WASHINGTON: Delighted or appalled by Donald Trump, throngs of people crowded the National Mall Friday to witness the singular moment of his swearing-in as US president and the world´s most powerful man.
The happy ones, many wearing colorful garb with the slogans or face of their man, welcomed Trump as an overdue agent of change in a nation in need of a political and economic makeover.
“It is a very momentous time in my life,” Steve McDonald, a 52-year-old carpet dealer from Pennsylvania, said as he walked toward the white, domed Capitol building on a cold, drizzly morning to watch Trump take the oath of office amid very tight security for the tickets-only ceremony at noon Friday.
“I find him despicable,” said protester Ben Brun, a teacher from New York state banging a blue plastic bucket as a drum and a sign calling for the deportation of Trump.
Supporters like McDonald said they dismissed, or forgave, Trump´s perceived offenses: his denigrating remarks about women and immigrants, his thin-skinned bluster toward opponents, his penchant for conducting foreign policy via Twitter.
The unhappy ones like Brun bemoaned him as divisive and phony, or worse — racist, a circus barker, a con man only in it for money and sure to lead America down a dark, uncertain path.
All seemed to agree on the singular import of the moment: the rise to the presidency of a divisive real estate billionaire with no experience in public office, a former reality TV star whose run for the presidency was once mocked as a joke.
“It´s time the country goes to we the people. We have our signs that say ´we the people,´” said Darla Clark, a 66-year-old banker from California wearing a glittery plastic cowboy hat with the red, white and blue of the American flag.
She then smiled broadly and spun around to show a picture with that line from the preamble of the US constitution and a bald eagle, the US national emblem.
“We are the ones who pay the taxes. Things have to be done for us and I think Trump is going to accomplish that,” Clark said.
´Not my first choice´
Damaris Schuler, a 36-year-old history researcher from Texas, said Trump was not her first preference for president but she has come around to him.
She added that when Trump has spoken insultingly of women and immigrants, for instance, she was not pleased but he could say what he wanted.
“It would not be my first choice. However, everybody expresses themself in different ways and that is the great thing about freedom of speech,” said Schuler, who carried her 18-month-old son on her chest in a harness. He wore a Stars and Stripes ski cap.
Such memorabilia was on sale all over the place: Trump flags, Trump baseball hats, Trump scarfs, and vuvuzela horns to trumpet his arrival to power.
In one of several protests around the city, a hundred-odd people who were kept away from the Capitol grounds by police chanted against Trump at a fountain outside Union Station.
They carried signs labeling him a racist, and at one point shouted “el pueblo unido jamas sera venido” — a Latino civil rights battle cry alluding to Trump´s pledge to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
David Schein, a 67-year-old actor from Vermont, carried a cardboard sign calling Trump a “loser by 3 million.” That was defeated Hillary Clinton´s margin of victory in the popular vote. Trump won what mattered, the electoral college.
Schein called this moment of American life appalling. What bothers him most about Trump? “That he is a corrupt liar, racist, xenophobe, in-it-for-profit con man, thief, and he has no moral character and he lies. I could go on,” said Schein.