WASHINGTON – Welcome to The Swamp. In a town normally filled with career politicians, lobbyists and other governmental elites, the demographics on Jan. 20 were different. Because on this day, the most prominent right-wing outsider in U.S. politics, then-President-elect Donald Trump, brought in a crowds of supporters and protesters as he was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I was fortunate enough to get a up-close seat.
Inauguration travels started early in the morning. In anticipation of long lines and tight security, my group—the Governmental Relations Network, a bipartisan bunch of Miami students—left our Alexandria hotel just before 8 a.m. We boarded a moderately busy metro car and rode the yellow line to the heart of the capital. Security was heavy in the metro station; police officers were numerous, some armed with rifles and others handling K9 units. Federal officers and national guardsmen also made their presence known.
As I emerged from the metro station escalator into the morning cool, I was greeted by raindrops and the bullhorn shouting of a protester. The protester and his group were dwarfed by the crowds moving past. On the nearest corner was a street vendor selling inauguration memorabilia. He had scarves, shirts, sweatshirts, flags, and of course, hats. Bright red “Make America Great Again” caps were marked up to $20 each. No thanks.
The security and organization was impressive. Each color of ticket was assigned a specific checkpoint location and screening area to reduce crowding and long lines. My orange checkpoint was on D. Street SW, a block from the Department of Health and Human Services building. I flashed my ticket, was allowed in, and walked two blocks between walls of temporary fencing to my screening area, just behind the U.S. Botanic Garden, about a third of a mile from the Capitol. The screening area consisted of dozens of metal detectors, which were manned by hundreds of security personnel. As I waited in line, the drizzling rain stopped falling. I looked across the cloudy sky and noticed snipers on nearly every rooftop.
I arrived in my section at approximately 9:30 a.m., two hours before the festivities were set to begin. The section was already packed with eager onlookers. There were nearly as many young people as old, and an approximately equal number of women and men. A young couple standing in front of me held their small child in their arms. There were many “Make America Great Again” hats spread among the crowd, though not as many as I expected.
I spoke with people who traveled from all corners of America: Florida, the Carolinas, Texas, California and everywhere in between. They were all eager for Trump to bring change to their government, a government which they felt had failed to represent their beliefs for the past eight years.
Oddly, the hundreds of thousands who had gathered in the National Mall were nearly silent for the next hour. Aside from the occasional crying baby or the constant low hum of conversation, few people made any noise. A gentleman behind me tried twice to start a “USA” chant. It never grew larger than a few dozen people.
Behind me, a man climbed to the top of a large bush in a futile attempt for a better view and cell service.
The audience began to liven up once former presidents entered the inaugural stage. Jimmy Carter, who appeared impressively spry for a 92-year-old, entered with his wife Rosalynn Carter and garnered polite applause. Next came President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton, who were greeted with both boos and light clapping. Then entered President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush, who received a warm welcome. Unsurprisingly, this was a partisan crowd.
As video boards showed the arrival of President Obama, President-elect Trump, and their families, audience members became to liven up. Out of sync “USA” chants echoed in the distance. Trump noticed a camera and gave it two thumbs up, which gained him some laughter from his friendly audience.
A few minutes went by before Melania Trump and Karen Pence entered to loud applause. A man to my left remarked that Mrs. Trump looked “really smoking hot” in her dress. His wife voiced her agreement.
The United States Marine Band played a song or two before the outgoing and incoming presidents made their entrances. President Obama entered first, flanked by Vice President Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Each was announced individually, and received polite applause, except for Pelosi. The crowd greeted her announcement with some of the loudest boos of the day.
The first to enter from the new administration was Vice President Pence. After his entrance, members of Republican congressional leadership entered, including Miami alumnus and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Finally, the man everyone had come to see made his entrance to thunderous applause. The show began.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri made opening remarks, followed by invocations from three pastors. After the final invocation, a woman to my right remarked: “Wow, that was one hell of a prayer!”
The next major speech was given by Schumer. After a short opening, he began to speak of divisions in our nation, economic and otherwise. Once he touched on this theme, the crowd began to boo and grew continually louder and eventually started chanting “drain the swamp.” The booing was so deafening that I, along with the rest in the audience, could not near a single word of Schumer’s speech.
Next was the oath of office for Vice President Pence, administered by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Known for barely speaking while on the bench, Thomas seemed nervous while reading the oath. With the words, “so help me God,” Vice President Pence’s position in the new administration was made official.
Now it was Trump’s turn. Surrounded by his family, Mr. Trump was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice John Roberts. During the oath, a few protesters tried to disrupt proceedings by blowing whistles; their efforts had no effect. Largely, the audience was elated and cheers rang out.
To an ecstatic crowd, the now-President began his inaugural address. He started low, talking about the problems and challenges America is facing. He made appeals for national unity and inclusion. In an excited crescendo, Trump moved to discuss the actions his administration will take to align the United States to his vision for the country.
Seventeen minutes after he had begun, to a deafening roar of applause, the new President of the United States finished the address with his famous catchphrase.
“Yes,” he said. “Together, we will make America great again!”