I was unsure what to expect when I decided to attend President Donald Trump’s inauguration. As someone of Mexican-American heritage, I felt in some ways I was risking personal friendships and my safety by attending the inauguration of one of the most controversial presidents in history.
I should preface the rest of this column with the fact that I had no political motivations for attending the inauguration. I went because I wanted to experience the event that marked the end of a bitterly dividing campaign season and ultimately reflects one of the greatest American traditions – a peaceful transition of presidential power.
At least, I hoped it would be. Many of my friends questioned why I decided to attend the inauguration and for several weeks, so did I. I knew I had every right to be at the ceremony, but at the same time, I felt as if I was intruding on a private celebration between Trump and his most ardent supporters.
I began my trek to the National Mall at 6 a.m. Friday, and I was already late. The Washington Metro had been open since 4 a.m., and the gates to the viewing area for the ceremony since 6 a.m. I walked to the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro stop, coffee in hand, and quite literally descended into the chaos of the day.
Everybody around me was making animated conversation while I took in my surroundings. Apparel in almost every form was visible with the word “Trump” emblazoned across, especially red baseball caps with “Make America Great Again”.
People in the viewing area made conversation that almost invariably ended in a political discussion. As they shared their experiences growing up in a country that differed greatly from the way the country is now, I began to understand how Trump’s message resonated with them personally.
Families around me discussed many things – from the homework the children had due Monday to the reasons they collectively supported Trump. One Rhode Island man standing behind me described his desire to move to Arkansas to avoid having his guns taken away. I heard the story twice more as he introduced himself to others in the immediate vicinity.
A woman behind me, from North Carolina, described how she had grown up a largely carefree youth and wished America was still the country where kids could run around outside barefoot.
After about a half hour of taking photos of my surroundings, I looked around at the crowd. I was taken aback by the sheer whiteness of the crowd gathered on the Mall; I and a handful of others were among the only people of color in attendance.
The ceremony itself was a spectacle. When Democratic senators were introduced, the crowd responded with loud jeers and insulting slurs. The crowd’s loudest members began to shout when a Democratic politician took the podium but cheered when almost anyone else stood up to speak. I was flabbergasted by the crowd’s refusal to listen to contrasting viewpoints, even as they called for unity and respect from the other side of the aisle.
I refused to participate in such embarrassing behavior. A few others in the crowd remained quiet, perhaps sharing my sentiment that no one should be subjected to such blatant disrespect.
By this time, it was five minutes to noon, and the crowd gradually quieted down in anticipation of Trump’s swearing-in. The time passed quickly, and before I knew it, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the president-elect and his family were onstage. This was perhaps the quietest anyone in the audience had been all day, with all eyes trained on the balcony where Trump took his oath of office.
After more than five hours of standing, holding onto my view of the stage, the moment had come and gone in a matter of minutes. I was left feeling rather empty inside, as if I was outside the loop of a massive secret.