Donald Trump was inaugurated as the president of a divided nation on Friday, and the events of the day underlined that those divisions would not be healed anytime soon.
Trump’s inaugural speech hewed close to the populist rhetoric that won him the White House against huge odds, but in it he presented an unusually dark vision of the United States, depicting an era of “American carnage” that he promised to bring to an end.
He took aim, as he often does, against the Washington status quo, asserting that “the establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country.”
Later in the speech, he charged that “we’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.” He promised that “from this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”
The combative tone drew criticism from centrist Republican observers, even as one liberal commentator — Van Jones of CNN — pointed out that themes of the address could have come from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the other surprise candidate who rode populist discontent to political highs in 2016.
On MSNBC, Nicolle Wallace, a former communications director in President George W. Bush’s White House, called Trump’s address “unnecessarily dark.” Michael Gerson, who was Bush’s chief speechwriter in his first term, lamented on Twitter that the speech was “an inaugural for red America alone.”
Trump supporters countered that the speech reflected the sensibilities of the voters who had elected the new president in the first place — working people far from the urban centers of coastal America who feel that the political system has failed them.
“He feels, obviously, that he represents people who have been forgotten in the global economy — and in the ‘new progressivism’ of the last eight years that left a lot of people out in the cold,” said Greg Mueller, a conservative strategist who backed Trump during his campaign. “He was basically telling them this was their win, not his win.”
Asked about the criticism of the speech, Mueller responded that “the naysayers can’t even take a break for a day.”
He added, “Look, he is a different kind of president. His campaign dumped over the establishment in both parties. He is trying to explain to people, ‘I am not going to change. This is how I campaigned and this is the promise I made to the people who elected me.’ ”
Jones, a former Obama adviser, criticized the Trump speech but said it “appeals to a lot of people who are hurting.”
Around 70 Democratic lawmakers chose to boycott the inauguration.
Meanwhile, militant protesters caused scattered outbreaks of disorder — including the burning of one vehicle — in downtown Washington. Acting Police Chief Peter Newsham told the local NBC affiliate on Friday evening that at least 217 arrests had been made.
The largest protest against Trump’s inauguration is expected to come on Saturday, with the Women’s March on Washington.
One metric that will be closely watched is whether the size of the anti-Trump crowd on Saturday outstrips the audience that saw the Republican sworn in as the 45th president — especially because the inauguration crowd for Trump was significantly smaller than the turnout for President Obama’s swearing-in eight years ago.
The crowds appeared to be closer in size to those that attended President George W. Bush’s second inauguration in 2005.
Trump hopes to hit the ground running with a number of moves intended to roll back Obama’s legacy. He has help from his party colleagues, who hold majorities in both the Senate and the House. The Affordable Care Act — Obama’s signature domestic achievement — will likely be repealed, though replacing it will be a more vexing and politically risky task.
Trump is also expected to take aim at some of Obama’s executive orders on environmental issues in the near-future — orders that advocates say help the battle against climate change but critics assert have a suffocating effect on economic growth.
The new president could also push for tighter immigration rules; move forward on his famous campaign pledge to build a wall on the southern border; and seek to withdraw from, or renegotiate, major trade deals. It is now official White House policy to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Directly after his inauguration, Trump signed a law passed by Congress granting a waiver allowing retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to serve as secretary of Defense. Mattis was confirmed by the Senate later on Friday, as was retired Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Trump also signed documents making his Cabinet nominees official, and a document proclaiming a national day of patriotism.
Democrats and liberals, meanwhile, grappled with the loss of Obama and the fact that the GOP will enjoy the benefits of unified government — control of the White House and both chambers of Congress — for at least two years, and more likely four.
Some insisted that Trump had little moral authority to lead, despite the outcome of the election. They noted his loss to Democrat Hillary Clinton— who attended the inauguration — in the popular vote and the fact that Trump has the lowest approval ratings of any new president of modern times.
Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of the liberal group Democracy for America, told the Hill that the “most remarkable thing” about Trump’s address “was how few people listened to it.”
He added, “I think there are probably as many protesters who came to D.C. to make a statement as came to support [Trump]. I think that fits with the incredibly low approval ratings. We are really looking at a minority president rather than someone with a real mandate for change.”
Obama and his wife Michelle departed Washington for a California vacation after the formal transfer of power. In a tweet on Friday morning, Obama promised supporters. “I won’t stop; I’ll be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by your voices of truth and justice, good humor, and love.”
But it is Donald Trump’s Washington now. The changes — welcomed by some, feared by others — will be stark.