American Carnage: The Obscenity of Trump’s Inauguration

The presidential motorcade drives by as protesters line the streets during the 58th Inauguration in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017.The presidential motorcade drives by as protesters line the streets during the 58th Inauguration in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2017. (Photo: Mark Dixon / Flickr)

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
— W.B. Yeats

He has the codes now.

Somewhere, perhaps nestled in a coat pocket or negligently tossed on top of a dresser in the White House, President Donald J. Trump has in his possession the ability to unleash the American nuclear arsenal in less time than it takes your average person to read a recipe for biscuits. As former President Barack Obama became weightless when the dependable prop wash of Marine One lifted him toward the river, I wonder if he noted the absence of that burden on his person, at last … or if, like so many of us, he simply closed his eyes and wondered what the Hell just happened.

President Donald J. Trump. That will take some getting used to.

The entire inaugural affair did not at all disappoint, in that it was all disappointing. The coverage before the event was quietly monstrous, with media people in tones of understated splendor trying to coo away the horror in their ongoing mission to normalize catastrophe. They giggled like schoolchildren when the camera found a smirking George W. Bush — “Well, he looks happy!” — and giggled again when a wide shot caught Bush and Hillary Clinton laughing it up over the grandeur of it all. “You cannot root against the president of the United States,” intoned MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough at one point, “without rooting against the country that he or she governs.” Pretty subtle there, Joe.

It could have been worse, apparently. Trump and his team wanted battle tanks and missile launchers included in the inaugural parade, part of Trump’s plan to “show the military” whenever he can. To their credit, the military turned him down flat. Not only were they worried about making Washington DC look like Pyongyang, but they were pretty sure the 100,000 pound tanks he requested would utterly obliterate the pavement.

Thus, Mr. Trump was forced to settle for another gothic rendition of his apocalyptic view of the country he is now tasked to lead. “Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities,” he intoned during his ghastly inaugural speech. “Rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

A fair roadmap of the days and weeks to come can be found on the White House website, which was transformed into a factory for terrible ideas moments after Trump took the oath. All references to climate change, meticulously compiled by the Obama administration over the years, have been scrubbed with no explanation given. An energy plan that received a “Zero” score from the Sierra Club is touted. As for the criminal justice system, the new Trump administration minces no words: “The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.”

“We will determine the course of America and the world for many years to come,” Trump said, and the world replied, “What’s this now?” He sniffed, and he sniffed, and he sniffed some more, and when all was said and done, the better angels of nature itself wept; he was no more than a dozen words into his oration when the skies opened up, briefly but pointedly, to drop a wet rag on his head.

There was also this, however. As Sen. Chuck Schumer prepared to introduce Gov. Mike Pence to take the oath, a sound began to grow. Like an angry ocean chewing on some distant beach, the sound rose and spread, until heads on the dais began turning to find its source. Its source was everywhere, in the air itself. The source was protest, massed in the tens of thousands, shunned by the camera’s eye but present all the same.

A large protest march took place Thursday night in DC, with a sister protest taking place in New York City. Other actions took place as far away as Manila. On Friday, a few blocks from the parade route, armored police squared off against even more protesters. Many thousands more protesters poured into the streets, in DC and elsewhere, as the evening wore on. And today, hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets in DC, in cities around the country and in more than 50 other countries for the Women’s March. Conservative crowd estimates put the expected assemblage in the nation’s capital alone well north of 200,000 people.

An angry ocean chewing on a distant beach. Not so distant as all that, actually. Donald J. Trump is president, but the growl of that ocean will never be far from him now. What happens from here on out will be as much up to the resistance as it will be to Trump and the Congress he cowed. Nothing is over. This has only just begun.

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