As a self-professed political junkie, I will admit that attending a presidential inauguration has been on my bucket list for a long time. As I “approach” middle age at the age of 56 (my definition of middle age) and since inaugurations only happen every four years, I decided that this would be the year to head to Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. I will admit that, given the unconventional nature of the entire presidential campaign and the controversy that surrounds President Trump, I drove to D.C. with my son Connor and with a mixed emotional bag of excitement and trepidation. The weekend experience in D.C. was enlightening, but honestly, it was more disheartening. When I left D.C. and headed back home to Rhode Island, I kept asking myself, “Who is America?” While in D.C. and in the days since I got back home, I keep feeling that I am not part of the America that I saw at the inauguration or at the Women’s March on Washington the following day. Since I have been involved in politics and advocacy for a while, I was not naive enough to believe that everyone in D.C. was going to sing “Kumbaya” just because it was inauguration weekend. On the other hand, I did not expect to witness Americans disrespecting the office of the president, the United States as a nation, and mostly one other.
We took the Metro and made it to Union Station by 8 a.m. Upon leaving Union Station, there were already protests happening, but given the presence of law enforcement everywhere, we felt very safe and walked up to the Capitol. We were fortunate and had been given seated tickets by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI). I will give kudos to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who served as chair of the Inauguration Committee, and the entire team of folks who did the planning and logistics for the inauguration. Despite the complexity of the event, this was well choreographed and orchestrated.
So if the day was so easy, then when I did get so disheartened? Well, it wasn’t the official ceremony part of the whole day but, honestly, the people there. Look, I had no illusions that this wasn’t going to be a pro-Republican and pro-Trump crowd. If you made the trip to the inauguration, you were probably on the “righter” side of the aisle in terms of political leaning; I get that. However, the people around us weren’t just happy about their guy winning. They actually seemed to revel more in taunting and jeering the outgoing president, the first lady, and, of course, Hillary Clinton, who could have taken a pass on the whole day and avoided the crowd. There was real vitriol and disdain for people who had served the nation, which went beyond disagreeing with a political point of view. I was really taken aback by this. Maybe I am naive, but an important part of politics for me is separating someone’s issues from that person’s value as a human being. In all my years in politics and advocacy, I have yet to find a politician or policymaker who I agreed with on every issue. That’s why you don’t fall on your sword on any one issue because tomorrow is another day, another issue, and another vote. That’s why you build relationships based on mutual respect and finding common ground rather than focus on what divides us. In all honesty, the crowd really took something away from the importance and significance of this event, which has happened only 58 times in the history of our nation.