By Megan Carpentier
Amy LeFrance and her friends were having a grand old time on Friday morning while securing their spots for the inaugural parade. Inspired by a phalanx of left-leaning protesters shouting “Hey hey! Ho ho! Donald Trump has got to go!” on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th Street, they began shouting a pro-Trump variation that pleased fans who’d lined up for prime parade spots to see the new president.
“Hey hey!” she shouted with her pals Cheryl Painter and Marie Hassler, giggling. “Ho ho! Barack Obama has got to go!”
Their laughter wasn’t enough to give many pause. But one pious-looking young white man with a knit hat and wearing a Black Lives Matter button peeled off to engage in an earnest conversation with the three women, who are all in their fifties and sixties, about the reasons for the protest against the incoming president.
The ladies weren’t convinced.
“You know, these protesters over here—no offense—if Donald Trump isn’t their president, then this shouldn’t be their country,” said LeFrance—who came into Washington from from Fredericksburg, Virginia—after the man walked back to his group. “Let ’em go somewhere else, because you should be able to fly the American flag freely and with pride, and that’s it.”
Donning one of the red Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats that Trump has made iconic, LeFrance also said the "PC culture" in America is "insane"—but ultimately, on Friday she saw more of the protesters than the new first family. That’s because for the first time in recent history, large groups of demonstrators exercised their right to enter the open-seating areas along the parade route and the National Mall to voice their displeasure with the policies of the 45th president, and with the man himself.
The protesters made up a significant part of the noticeably smaller crowds compared to the past two inaugurations. Despite unseasonably warm weather and the public entreaties of President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence over the past week, widely-circulated pictures of the inaugural speech showed a half-empty National Mall, and the crowd there totaled about half the size of Obama’s 2009 ceremony, according to some experts. That tracks with estimates from the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, which suggests it carried less than 40 percent of the riders in 2017 versus 2009.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that Trump—who during his campaign could entice supporters to hang around an airplane hangar for hours with little notice—doesn't have quite the same sway as a seated politician. Throughout the morning, checkpoints to get into the parade and inaugural zones stayed open—unless they were temporarily shut down by protest actions. Back in 2009 they were closed early because the Mall was deemed at capacity.
On Saturday the lines moved quite quickly, even at checkpoints with malfunctioning magnetometers. Earlybirds snuck onto the risers normally reserved for donors, and the lines along the sidewalk barricades were only one-deep until the event concluded.
Inside the secure area, most Trump supporters seemed to quietly tolerate the singing and chanting protesters, many of whom were decked out in "pink pussy hats"— knit caps with the suggestion of cat ears—of Saturday's Women's March on Washington, as well as nostalgic Bernie Sanders t-shirts and various established protest organization t-shirts. Though Trump's transition team wasn't exactly known for its magnanimity in victory, his supporters who turned out on Saturday were generally well-behaved.
LaFrance, though, sees the protesters as another problem for Trump to resolve. "He really needs to work on the division in this country," she said, gesturing at the Black Lives Matter supporters preparing to march. "I think Obama has done a terrible job dividing us," she added. "We need to start being one again."
Other Trump supporters suggest that the divides exposed by the election remain firmly in place on both sides. LaFrance's friend, Matt Hassler, said that he hadn't voted for Trump as much as he'd voted against Hillary Clinton. "He's not my favorite person, but out of the two choices, he's the best one to return us to fiscal responsibility," he said.
Mitch Morrison, a former FBI agent from Newport Beach California, admitted that, despite his MAGA hat and attendance at the inauguration, he, too, hadn't been a dyed-in-the-wool supporter. "I wasn't a big Trump fan," he admitted. "I think he's got some issues, a lot of issues, but it was really the Hillary [email] thing for me, I just couldn't get over it."
Anthony, who drove in from Montclair, Virginia and declined to give his last name, said much the same about why he'd voted for Trump. "For me it wasn't so much what [Trump] has done, or said he was going to do. It was what Hillary didn't do," he said. "She lied. I want somebody I can trust in office. And I just didn't feel like I trusted Hillary at all."
But plenty of die-hards did turn up. Kerry, who came in with her from central Pennsylvania but declined to give her last name, who explained her support for Trump in language mirroring that used on his reality show, The Apprentice. "We need a project manager to run this country, and he's the best one we've got," she said from under a camouflage-print MAGA hat. "We need someone who will tell it like it is, and not just worry about what other people think and what other people want to hear you say."