THE TRUMP INAUGURATION
By Edgar B. Anderson
LAIKS Latvian Newspaper, February 18-March 10, 2017, Volume LXVIII, Numbers 7-9
My week in Washington, D.C., covering the Inauguration for Laiks started with a jolt. Tuesday evening before Inauguration Friday a friend and I were walking from my hotel headed to dinner. As we arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue, right in the middle of the street in front of the Trump International Hotel, a man set himself on fire. Paramedics arrived and carted him off to the hospital. This was a hint of things to come.
My friend and I continued across Pennsylvania Avenue for a visit to the Trump Hotel. The Old Post Office-turned-hotel has quickly become one of the major tourist stops of Washington since its opening in September. Next we walked through the historic Willard Hotel where in another era one might have encountered members of Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet. Finally, we enjoyed dinner at the popular Old Ebbitt Grill, a Washington landmark, around the corner from the White House.
On Wednesday after attending a lively off-the-record meeting with a group of political activists, I picked up my Inauguration press credential in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building and then waited in line to attempt to watch some of the confirmation hearing for President-elect Trump’s nominee to head the EPA. While crossing the Capitol grounds to visit the office of my Congressman, I came upon an exuberant group of students from Johns Creek High School in Georgia who were touring the sights of Washington before attending the Inauguration. I could not help but stop to meet them and take their picture.
Thursday began with lunch with a journalist friend at one of the leading D.C. think tanks. Afterward I walked down to the Mall where I observed a security line several blocks long to enter the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial, site of the evening’s Pre-Inaugural Concert. The powerful final moments of the concert, available for viewing on YouTube, show the U.S. Marine Corps Band and Chorus performing the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” spectacular fireworks, and the Donald Trump family walking up the steps of the Memorial and standing at attention beneath overhead lights in front of the statute of Lincoln.
Later that evening as I was returning to my hotel I was horrified to encounter hundreds of masked protestors and their sympathizers. They were yelling, spitting, screaming foul words, and generally assaulting peaceful citizens who were attending various Inauguration-related events. Police were deployed everywhere. During the night rioters broke store windows and set a car on fire. It is sobering to realize that security concerns about the Inauguration had become less about possible radical Islamic terrorism than about the more immediate danger posed by angry and violent Americans who refuse to accept the results of the November election.
Inauguration Day started cold, dark, and threatening rain. During the preceding days many streets in the city center had been blocked off -- by cement barriers, parked trucks, fencing, and obstacles of every kind. Nonetheless on Friday morning huge crowds moved toward the Capitol from all directions, subways were packed, and everybody appeared in a buoyant mood. There were multiple checkpoints around the Capitol, with a specific entrance assigned depending on the category of one’s admission ticket to the ceremonies. For security reasons, umbrellas were not allowed, and many people brought along ponchos to cover themselves in case of a downpour. Uniformed military were stationed throughout the viewing areas to give direction and keep watch. A number of Inaugural guests had their photos taken with the military personnel.
As the United States Marine Corps Band was playing and the Inaugural program was about to begin, I spoke with a few random spectators. What’s going through your mind today as you are here at the Inauguration? Megan Rosell, Oklahoma City OK: “I can’t believe I’m here and this close. I’m so excited.” Beside that you got a good seat. “It’s gonna to be a great day, a great start to a great four years.” What are your hopes for Trump? “That he does what says he was gonna to do. That’s my hope.” What’s most important to you? “Jobs, economy, I’m from Oklahoma, so it matters.”
Dr. William Elizondo, a self-described Mexican-American, from San Antonio TX, was wearing souvenir pins from Poland and Slovakia and attended with his part-Polish wife. What goes through your mind here today? “Well, I think this is a great occasion, a great occasion for America, for the United States, and I think that we need to bring solidarity to a lot of our leaders, and I think that this is the first beginning of a great day.” What are your particular hopes for Donald Trump? “I am hoping not only that he can bring the people together and we’re gonna to be working toward that end, and we’re hoping that he can bring in jobs and bring in industry and bring in the kind of leadership capabilities which I think that he has, that he exemplifies. I think that it can be done.”
Baba Ji is President of Sikh Temple in Chicago and Chaplain with the Department of Police in Rockford IL and has been in the United States for 24 years. How do feel today? “I feel better. Before I was supporter of Hillary Clinton, but now I appreciate the honorable President Trump because he said whatever he will do to make the most strong the United States because country is first for me, the party is second for me. And another thing strongly strictly he said he will fight against the terrorism that we need today. Nobody have dared to give any statement against the radicals, but he gave strongly that I appreciate.”
Haitao Cao, an accountant in Ft. Collins CO, is from the eastern part of China and has been a resident of the United States for 13 years. What are your feelings here today? “Just it’s a good experience once in my lifetime and to get to know more about the U.S. government and democracy.” What are your thoughts about Donald Trump? “I definitely support him to be the President of the United States, and I think to make the country great again. I really support his policy like colorblind, gender-neutral, so provide equal opportunity but not equal result so encourage people to work hard to pursue their dream and live a good life pursue their dream and make the country great again.”
The program began with official welcomes and three invocations, followed by the Missouri State University Choir, the Vice Presidential Oath of Office, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Next was the Presidential Oath of Office followed by Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address, which echoed many of the themes of his populist, anti-Establishment campaign:
“For too long a small group in the nation’s capital has reaped the reward of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in the wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left and the factories closed. … That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.”
The complete address is available for viewing on YouTube. Three benedictions, including from Rev. Franklin Graham and Rabbi Marvin Hier, were followed by a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by 16-year old Jackie Evancho. Rain threatened throughout the proceedings, but only a few drops fell at the start of President Trump’s speech, a sign of God’s blessing, according to Rev. Graham.
After the conclusion of the program I resumed my interviews. What are your thoughts today at this Trump Inauguration? Yulia P. of New Jersey, originally from Ukraine: “I am here, so I think it’s a historical and exciting moment.” What do you expect of Donald Trump? “I expect a lot. I think he’s gonna make difference.” And what about for Ukraine? “I think he’s gonna be good for Ukraine – and for Latvia.” And why do you say that? “Because I think he has more common sense, I guess. He’s honest. I don’t think there’s lot of politics behind his motivation. He’s motivated by making good for people.”
Becky D. of Columbia SC is a teacher and formerly an instructor in the juvenile prison. She currently volunteers as an arbitrator in the federal court dealing with first-time non-violent offenders. “This program is really good. It keeps kids who make a one-time mistake out of the prison system.” What are your thoughts today? “I predicted he was gonna to win. I think there’s hope, I think there’s a lot of people that have hope now because they got tired of politicians promising and promising and promising, and nothing ever changed, and I think that’s the difference. Now he better come through or he’s gonna be short-lived in that White House. But I think there’s hope. People don’t like how he talks, but he says things a lot of people are thinking but are too afraid to say, and so there’s some hope. … We lived in Arkansas for a few years. There’s nothing in me that could vote for Hillary Clinton, nothing. And, you know, if you can’t run a state, you can’t run a country.” What issues most interest you? “Military, support the military, support law enforcement, reduction in taxes, and bringing business back to the United States are very important. … We’re gonna to go to Arlington. When we come to D.C., we always go over to Arlington and visit some of the military that we know, and so that’s why military and patriotism are important.”
Sandi Steinbeck came to the United States in 1973 from Thailand and has been an American citizen for 30 years. What brought you to this country? “Future, a new life, a new future, a new way of living.” What have you been doing for these last forty years? “Oh, awesome. I have freedom, pursue happiness. I can be myself, the happiness, open-minded.” What kind of work have you done? “I used to be investor, and also I am a professional casino worker, professional black jack dealer.” Really? ”Yes!” So where do you live? “I live in Las Vegas.” Why did you choose Donald Trump? “Why, you know, you have to look at a man and the result, what he produce, what did he done, what he produce. He have done so much of the tycoon, and in New York City some ice skate couldn’t finish it, he finish it … he helped to complete it … and also the high-rise. I also met him from the first weekend when he came to Las Vegas. … I have a chance to shake hand with him. I have a picture. … First time in the campaign he speak more to his head, and after a year go by his heart go with the people, and he’s really got the masses the movement the people cry out want freedom want happiness so he changed his feeling changed.” Tell me about when you shook hands with Donald Trump. “He had a thick, thick palm right here. He can have good energy. He got a big hand. Compared to my hand, he has big hand and good energy, good energy. And he is very down to earth. He hug, he touch, hug and touch me. He touched everyone that come close. So anyway you give a businessman who is successful you get things done. … Oh, my God, last chance, otherwise our country will be no turn back with Hillary, crooked Hillary, never turn back.”
Early Saturday morning I emerged from my hotel to the sight of the massive crowds of the Women’s March. The demonstrators were mostly female, but there were also many men. They carried signs displaying often vulgar denunciations of Trump (the “F-word” was ubiquitous) along with claims that fascism is descending upon America and women’s rights, especially the right to abortion, are about to be revoked. The Rally that took place before the actual March lasted for nearly five hours and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube. The program featured remarks from a long list of activists who promoted a wide array of causes, with frequent attacks on what they view as racist and white supremacist America. Madonna mused about blowing up the White House, veteran feminist Gloria Steinem charged that Donald Trump is mentally unstable, and University of California professor and longtime Communist Angela Davis issued a call for broad-based resistance to the Administration.
On Saturday afternoon I was invited to attend a reception at the new Hungarian Embassy, a beautiful old building at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue, corner of Massachusetts Avenue, and only a few blocks from the Latvian Embassy. The Hungarians billed their event “Salute to Freedom to Celebrate the Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump.” The afternoon consisted of an elegant buffet, chamber music, and several short speeches. In the final moments I had the opportunity to talk privately with representatives of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
Dr. Réka Szemerkényi, Ambassador from Hungary. I think you know there’s a lot of anxiety in the Baltic community about some of the things that Donald Trump has said, but what is your message to the Baltic States about what’s ahead with the new Administration? “Well, I very much believe that the fundamentally important message that we have as part of our discussions in the past half-year, with the transition team afterwards after the elections, is the need for Europe to focus on building up our security, to contribute to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is very important. We have committed to it anyways, but I think we have to take it very, very seriously. And I think as long as we live up to that there is very clear message from our side that we find it very important that we will see is that the Trump Administration will also be very strong partners, and we will be able to continue to strengthen that transatlantic cooperation. I very much see the Trump Administration as an administration of power stability security. So those are the values that we share, and there have been a number of occasions just this week to meet with the members of the incoming administration. On Tuesday evening offered to the diplomatic corps a talk by the Vice President-elect at the time where Donald Trump also came and gave a speech. The message was continuously underlining their respect for the countries and for our partnership, their willingness to cooperate, their openness to listen to us, to get our ideas incorporated into their thinking. So I think we have a good basis as long as we also continue to believe in our need to focus on security which unfortunately in Europe we have been missing for quite a number of decades. We have tended to think like all the international crises are going to avoid us and hit the United States and they will have to deal with it. I think we are now under a very serious pressure from many directions, and so the commitment for security has to be expressed from our side and then I’m sure that in terms also of decisions, not just verbal messages, and I think on this basis we will be able to strengthen the transatlantic cooperation.”
Piotr Wikczek, Ambassador from Poland. What is your understanding of Trump Administration policy toward the Baltic States and what message would you have for the Latvian people? “Well, the message I would have for President Trump is to imitate President of Poland who paid his first visit after inauguration to Tallinn, Estonia, which was, of course, a very visible signal for all countries that we care about security of Baltic countries and Eastern Europe in general and of Europe because our security is security of Europe which we Poles very well remember from 1920 when the Red Army invaded Poland planning to go to Western Europe and introduce Communism there, but they were stopped in Warsaw. So I know that we all can be concerned, but I am sure that both Trump and his advisers, including General Mattis and General Flynn, are very well aware of the role of NATO. I’m sure that no NATO countries will be attacked by anyone, and reservations which Trump has about NATO are about sharing the burden, about sharing costs, and most of our countries, I mean the Baltics and Poland, pay at least 2% of their GDP for the military, is for NATO, so it is my understanding that for Donald Trump, and if I were him I would do the same, it’s negotiable. What he mentioned yesterday about the United States subsidizing other countries’ armies or troops, that’s the facts. The United States has done it for your own security, but I would be also concerned, and I understand that Donald Trump wants to negotiate with NATO about finances, about business, but the whole issue of American presence in the Baltic Republics and Poland is a matter of business as well as a matter of contracts. It’s a matter of business cooperation. So I do not think there is any reason of doing anything against NATO to please Russia. With Russia he also wants to negotiate so that’s actually no reason to worry about.”
Ambassador Wikczek added: “What is very important and I really appreciate the attitude of the Baltic counties not to be called as ‘post-Soviet Republics’ or ‘former Soviet Republics.’ … or part of the ‘post-Soviet bloc.’ The Baltic Republics were occupied by the Soviet Union for a number of years, but before the occupation they were independent countries and recognized all the time by many countries like the United States. So the difference between the Baltic Republics and other former Soviet Republics that they are not ‘post-Soviet.’ And that’s the case of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania and the case of Poland. We were occupied in a different way by the Soviet Union. But we were pre-War independent countries, which because of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact were occupied by Russians by Germans but were independent before the War. So we are not a part of the post-Soviet world in this sense. And I believe that the prosperity of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania nowadays one of the reasons for that is that like we in Poland and you in the Baltics we have this sense of being independent, having capitalism, until late ‘30s so still many years after the Bolshevik Revolution. So we are not ‘post-Soviet.’”
Zdeněk Beranek, Charge d’Affairs, Head of Mission, Czech Republic. What is your expectation about how this Administration will deal with its NATO obligations? “It’s too early to judge, but … I think Mr. Trump himself and his national security team were quite open about the importance of NATO and the importance of the allies in the U.S. foreign policy. So I think there is no reason to worry now at this moment.” Have you had some dealings with the incoming Administration? “I think every single diplomatic mission in this town has.” Can you characterize those dealings? “I would prefer not to do that right now.”
Peter Kmec, Ambassador from Slovakia. What is your expectation of the U.S. commitment and relationship with the eastern NATO countries? “We still hope that NATO will remain the cornerstone of transatlantic security, and the nominations for Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and other nominations prove that the commitment of the new Administration will remain to the transatlantic solidarity and security. We’ll have to wait for details of the new Administration program, but we are very confident that we’ll keep relations unchanged and the security relationship will be enhanced also taking into account the new security challenges in the eastern flank of NATO.”
At the conclusion of my trip to Washington I talked with a taxi driver named Bitew. As I sat down in his cab at midnight he immediately turned around and wanted to discuss politics, and so I asked him, What is your opinion of Trump? “Trump, he’s a hard worker. He’s a rich man. He make great America again, I wish. He’s a good hard worker person.” You’re from where? “Ethiopia.” How long have you been in United States? “Eight years. This is the first inauguration in America.” Why did you come to America? “I came to Diversity lottery.” What kind of work have you been doing? “Before I work dump truck, but I have kids now, and I take care of kids.” So now you drive a cab. Let’s get back to politics. What are you thinking about politics? “It’s good, America politics. You know Africa the opposition party is killed, and jailed. America is free politics.” Why do you like Trump? “He’s a hard worker. He speak fluently, clear. ‘I do this, I do this. I do this,’ he said. I like him. He tell us everything clearly.” What do you say about his family? “He’s a family man. He’s a good responsibility. He’s good.” Do most Ethiopians like Trump or do they like Hillary? “Trump 100%” Why? “He’s hard worker, I tell you.” You like Washington? “Yes, I like Washington.” Why? “It’s free country. Everybody live here is good America. Work free. Teaching. Everything. I like America.” I appreciate that. “You’re welcome.”
Edgar B. Anderson is a graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Law School. He has worked as a reporter at all the Democratic and Republican National Conventions since 1988. He represented Laiks at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 conventions. He lives in Los Angeles.