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Trump’s split-screen day

From its damp gray dawn, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, has been an historic and disorienting day — a day marked by split screens revealing the dignity of the country’s peaceful transfer of power and the unavoidable truth that America’s democracy is being strained by deep divisions.

As the Trumps and Obamas smiled for the cameras beneath the White House’s west portico on Inauguration morning, protesters were smashing in the windows of a Starbucks blocks away. When Hillary Clinton arrived at the Capitol for President Donald Trump’s swearing in, cable news anchors spoke of her grace — but as the ceremony got underway, a loud “Lock her up!” shout from the crowd pierced a momentary quiet. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s speech about his belief in the American people was met by boos. President Donald Trump, moments after finishing a dark inaugural address that lamented “American carnage,” showed respect by walking his predecessor to the helicopter that would carry him into private life.

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A literal — and stunning — split screen then took place.

Live footage showed Trump, seated in a high-backed armchair before a wooden table, making small talk with Speaker Paul Ryan and even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as he signed official documents in what looked like a real-life scene from The Apprentice. With only clicking shutters audible in a hushed room, Trump joked about his cabinet appointees that Democrats and some Republicans have been stridently questioning for the past two weeks, and gave away his pens as souvenirs. On television, the scene played out beside footage from Joint Base Andrews where former President Barack Obama thanked staff and supporters one final time and took stock of the work they did over the past eight years, some of which Trump plans to quickly unwind.

Later, as Trump joined senators for lunch, networks cut away to live shots of 12th and K streets less than a mile away from the Capitol where riot police detonated pepper spray and flash bangs to turn back protesters. At 2:30 p.m., dumpsters were literally on fire in the street.

But nothing quite encapsulated the jarring dichotomy of the day like Trump’s own words.

President Donald Trump pumps his fist after addressing the crowd during his swearing-in ceremony on January 20 at the Capitol in Washington, DC.

His dark, dystopian imagery made little pretense about America being a unified country even as he called for Americans to come together. For this political outsider, who so often mocked the artificiality of American politics on the stump, there was little deference to the magnitude of a moment that is marked in history books by soaring, inspirational and unifying rhetoric.

In Trump’s speech, America was a country that has been wronged by its leaders in Washington, not a shining city on a hill. He spoke of “children trapped in poverty,” “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” and of crime, gangs and drugs.

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” Trump said.

There were few overtures to those who don’t already share his vision. As Trump walked onto the stage, he shook hands with several former presidents and kissed Michelle Obama on the cheek but did not acknowledge Hillary Clinton, nor did he recognize her or her supporters in his speech (a noticeably humbler Trump did express his appreciation for her attending his inauguration and his respect for her and former President Bill Clinton later at the Capitol luncheon that far fewer Americans were likely watching). Behind Trump on the rostrum sat four of the five living former presidents, none of whom voted for him, in a show of respect for the office that the new president, who failed to mention any of them save the Obamas, did not directly return.

More than 400 members of Congress—some 60-plus House Democrats boycotted the inauguration—listened as Trump blamed Washington for screwing over the American people. Ryan and Mitch McConnell listened as he promised that billions of dollars will be spent on infrastructure projects they are reluctant to support. One seat on the dais was reserved for Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who sat quietly as the new president claimed his inauguration marked a transfer of power not just between two administrations but “from Washington DC…back to you, the people.”

The unrestrained and unapologetic populism of Trump’s inaugural speech belies the fact that a majority of the population hasn’t signed on. With an approval rating around 40 percent, Trump is the least popular incoming president of the modern era. The new president’s unpopularity was reflected in the dearth of A-list musicians playing his inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial Thursday night, the rising popularity of Obama and even Obamacare and, most vividly, in the aerial shots of Friday’s crowd that turned sparse as it spread away from the Capitol up the National Mall. Similarly, there was no avoiding the rows of unfilled bleacher seats along Trump’s inaugural parade route.


Even amid their smiles and back slaps, Trump and Obama marched stoically through the rituals of Friday’s transition emblematic of — and heroes to — separate Americas. And an undercurrent of the cultural divide flowed as Trump and Obama subtly extended the feud between the new president and Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights icon who riled Trump and galvanized Democrats by questioning Trump’s legitimacy as president and opting not to attend Friday’s inauguration. Trump didn’t mention Lewis by name in his inaugural speech but applied the same insult he tweeted at Lewis, “all talk, no action,” to Washington politicians more generally. Obama, for his part, selected as part of his final tweet from the official White House account a picture of himself and the former first lady hand in hand with Lewis during their 2015 march across the Selma, Ala. bridge where he was beaten during a civil rights march 50 years earlier. “Yes we can. Yes we did,” the tweet read. Of course, the country’s first black president ceding his office to the man who spent years questioning his citizenship is also part of Obama’s legacy.

Trump, in outlining his “America First” approach to his presidency, did call for greater unity. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” he said. In defining patriotism so narrowly, Trump’s voice has resonated with a broad swath of disaffected blue-collar voters who find real hope in his election. But Trump has also awakened another kind of patriotism—dissent—that will accompany his presidency.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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