Friday’s inauguration ceremony was the calm after the storm.
The crowd on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall could have easily turned into one last Trump campaign rally, with thousands of red-topped supporters screaming for their leader and boo-hissing any Democrat spotted on the Jumbotrons.
But the mood inside the security barricades was affable, a byproduct, perhaps, of collective exhaustion from the hassle of navigating through security lines. Or perhaps Trump’s supporters simply realized they didn’t need to shout anymore. After all, they’d already won.
“I feel amazing. I feel like this is Christmas,” Josh Hammaker, a Trump voter from Calvert County, Maryland, told me in the minutes before the ceremony began. Hammaker considers himself a Democrat, but broke for Trump in November. “This is the best day of my life.” Or, at least, “one of ‘em. We’re finally getting our country back.”
Hours before the speeches, songs, and prayers of Friday morning’s ceremony, Trump’s supporters descended on Capitol Hill to hear first-hand from their next president, grabbing coffee and the odd bit of Trump paraphernalia at Union Station before heading to security checkpoints for the Mall. Vendors, like the one bravely wedged between two lines of porta potties, hawked buttons, flags, and “Deplorable Lives Matter” t-shirts—not that their potential customers weren’t already decked out in Trump garb.
In a general-admission line to the festivities—that would lead attendees to the inauguration equivalent of a theater’s nosebleed section—the blocks-long mass of people was dominated by protesters, making Trump supporters, with their poppy-colored “Make America Great Again” hats, easily spottable. But while protesters and police would later clash, the demonstrators in line seemed content with chants and sign-waving to get their pluralistic messages across—and Trump backers seemed content watching them with amusement. “Four and a half hours and the nightmare’s over,” a Trump backer shouted a little before 8 a.m. “Four and a half hours and the nightmare starts,” a protester responded, eliciting chuckles.
Preston Parrish, a college student from Tennessee, suggested the go-along-to-get-along tenor of queue meant something. “It’s hopeful for us,” Parrish said. “We may not agree on everything, but hopefully, in the end, once the dust settles, we’ll be able to get together and work towards a better America.”
Trump’s opponents don’t seem close to saying the same; their memories of Trump’s deeply divisive campaign are far too fresh, and their view of the country’s future is far more bleak. The same streets that Trump’s backers strode down today will be flooded by the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. But some of the new president’s fans nevertheless predicted national unity was coming. Once the Trump administration gets in full swing, one supporter predicted, the country would come together. “It’s easy to focus on the negative things” about Trump, said Jason Youse, a third-grade public-school teacher from Tampa, Florida. He cited specifically some of the “crazy things” that Trump says. “But if you look at the overall big picture, his heart is America—that’s what I see.”
The crowd on the National Mall for the main event was fairly subdued as it began. Protesters from the security line didn’t seem to follow supporters onto the Mall; indeed, as the first remarks of the morning began, I couldn’t spot a single one. Trump-loving couples, families, and community groups stood in clumps, craning their necks to watch the Jumbotrons and cheering when he came on the screen.
Several of the Trump supporters I talked to spoke reverently of the inauguration as a once-in-a-lifetime event—as if every American gets just one chance to go, and they cashed theirs in on Trump. “The view is majestic,” remarked Kristi Henshaw, a mother of two from the Washington area whose husband serves in the Armed Forces. “It makes me proud to be an American.”
Charles Watson, a pilot from rural Lexington, South Carolina, told me he considers himself one of the “forgotten men and women” that, in his speech, Trump vowed to represent over the next four years. Watson described himself as middle-class, and suggested political leaders prior to Trump looked out for immigrants, but not people like him. “I want to go back to how the country was born,” he told me after the ceremony, as supporters began to head for the exits. “I believe in American values. And I want to keep the American values going for my children and my grandsons.”
I found Laura Lenti watching a Jumbotron after the pomp and circumstance was over. It was close to the time when President Obama and the First Lady walked onto Marine One, inspiring claps and “see ya’s” from Trump fans not yet ready to leave the Mall. Lenti, a Trump supporter from Wisconsin, said it’s now “the people’s time” in America. She works in corrections, has “worked my butt off for my entire life, and I feel like every penny’s gone everywhere but me.”
For her, and for the country, she suggested, Trump could be a game-changer. “He’s one of us. Yeah. He’s one of us.”