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Donald Trump’s inauguration: cheers, protests and mostly white faces

His first speech as president continues the combative campaign theme of a country under siege

Donald J. Trump took the oath of office Friday, culminating the most stunning political rise in modern American history and adding an improbable new line to his resume that includes flashy real estate developer, playboy, marketing impresario, reality television star, birther conspiracy theorist, and now president of the United States.

He won the presidency by offering an alarming assessment of the perils confronting America, belittling adversaries, and making big promises in the name of standing up for the little people. Trump’s campaign pledged to “Make America Great Again,” a slogan spelled out on countless red baseball caps seen around Washington, D.C., for the inauguration and one that energized vast crowds of working-class whites at his campaign rallies across the country. He promised to restore factory jobs and reorder a government that he said spent too much time responding to the demands of political correctness.

It was a populist message widely condemned as backward-looking and divisive. Yet, it became the dominant theme of Trump’s first speech as president on a day that vividly illustrated the nation’s deep political divide.

As an overwhelmingly white crowd watched from the National Mall, Trump described a country that has served the elites to the detriment of everyday Americans. He promised to put “America first,” and to rebuild the nation using American labor and American products. He described a nation beset by poor schools, rusting factories, impoverished children and crime.

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said.

President Donald Trump waves to the crowds during the 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration after he was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America in Washington, USA on January 20, 2017.

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

He promised to have other countries pay their fair share for America’s help, but never addressed how the world’s largest economy and military, with interests in every corner of the globe, can disengage from problems abroad.

The inauguration was witnessed by a crowd that was sparse by the standards of recent inaugurations. Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators outside the event’s security perimeter blocked access points, clashed with police and set fire to trash cans in protest of Trump’s ascension to power. At least 90 protesters were arrested, the police reported.

But as vehement as the protests were, they did not affect the mood of Trump supporters who came to witness his inauguration. Charles Lee, 45, a firefighter from suburban Baltimore, stood on the National Mall holding a Trump-Pence banner.

“I’m happy today,” he said, adding that he finds Trump’s candor refreshing. “I think Donald Trump wants to bring us together. He’s probably too blunt sometimes, but he’s not a politician. That is why I voted for him.”

Lee said he realizes that some people are offended by Trump, but they have not gotten in his face about it. “Hey, I am 6-3, 300 pounds,” he said.

Ted Johnson, a high school algebra teacher from Chester, Virginia, brought an American flag with him to the inauguration. “I’m here because I am happy that Hillary [Clinton] is not the president. I guess I am a deplorable,” he said, referring to Clinton’s description of some of Trump’s supporters. “We’re going to have to wait and see what Trump does. I don’t know what kind of president he will be. I put on my gas mask and voted for him. I’m hoping for the best.”

Trump is viewed favorably by just 40 percent of Americans, one of the lowest approval ratings of any new president, according to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll. More than half of Americans say he is unqualified for the job, an impression that was strengthened by the performance of some of his Cabinet nominees at recent confirmation hearings. His nominee for education secretary did not know much about the federal law mandating special education services. His choice for housing and urban development secretary has no experience in the field. His selection to run the Department of Energy thought the job would allow him to promote the oil and gas industry, rather than the actual task of overseeing the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

More than 60 members of Congress boycotted his inauguration, as did many A-list entertainers. Some were pressured to stay away, such as Broadway star Jennifer Holliday, who was going to perform but pulled out. Others said they could not abide Trump.

Few African-Americans attended the inauguration of a president who won just 8 percent of the black vote and turned off many others with blunt campaign rhetoric that seemed to empower racist elements of the country.

In his speech, Trump made an appeal to racial unity through patriotism, saying that the nation rises and falls together. “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots,” he continued. “We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they will their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.”

President Donald Trump takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today’s inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Off the Mall, a number of black vendors were selling Trump T-shirts and caps, as well as anti-Trump gear. Both did a brisk business.

“It’s crazy out here,” said Tevinn Pair, 24, from Orangeburg, South Carolina, who was selling T-shirts. “You have people who like Donald Trump. You have people saying, ‘F— Donald Trump.’ ”

Baiou Robinson came in from New York hoping to make a few dollars selling inaugural gear. He hawked his Trump T-shirts saying, “Trump. Trump. Trump. He’s no punk.”

“I support anything that is about a change. Just because he is rich, doesn’t mean he doesn’t care,” Robinson said. “He said some real cruel stuff, but he had to win the election. He was playing chess and he’s Bobby Fischer. He won.”

That sentiment certainly prevailed among Trump supporters. After the new president’s inaugural address, Juanita and Johnny Berguson could not have been more pleased. The couple, who run a business that sells audio systems to churches, drove four hours from Blossburg, Pennsylvania, to witness Trump’s swearing-in.

“I think for a long time there has been a message that we should be ashamed of ourselves,” Juanita Berguson said. “I think he is the first real-person president that we have ever had. He tells you what he thinks, and I like that.”

Not long afterward, a Marine Corps helicopter flew past the Mall, carrying former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama on their farewell flight over Washington. The sight brought Josie Shiff and Serra Simbeck, who were in Washington from the Bay Area to take part in a Saturday women’s march against Trump, to tears.

“The apocalypse is coming,” Shiff said.

“It might not be the apocalypse,” Simbeck added. “But he stands against everything I am for. He normalizes behavior that I cannot accept.”

Michael A. Fletcher is a senior writer at The Undefeated. He is a native New Yorker and longtime Baltimorean who enjoys live music and theater.