something: they, too, did not treat Trump’s inauguration as a celebration of democracy. To them, it was purely a festival of triumph, an opportunity to finally boast about their unexpected win.
When the faces of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders lit up the monitors that surrounded the crowds, you couldn’t hear more distaste. A flood of “boos” was the first reaction, followed by a flourish of laughter. Perhaps distaste isn’t even the correct word to use, because the largely conservative audience that watched Donald J. Trump take the oath of office mostly put the months of debate and hatred behind them. These roars were in a more mocking tone, containing more heckles and jeers than anything else. This was not a festivity of democracy; this was a full-blown victory party.
As a huge fan of sports whose experience in viewing athletic contests far exceeds that in politics, this event was something new to me. However, this inauguration resembled a sporting match far more than I had predicted, and probably far greater than it should have. This past weekend, there seemed to be a clear winner- and a clear loser. But as Roy Blunt pointed out, it isn’t supposed to be that way in America. Every four years isn’t a game or clash between two different teams like the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals; it’s simply a change of power and transition of control, the embodiment of democracy.
Walking the streets, even after the inauguration ended, was like strolling through the aisles of Fenway Park when the Yankees visit the Red Sox. There were two distinct sides, and it was easy to point out who was who. There were no Democratic or Republican jerseys with the letters of star players printed on the back, but there were hats, pins, shirts, hoodies, and signs- lots and lots of signs. However, while presenting one’s own beliefs is advocated by our founding fathers, we must remember that we are all Americans first and foremost.
Despite this, there were also riots, the main display of agonizing defeat that is absolutely unacceptable. The New York Times reported protesters damaging storefronts, tossing rocks at the police, and lighting a limousine on fire. Officers responded to this aggression with pepper spray and flash grenades, and the conflict resulted in six minor injuries and over 200 arrested. Again, this was not a willing transition, but rather the exact opposite.
Nevertheless, there is blame to be directed at both parties involved. The so-called winners decided to treat the weekend as a glorification of victory that included the taunting and teasing of those “defeated”. Meanwhile, the purported losers remained hostile, unable to move on and using violence as an escape route. Nobody evaluated the inauguration as what Roy Blunt stated that it is meant to represent, and the problem became clear: America needed to learn how to separate competition and democracy, especially in avoiding unnecessary disorder and unrest.
Radical differences between one’s viewpoints and the president’s do not matter. The best thing that an American citizen could have done last November was to vote for the candidate in whom they believed. However, that election is now far in the past, and the outcome has been known for over 70 days. The election of 1797 was likely tough for some people as well, and presumably caused a similar array of outcries. Nonetheless, the country pushed through that transformation, and is still standing 220 years later. Thus, we can do the same exact thing here in 2017.
Along with the need for one party to be able to hand power over to those they disagree with, the “victors” must also change their attitude if we want to remain a country unified under one constitution. No longer can they taunt the opposition and gloat their triumph as if they won a championship trophy. They, too, must treat Inauguration Day as simply a change in power, a celebration of democracy, and nothing else.
While violent acts must be eliminated from the American mindset, peaceful protests are properly encouraged by our free nation, and that is exactly what ensued the day following the inauguration as marches stormed the country’s major cities. This may seem contrary to the need for a peaceful transition, but that isn’t the case at all. The marches that took over the United States were simply cries for the significance of equal rights, and a reminder that these rights must remain our nation’s top priority, no matter who is in power.
On Inauguration Day, getting into Washington D.C. was hardly an issue at all. The Metro Rail, similar to New York’s subway system, was spacious and relaxing. I had room to sit, stretch, and ponder the history that was about to be made. However, getting into the city on Saturday was quite the opposite, as that was the day of the Women’s March.
The line for a Metrocard on the morning of January 21 exceeded the length of a football field. Even once you entered the station, you were trapped in a sea of bodies and a myriad of signs that were emphatically held high. Many of those very signs included calls for equality, while others were direct attacks at the 45th president.
The trip into Washington was cramped, to say the least. Somehow, the city expected hundreds of thousands of people to fit into a single train without a problem. Not only that, but a usual 20-minute ride turned into a 90-minute long cruise of misery as the train decided to pause for rest in five-minute intervals. Soon, my legs began to go numb, and by the time my discomfort reached the 70-minute mark, I didn’t think that I was going to make it.
Nonetheless, most of the passengers aboard bonded over what was about to occur. Upon every stop, cheers erupted between the crowd on the train and the mobs on the platform. People pressed their signs against the glass windows as onlookers pointed, chuckled, and took photographs of their favorites. The creators proudly posed aside their works of art, because today was their day.
There were certainly protesters that spanned the first 24 hours of inauguration weekend, but they were far outnumbered by the supporters who stood and watched Donald Trump become the Republicans’ first presidential representative in eight years. On Saturday, however, the numbers were reversed. Even the vendors who sold hats that donned “Make America Great Again” the day prior were now dealing pink caps and shirts advertising the march against the very man who coined that phrase.
In contrast to Inauguration Day, the type of protesting that went down during the Women’s March was finally something to be proud of. There were no stones being thrown, or cars being set to flames. The march was predominantly civilized, with women and men alike merely demanding the rights promised to us in the U.S. Constitution. However, I must emphasize the word ‘predominantly’.
There were certainly instances where controversy boiled. Madonna went on a five-minute rant where expletives flew like flies and the music star proclaimed a plan to “blow up the White House.” Yeah, perhaps not the best choice of language. The Secret Service has already announced their own plan of an investigation into the incident.
Nevertheless, the Women’s March was largely a success. There were surely some needless personal attacks and requests for immediate impeachment that differed from the obligation of a willing power transition, but the most essential aspect of the occasion was definite: it was, in fact, peaceful.
There were over half a million people that attended the march on Washington, and over 275,000 Metro rides were made. However, the most impressive number of Saturday’s demonstration was zero, because that was how many arrests took place throughout the entire day in the District of Columbia. Police intervention was even avoided at a ‘Bikers for Trump’ rally that was set up just feet from the protest, a potential for conflict that anybody could see coming. Aside from some shouts and shrieks, though, the subsequent dispute remained nonviolent.
However, problems still linger on us like a test that just can’t escape your mind. We remain a nation as divided as ever. Arguments between two Americans today give the impression of a fight between outright enemies, not two human beings represented by the same red, white, and blue flag.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal. It doesn’t matter who you voted for this past November or who you will vote for come the fall of 2020. We must enter this new era as one country united. We must stand behind each other as fellow citizens, not archrivals.
Politics has created a system of degrading those who should be our friends. The presidential election has become a symbol of competition and division, not an emblem for democracy. Now, it is our duty to fix that. It is our responsibility to link arms as one population, one community, and one nation. Because we are all Americans, and nobody can take that away from us. Especially not each other.