WASHINGTON, DC — After the 21-gun salute echoed past the Capitol, it started to rain. The guns, fired after Donald Trump took the Oath of Office and the Marine Band blurted out “Hail to the Chief,” indicated that the inevitable had happened: Donald Trump was now President Trump. The rain, the overcast sky, and hidden sun were almost ironic, but more than the typical DC weather, perhaps what was more striking was the quietness of the city.
The echo of the guns hung in the air, there was nothing to drown them out. Four years ago, during former President Obama’s inauguration, the city was packed with people; some of them protesters, Tea Partiers with Gadsden flags, that yellow field that demanded, “Don’t Tread on Me,” that, by Obama’s reelection, had become a familiar protest staple. But, for the most part, the last inauguration was celebratory. It seemed like the only controversy was Beyonce’s rendition of the National Anthem (a controversy that seems quaint now). Four years ago, I watched Obama’s inauguration as a former staffer for his campaign, a newborn strapped to my chest. It felt, as a former Obama staffer recently told me, like “it was the beginning of a more progressive future.” It felt like the seeds of Obama’s campaign promise, of hope and change, of something more than cynical political rhetoric.
But we were wrong, four years later, there are no sprouts, there is no sapling. Instead, there was rain and a city that felt empty. The protesters, the Tea Partiers, that we dismissed four years ago were now celebrating the inauguration of one their own. Despite the right’s insistence that protests are unpatriotic or somehow illegitimate, they themselves are proof of its power. There will still Gadsden flags, still anti-Obama bumper stickers (“No Child Left a Dime” one read), but there were also MAGA hats, American flags with Donald Trump’s face screenprinted across them, and the “Trump That Bitch” t-shirts that vendors hawked at the Republican National Convention were now being sold as token of victory rather than simply signs of grievance.
And there were a lot of MAGA hats, red dots in the crowd, but compared to four years ago, the city felt empty (the New York Times confirmed that significantly fewer people attended this inauguration). Perhaps even more striking was that, even as Trump supporters gathered to celebrate their victory, the grievance—the anger—was still hanging over the overcast event. “Get your heart in or your ass out,” read camouflage hats two elderly men wore. Above the heartless slogan, it celebrated the “movement heard around the world,” unfortunate, if not correct, language.
In an almost reverse of four years ago, it was the protester that were louder than the revelers. In front of Union Station, protesters chanted about democracy, women’s rights, the environment, economic equality and nearly any issue that falls under the so-called big tent.
Along the parade route, anarchists prepared as the DC police (with the Park Police and, close to us, county police from Maryland) stood in a line, faces covered behind riot gear. Elsewhere, protestors burned a car and smashed the window of a Bank of America demanding, like the protesters in front of Union Station and those who will march tomorrow, to be heard. Whether or not the few there to celebrate the new president, or President Trump himself cares to listen is a different matter.
There was anger among the protesters—as there should be. But among the chants and demands, between groups yelling over each other about their pet issue, was a white umbrella that read, “there is no silver lining.” It was the most poignant protest, a utilitarian object for a rainy day, both true and melancholy and quiet in the noisy spectacle.