Maybe it’s the rain, or the dark overtones of Donald Trump’s inaugural address sobering everyone up – “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones,” cities afflicted with “crime and gangs and drugs,” an “infrastructure [that] has fallen into disrepair and decay” – but the crowd is eerily quiet as it files out of Trump’s swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol building Friday.
Most don’t even stop to argue with the first hellfire preacher stationed outside the gates, telling them to repent. A gaggle of teens does half-heartedly heckle a group of evangelicals bearing a “Lukewarm Christians like Trump will burn in in hell with all liberals” sign, but one gets the sense it’s the comparison to Democrats, rather than the idea of Trump’s damnation, that goads them most.
They needn’t take the bait – the Trump administration is at that very moment already at work distinguishing itself from its left-leaning predecessor. The new president’s hand is still on a stack of bibles as changes to WhiteHouse.gov flicker into place – the Spanish-language version of the site is taken down, as are pages devoted to climate change and LGBT issues.
The relative few spectators who show up to witness the inauguration trudge dutifully, lugubriously through the maze of no-scale fencing erected along the National Mall toward the parade route. Attendance, many point out with side-by-side photos, is way down – a quarter of what it had been for Obama’s 2013 inauguration, and less than 14 percent of the crowd that showed up to celebrate in 2009. The National Park Service retweets the photo comparison; a few hours later, a memo is dispatched ordering all bureaus to “immediately cease use of government Twitter accounts until further notice,” and the tweet is removed.
Behind the scenes, other gears are beginning to move. An hour into his presidency, as supporters arrange themselves along the parade route and protesters chanting “Trump and Pence are illegitimate!” march up Constitution Avenue, the Trump administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development quietly reverses an Obama-era policy that had made mortgage insurance less expensive for first-time home buyers and people with low credit scores.
A few blocks from Pennsylvania Avenue, where risers for the parade sit mostly empty and rows of onlookers are just a few bodies deep at most, protesters at Franklin Square torch a limousine – “It’s fucking lit!” someone yells – and burn Trump merchandise. One enterprising vendor hawks commemorative t-shirts rebranded as “fire fuel.”
Not long after the limo is set aflame, riot police fan out along K Street. Protesters hurl bricks and bottles and pieces of wood as officers advance on them, and the police answer with pepper spray, sting-ball grenades and – though a D.C. police spokesman has denied it – something that looks and sounds suspiciously like rubber bullets. As of 6 p.m., 217 protesters have been arrested.
By 7:25 p.m., President Trump has signed documents providing for the swearing-in of the secretaries of defense and homeland security, and an executive order vaguely described as a directive to national agencies to “ease the burdens” of the Affordable Care Act while Republicans in Congress work to repeal it. At 8:00, his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, issues a memo to the heads of all agencies declaring a freeze on “any new or pending regulations” of any kind.
At 9:30, the Trumps are in a motorcade speeding toward the Liberty Ball, and then the Freedom Ball. At each, the couple dances to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and Trump cracks a joke about whether, as president, he should continue tweeting. Along the motorcade route between them, the pool reporter notes, are throngs of onlookers waving their middle fingers and chanting, “Fuck Trump.”
At the third and final ball, Trump dances again, eats cake and speaks to troops stationed in Afghanistan. Before any of that, though, he addresses the ball’s attendees.
“What a day it’s been,” the president says.