WASHINGTON — Sixteen years ago, Ralph Nader mocked the differences between the two political parties as the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Nader was wrong, as it turned out. His independent president campaign in 2000 siphoned enough votes away from Democrat Al Gore to hand the White House to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Sixteen years later, the stark reality that once again the complacency of voters on the left has left our nation in the hands of a Republican president.
The contrast between the inauguration of Donald Trump on one day and the Women’s March on Washington the next was remarkable. On Jan. 20, hundreds of thousands of Americans flocked to Washington to celebrate Trump’s swearing-in.
Trump is their hero, and they were determined to let the world know it. They had no regard for the solemnity of the event, despite the eloquent introductory words of master of ceremonies Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt. Trump supporters whooped and hollered as their heroes and villains took their seats surrounding the podium where the 45th president would be sworn in. They were restrained in their catcalls when Hillary Clinton entered through the ceremonial arch, but openly hooted with derision for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. They offered no applause for any Republican leader in Congress apart from Paul Ryan, though he might be the last man in the capital who will be able to stem the Trumpian tide to come.
There were polite cheers as the Obamas took their seats. As he clapped, one attendee with a red “Make America Great Again” hat commented, “I love Obama. He destroyed everybody. That’s how we won.”
Finally, as their hero entered, the crowd erupted. “Go Trump!” they shouted. “Yeah, baby!” they cried.
As Trump walked through the arch onto the dais, he eschewed the affable bearing of the other attendees, who’d greeted each other with polite smiles, attempting to mask whatever disdain they may have felt. Instead, Trump maintained a face of practiced seriousness; the stern, scowling visage of a new leader who has come to the nation’s capital to dole out harsh medicine.
Justice Clarence Thomas administered the vice-presidential oath of office. As
it turns out, Thomas, who rarely speaks on the Supreme Court, has a rich, deep, beautiful voice. Vice President Mike Pence’s voice seemed pinched and thin in comparison. Then Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath to Trump, and when he was done, the real estate mogul was the new president. “Done deal! It’s a done deal!” his supporters screamed, high-fives all around.
Trump’s inauguration speech began with some aspiring oratory but quickly devolved into his campaign speech on steroids. Its theme was American carnage, and it painted a picture of a nation ravaged by crime and littered with abandoned factories, that Trump alone could fix.
Crafting his own hagiography, he declared his rise to power to be “the greatest movement in history,” and presented himself as a man of God.
Trump’s narcissism was on full display throughout the Inauguration Day ceremonies, from his words to the smallest details. The words “A Hero Will Rise”
were emblazoned on Trump’s image on the inauguration tickets that dignitaries hung around their necks. The logo presented him as a savior who had come to free America from the predations of the political class, as the Titan of Greek mythology freed mankind from the bondage of the gods.
The massive gathering of women in the nation’s capital the next day was in every way a counterpoint to the inauguration. Trump’s rise has been was built on an ill-defined longing for the American past; the march was a full-flowered tribute to the diversity of the American future. As one sign said, “The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence.”
No single person spoke for the marchers. Rather, the event was about the individuals from across the nation who came together to celebrate their support for each other, with homemade signs and handmade pink hats, with their outrage, their defiance and their joy. And it was a call for people to take to the streets.
If there were a word cloud of the signs women carried at the march, “pussy” would stand out. “My pussy has claws,” one sign read. Trump has come to represent the violation of women, and his actions have given license to others who threaten and belittle women (and minorities) with no sense of shame.
Yet underneath the passion of the marchers was the realization that it had come too late, that far too many had failed to take Trump seriously until now. As Gloria Steinem said in her speech before the gathered throng, “Pressing ‘send’ is not enough. We must put our bodies where our beliefs are.”
David Paul and Jay Duret represented SF Weekly at the inauguration and march in Washington, D.C.