Climate activists blocked the Red Gate entrance to Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump supporters, many in red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, tried to push through but were repeatedly rebuffed. Some waved their passes and cited credentials, as if this would magically disperse the blockade. Then an angry man stepped forward and punched one of the activists (a young friend, Andrew) in the face. He quickly left, scorned and heckled; Andrew smiled and said “That’s not the first time I’ve been hit today.”
That might have justified fearful talk about Trump’s fascist base, yet they were in scant evidence compared to those protesting. Some seemed bewildered by the numerous groups represented. I heard one guy say to his friend that this was the first time he’d seen actual communists. Others muttered “garbage” and “scumbags.” An older Trump fan asked me if I’d ever seen “so many losers.” I stared at him for a beat, looked at his red cap and replied, “No.”
While much of the Trump faithful looked like they came from central casting (especially the Bikers For Trump, who no one dared block), there were non-white people wearing Trump gear as well. Two Black men argued about one’s support for Trump, the other shaking his head in disbelief. “Are you crazy, man?!” he yelled. “Are you suicidal?!”
Despite it all, Trump was sworn in. I watched his inaugural address in a Capitol Hill bar filled with his supporters. They were oddly quiet as Trump bellowed, and looked down when a few of us openly jeered or laughed at Trump’s “promises.” Regardless of their candidate’s victory, D.C. is doubtless seen as foreign soil. Mocking Trump in a small town bar would probably elicit a different reaction.
The Women’s March the next day made the inaugural look like a county fair. (I was surprised that no food truck proprietor put out a sign that read, “Before you smash patriarchy, try our falafel!”) I’ve participated in many marches and demonstrations, but I can’t remember the last time I felt such passion and focused energy. Every street leading into the Capitol teemed with pink-clad humanity, opposition to Trump firm, faith in each other strong.
Not everyone shared the same anti-Trump perspective. Naturally, there were countless pro-Hillary signs and clothing (though not as many Bernie Sanders displays). This included references to Trump being Putin’s Puppet, hammer and sickle emphasizing the supposed connection; the FBI as the KGB; calls for Trump to be prosecuted for treason, and the rest of the DNC script.
I’m not sure how to alter this mindset. Facts are essentially meaningless. Once liberals embrace a line, they tend to dig in and double down. It’s why many of them still bash Ralph Nader.
There were numerous young people for whom this was their first mass action. Most appeared content to chant, cheer, shout, and march. A segment peeled away and approached one of the White House gates. Secret Service police looked edgy as the crowd swelled and the chants grew louder. People began warning about possible pepper spray use. A sweet young man, maybe my son’s age, gulped wide-eyed and asked me, “Would they really use pepper spray?” I smiled back and said, “Yes, they would, so stay alert and be ready to run.”
He fought back his fear, waved his fist and chanted with the others. Whatever tension existed soon dissipated. A SWAT officer helped a man in a wheelchair negotiate the crowd, wished him well and gently patted his shoulder. Since there was no where else to go, people began moving away from the gate, fanning out among those still marching on the main streets, or streaming into overcrowded Metro stations. The mood remained buoyant throughout.
Everyone wonders what’s next. No doubt Trump will provide daily fuel for opposition, but in what direction that goes is anybody’s guess. Radicals and social democrats will try to expand on the Sanders model; mainstream liberals may seek another savior or beloved celebrity to guide them. The youth now politicized will hopefully deepen their engagement. There remain some rifts in what has the potential to be a powerful, political force. Simply being anti-Trump is not enough.
And what of working class people who support Trump? Liberals tend to write them off completely, while radicals look for economic common ground. As Trump inevitably screws over his followers, perhaps they’ll be open to real populist appeals. I have relatives and old friends who voted for Trump. Maybe that struggle begins at home.
(Photos: Laura Guyer)