Monday, January 23, 2017

The Inauguration of President Donald Trump

On January 20, 2017 the United States of America inaugurated its 45th president. This ceremony was the 58th formal public inauguration, marking the 44th time in which we have successfully transferred the power of our nation’s highest office. This seemingly simple action, first undertaken by George Washington and John Adams in 1797, speaks to the strength and longevity of the American political system. Despite several highly contested elections (if you think the 2016 election was contested, take a look at the elections of 1800, 1824, 1876, and 1888), we have always successfully handed power off from one president to the next. January 20, 2017 was no exception. Despite the many attempts to delegitimize the victory of Donald Trump, he took the same oath of office that George Washington took in 1789 and now resides in the same house that was first occupied by John Adams in 1800.

I had a front row seat to the 2016 presidential campaign, and saw firsthand the events of Inauguration Day, including the inaugural ceremony and the inaugural parade. Since I had had similar access in 2013, I had a direct point of comparison. In most respects the two days were remarkably similar. The ceremony followed a standard pattern and the parade looked very much like any other inaugural parade. Most of the people attending the events were the usual mix of those who had come to D.C. specifically for the inauguration and locals who decided to attend. But there was one major difference: the protests and civil disturbance.

Protests have been a hallmark of this country from its inception. Indeed, the revolution that led to the formation of the United States began with protests in the streets and shipyards of Boston. I have no issue with protests. We have a long history of targeted protests changing policy at the highest levels of this country. It can be a very effective tool for the voice of “the people” to be heard. But what we have seen in response to the election and inauguration of Donald Trump is something distinctly different.

At this point I want to make it clear that I did not want Donald Trump to be president. I did not vote for him and I had sincerely hoped that he would not be elected. However, he was chosen as the next leader of the American Republic by that same republic in an open election, just as each of his 43 predecessors was. Whether we, as individuals, or as a collective people, like him or not, he is our fairly elected president, and we owe him our support, at least until, as president, he gives us actual, articulable, and demonstrable reasons to withdraw it. I would say the same for any person elected to the office of president, and it is the dramatic lack of consensus on this point that most concerns me about the current state of our country.

The rise of protests in response to Trump’s election is being painted as a populist democratic uprising, which I find fascinating and troubling for several reasons. I’ll get to some of those reasons, in a moment, but first I think it would be helpful to describe some of what I saw the past few days.

1)    The people that came to respectfully observe and participate in the inaugural festivities were often inhibited from doing so by protesters. This was the express purpose of these protests, which is confusing to me. Their actions did nothing to upset the actual inauguration of the president. All that they did was make life harder for their fellow Americans (who were attending the inauguration), for the law enforcement in D.C. (who had to control them), and for the National Park Service and City of Washington (who had to clean up the mess).

Throughout the day on January 20 a wide variety of groups intentionally disrupted the ability of ticketed guests to reach their seats near the Capitol or along the inaugural parade route. On at least 15 occasions groups blocked access to security checkpoints, dispersing only when compelled by D.C. police, often only through means that included pepper spray, flash bangs, and tear gas. A wide variety of different groups were involved including feminists, Not My President, Black Lives Matter, Disrupt J20, Festival of Resistance, Polar Bear, and Dakota Pipeline. These groups were joined by anarchists who had no discernable purpose other than causing senseless destruction. D.C. police had to arrest more than 200 such “protesters” and three police officers were hospitalized due to physical assaults. While it is generally unfair to group a variety of protests together, in this case the various groups intentionally melded together and intentionally engaged in the same obstructing action. This was not a series of peaceful protests. It was a conglomeration of groups that came together for no discernable purpose other than trying to disrupt and damage the experience of their fellow Americans. It also made the job of law enforcement significantly harder, and, while it was really only the anarchists that were willfully destroying private property, because the groups joined together, that behavior became associated with protests as a whole. Regardless of their stated intentions, these were the result of their actions.

2)    The day after the inauguration the “Women’s March” took over, not only D.C., but cities across the country (and the world). This “march” is being lauded as one of (if not the) largest in our nation’s history and generally applauded by the media. I know from talking with marchers that many, indeed, I would say the majority, of those that chose to participate, did so with noble intentions. However, it is very difficult to determine and define exactly what the purpose of the march actually was. I have yet to find an explanation that identifies actual stated and definable goals. There is lots of talk about “women’s rights” and “solidarity,” but little clarity as to what that actually means and considerable muddling from the presence of groups representing nearly every social cause in the liberal playbook. This conglomeration, while lending itself to some impressive pictures, makes it very difficult to actually identify a purpose and nearly impossible to bring about any practical results. So I am left with the conclusion that the march was intended to be little more than a symbolic gesture displaying a general sense of dislike of Donald Trump.

While it is true that many participants were respectful and peaceful, here are a few things that are not being reported in the common narrative:

a)      The participants in D.C. specifically (and I believe elsewhere) far exceeded the stipulations of their permit. While this looks nice for organizers who want to claim a resounding success, the practical implications are that many streets around the city (in addition to those that were closed off for the group per their permit) were rendered completely unusable and little regard was paid to the impact of this on other people. Quite a few of my coworkers were kept from getting to work for more than two hours and those that were attempting to leave were likewise blocked for hours because the protesters refused to pay any regard to traffic signals or anything other than themselves. I know of at least one vehicle that was scratched and damaged by marchers as a coworker attempted to drive in to work.

b)      Marchers paid little or no regard to police barriers denoting closures. At the White House marchers surged past police barriers to unlawfully access the Ellipse and south fenceline. They likewise pushed past barriers on the north side of the White House to forcibly take control of the east side of Pennsylvania Avenue. These actions were not only unlawful, but displayed a flagrant disregard for authority and for those whose job it was to maintain the security of the area. The marchers did not respond and retreat until forced to do so by more than 150 police officers, consisting of Secret Service, D.C. Police, and Park Police, including officers on horseback and in riot gear. This willful lack of respect does little to engender sympathy.    

c)      More than 80 Secret Service officers were forced to remain at the White House at least 2.5 hours after their shift ended to aid in controlling the perimeter as a result of the actions described above. These are men and women who had worked 16-18 hours the day before, had barely slept, and had plans and families to get to. They were kept from doing so because the marchers chose not to adhere to the conditions of their permit and the disregarded the security barriers around the White House.

d) The marchers left signs and other trash scattered across the entire National Mall, the Capitol Grounds, and the White House. Thousands of signs were placed on fences, trees, and statues, or simply abandoned on the ground. All of these signs had to be cleaned up by the National Park Service. While the purpose of leaving the signs was ostensibly to send a message to the president, the actual result was simply creating a huge mess for someone else to clean up. 

I am sure that individual people felt a sense of comradery, connection, hope from participating in the march, but, from the perspective of someone who had to deal with the larger implications of the protests and marches, it seems to me that little was achieved other than to negatively impact the lives of others.

That brings me to a few other thoughts about the populist uprising against President Trump.

1)   Donald Trump is, quite possibly, the most populist president that we have ever inaugurated, certainly in recent memory. Take these passages in his inaugural address for example:

“What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

“At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.”

You can disagree with his ideology and methods, but that doesn’t make Donald Trump any less of a populist president, making it more than a little ironic to make him the target of a “populist” uprising. His entire candidacy was rooted in his claim to represent the people rather than the Washington elite. You can certainly argue that he does not represent you, but the claim of those that protest seems to be that he does not, in fact, represent the American people. This is more problematic.

2)   There appears to be a widespread lack of understanding about how the American political system works, or even what it is. The United States of America is a Constitutional Republic, not a democracy. We have never been a democracy, and for very good reason. Democracies invariably end poorly. Throughout world history every democracy has ultimately imploded under its own force. That is precisely why our founders created the republican system that they did. The electoral college was deliberately designed to guard against the dangers of democracy, and while you can criticize it, the fact remains that it has done just that for 228 years. The so called “popular vote” has never been relevant to a presidential election, which is why it is not even officially tallied. It is fine to note that more people overall voted for a particular candidate, but that has no bearing on the legitimacy of an election.            

One of the few discernable chants during the “Women’s March” was: “This is what democracy looks like.” The marchers were correct. What they were doing - generally disregarding authority and the law by unlawfully blocking roads and passing police barriers, trashing a public area, and lacking a clear or definable message or purpose – is precisely what democracy looks like. And that is precisely why the United States has never been a democracy.

3)    Despite many examples in his past and on the campaign trail, since his election Trump has consistently called for solidarity. I am not defending the many examples that could be (rightly) pointed to as statements that encouraged division. I am well aware of them. But it is interesting to me, that, at this point, his message, as articulated in his inaugural address is that: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” In contrast, the message of the protests, consisting primarily of people that would identify themselves as liberal, who consistently wave a banner of “tolerance,” “acceptance,” and “inclusivity,” is nearly exclusively a message of division and exclusion. People that voted for Trump are consistently insulted, demeaned, and attacked. This does not seem tolerant, accepting, and inclusive to me.  

4)    Effective populist uprisings (we have had many in our history) are focused on clearly definable issues. Think women marching for the vote when Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1913 or the March on Washington for jobs and freedom in 1963. Both of these (and many other) examples illustrate the power of an organized, clear, and determined message. The recent protests (particularly the so called “women’s march”) have been compared to these examples, but the difference is stark. In direct contrast to the 1913 and 1963 marches, the current protests lack any sense of cohesion, focus, or purpose.

Donald Trump is the president. You can not like him as a person (there are plenty of reasons not to and I certainly don’t), but he is still the president. You can protest the president, but please do so in a lawful and respectful manner, and you will be far more effective if you have a clear and definable message and purpose. If you really want to effect change, make sure you know what you are talking about and have in mind clear and tangible ways to achieve it.

I’ll close with the example of our 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison, who holds the interesting distinction of being sandwiched by Grover Cleveland. In the 1888 presidential election, Harrison received 100,000 fewer popular votes than Cleveland, but carried the Electoral College 233 to 168, and became our 23rd president. Four years later he ran for reelection against the same Grover Cleveland, who emerged as the victor the second time around. To the credit of both men, each willingly gave up power to the other.

In his inaugural address Harrison spoke to the issue of an Electoral victory without a general majority of votes. He said that it was clearly “in the contemplation of the framers of the Constitution that such an exigency might arise, and provision was wisely made for it.” He called the American people to “exalt patriotism and moderate our party contentions,” and noted that “a party success that is achieved by unfair methods or by practices that partake of revolution is hurtful and evanescent even from a party standpoint. We should hold our differing opinions in mutual respect, and, having submitted them to the arbitrament of the ballot, should accept an adverse judgment with the same respect that we would have demanded of our opponents if the decision had been in our favor.” Harrison did just that when he relinquished office back to Cleveland in 1893. I think we would do well to adhere to the wisdom of these words 128 years later.

In the same inaugural address Harrison also noted that “No other people have a government more worthy of their respect and love or a land so magnificent in extent.” I would say the same.

Finally, Harrison observed that: “we must not forget that we take these gifts upon the condition that justice and mercy shall hold the reins of power and that the upward avenues of hope shall be free to all the people.” It is to this standard that we should hold every president including President Donald Trump.


  1. I found your article to be very thoughtful, intelligent, informative, and reasonable. You made many rational, valid points and gave everyone who reads it much food for thought.