Inaugurations are America’s modern equivalents of Roman triumphs. Flanked by military and police vehicles, clad in the pomp of tradition, presidents of the United States take their solemn oaths and parade between the classical facades and colonnades lining Pennsylvania Avenue. Crowds of thousands—sometimes millions—of citizens look on. It is meant to be a celebration of the nation in all her stately, martial honor, and of the vir triumphalis who has claimed the status of its moral leader and commander-in-chief. But inauguration is also a transition, not only between presidents, but from the combat of the campaign to the peacetime of governance.
For President Donald Trump, however, that transition has not yet taken place. On Inauguration Day, Trump did not take off the laurel wreath and transform into a governor, but rather extended his fiery campaign. The earliest hours of his presidency suggest that, dogged by unprecedented public disapproval, confronting questions of legitimacy, relying on a base fueled by partisan conflict, and facing extensive grassroots opposition, Trump’s campaign will be indefinite.
The essential instability of Trump’s transition to the presidency was evident on the ground on Friday. Although the red “Make America Great Again” caps and shirts were ubiquitous among supporters and official souvenir vendors, Trump’s main campaign foil was still a presence among the less-official street memorabilia vendors. The “Lock Her Up” and “Hillary for Prison” buttons that became common in summer of last year were still hot-ticket items among attendees, and Clinton’s own visage still graced shirts and sweaters. “Deplorable Lives Matter” shirts—referencing the controversial remarks made by Clinton on the trail—showed up to the party as well.