Washington streets reveal US political divisions on inauguration day

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Trump supporter MEE

Trump supporter poses for selfie with cutout board of new president (Ali Harb/ MEE)

Some Americans reject Trump and question his legitimacy, others view him as man to make America great again

Last update:
Saturday 21 January 2017 11:18 UTC

WASHINGTON, DC – Three llamas roaming the streets of Washington DC; a preacher yelling anti-Muslim and homophobic slogans; women chanting “pu**y grabs back”; folks exchanging insults; burning trash cans in the middle of the road – inauguration day 2017 has not been ordinary.

Since George Washington handed the White House keys to John Adams in 1797, America has prided itself on the peaceful transfer of power. But when Donald Trump was sworn in as president on Friday to replace Barack Obama, the nation seemed unsettled.

Some Americans reject the new president and question his legitimacy, while others view him as an embodiment of his campaign slogan – the man to make America great again.

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This political and ideological schism was obvious on the streets of the US capital as supporters sang praises of Trump and protesters screamed “Not my president”.

The demonstrators view Trump as more than a president with opposing political views. They see him as an Islamophobic white nationalist who is also a sexual predator and unfit to serve.

But the president’s backers say others’ perception of him is a product of a hostile media. They say he is a successful businessman who puts America first, someone who can translate his personal achievements into prosperity for all Americans. They point to his outsider status to argue that he is not a corrupt politician.

“He is the first president of the US who has neither been in the military or the government beforehand and that gives me confidence he is a true outsider,” Tim Mouring, a student and Trump supporter, told Middle East Eye. “He is not part of any big system, he is truly independent and he wants us all to be independent.”

In November 2015, Trump suggested to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the US, shortly after militants conducted an attack in Paris. The proposal caused an uproar among civil rights organisations and earned rebuke even from Trump’s fellow Republicans.

Islamophobia

Asked about the ban, Mouring said the president is not anti-Muslim, but is simply trying to protect Americans, including US Muslims, from radical militants.

In his inaugural speech, Trump vowed to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism” from the face of the earth.

Ramah Kudaimi, an outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Washington Peace Center, thought Trump’s speech was overtly Islamophobic.

“Muslims are demonised to the point of being seen as nothing but terrorists,” she told MEE. “The Muslims that are ‘accidentaly’ killed in this war against terrorists are just collateral damage and we shouldn’t be concerned with them.”

She added that former presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush had bombed Muslim majority nations but pretended they were not at war with Islam. She thinks that Trump’s intentions are different from the start.

“Muslims are demonised to the point of being seen as nothing but terrorists” – Ramah Kudaimi

“It’s a very scary thought,” Kudaimi said.

Most Trump supporters dismissed accusations of Islamophobia, but a few openly shouted bigoted slogans towards Muslims.

Early in the morning as people were lining up to get to the National Mall to witness the inauguration, a preacher with a handful of followers stood between two queues hurling slurs against Muslims, gays and women on a megaphone.

“We support our president when he says deport those Muslims,” said the preacher, who leads a group called Bible Believers.

The Bible Believers were only booed by the pro-Trump crowd when they said a woman cannot serve as president.

Caroline Spitsel, 19, said the silence among Trump supporters towards anti-Muslim demonstrators means they are complicit in condoning his bigotry.

Asked about Trump’s problematic policy proposals, including the Muslim ban and mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, Spitsel told MEE: “I think he will have a hard time doing it, but it’s definitely a real threat.”

‘It doesn’t look like them’

“The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans,” Trump said as he officially became president.

But not all Americans were convinced.

While Trump was delivering his inaugural speech, protesters gathered near the Lincoln Memorial, chanting, “Pu**y grabs back”, in reference to leaked Trump video where he brags about being able to grab women’s genitals because he is a celebrity.

Protesters also repeated slogans in support of Muslims, African Americans and LGBT individuals. They hugged one another in a show of unity and solidarity.

“White silence is violence,” the demonstrators also chanted – a reference to Trump supporters who may not be bigoted themselves but are willing to overlook his supposed racism for other policies.

Protesters set up a blockage by placing and lighting trashcans on fire (MEE/Ali Harb)

A speaker at the gathering said the protesters “already won” by standing together against the new president from day one.

“If America is going to continue to be what America is, it looks just like this,” he said, in reference to the diverse protesters.

“It doesn’t look like them over there,” he continued, pointing at the inauguration attendees. “We all have something to learn from each other, and if we can’t understand that, then we’re not American anymore.”

As Trump supporters began leaving the National Mall area, some confronted protesters. Insults and name-calling were exchanged between supporters and demonstrators.

“Losers,” one man leaving the national mall told protesters. “You Lost. Go home.”

A Trump supporter called the demonstrators undemocratic. He told MEE that he had disagreed with Obama’s policies but he never protested his two inaugurations out of respect for the election results.

After the inauguration, Trump supporters praised his seemingly reconciliatory approach.

One protester called Trump a “horrible, misogynistic, racist” president. She said he cannot be a president for all Americans because of his previous positions, including mocking a disabled New York Times reporter.

He is “accepting all kinds of support from and for Israel’s right-wing government,” the protester told MEE. “We can bring light to equality and social justice. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter, the people of money have the power. The rest of us are the 99 percent. We don’t matter unless we band together.”

The demonstrator, a Jewish American, said Jews have a moral obligation to speak out against Trump.

“Putting Muslims in a registry – that sounds too familiar. And it’s not OK,” she said, making reference to Nazi Germany.

The carnival

Washington looked like a massive political carnival. From non-ideological vendors selling pins and T-shirts to groups with fringe views to funny signs mocking Trump.

One man walked around with three llamas to make a pro-agriculture statement against corporate control.

One man walked around with three llamas to make a pro-agriculture statement (MEE)

Some Trump supporters were dressed in suits depicting the American flag.

Christian activists stood with big signs proclaiming apolitical religious messages.

Pro-cannabis activists passed thousands of marijuana joints and smoked them publicly.

Protesters held humorous signs poking fun at the new president’s alleged ties to Russia, comb-over hairdo and supposedly small hands.

Some clashes were reported between Trump supporters and protesters. More than 90 people were arrested for disorderly conduct. As the night darkened, fears of demonstrations transitioning into riots were heightened.

However, in spite of the chaos, some protesters saw hope.

Bayan Jaber, a Palestinian-American activist with Southwest Org Project, said Trump and his cabinet are a threat to Americans’ civil liberties, especially for women of colour.

However, she added: “We should stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, protect our land, protect our water, protect our lives. One positive thing that might come out of Trump’s presidency is that we will be seeing more solidarity around struggles across the nation.”

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