By Haley Barbour
Two days ago I attended the inauguration of the Donald Trump. I knew this day would be personally difficult. I spent the better part of last year working full-time to get Hillary Clinton elected president. To say that Election Day was devastating is an understatement. Ye,t I still came to Washington D.C. with my university. I wanted to attempt to understand what happened, something that I had been flat out ignoring as I lay in bed for the past two months. I spent time with my republican classmates, some that voted for Donald Trump and some that did not. I was slowly beginning to gain insight into why Trump won. I was slowly coming to terms with this new reality and contemplating what I could do to continue to push for issues and policy I cared about. I feel like I was slowly healing from what was a devastating loss. All of that came crashing down around me on inauguration day.
I do not wish to speak for all republicans or all trump supporters, I only wish to share my experiences. Inauguration day began smoothly. We got up and left by five in the morning. The metro was not overly crowded and the line and security went smoothly. While we waited the three plus hours for the ceremony to start the crowd was friendly and calm. Then, the ceremony began and I witnessed a completely lack of civility that is difficult to put into words.
The crowd booed and shouted profanity as every democrat walked onto the stage. It was shocking, I had prepared myself for some level of dislike for Hillary Clinton, but it seemed excessive and nontraditional to begin an inauguration so negatively. As the former presidents began to walk onto the stage I was shocked that even Jimmy Carter received a healthy round of boos. Carter, who is now 90, flew coach to D.C., continues to volunteer for Habit for Humanity, and travels around the country speaking to young people about the importance of service. Until yesterday I thought that Carter was a fairly universally liked president. Next came the moment that I thought would be most difficult, President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton walked out of the Capitol. Their arrival was met with a loud round of boos. The crowd also chanted “lock her up” while individuals around me launched sexist insults her way. President George W. Bush was then accepted pleasantly by the crowd, and I thought the worse was over. I was wrong.
President Obama and Michelle Obama entered next, and again the crowd around me began booing. I heard a few accounts of racially charged language being shouted as well. After President Obama and then President-elect Trump were seated and opening remarks were made, something extraordinary happened. The incoming president and the inauguration committee decided to invite a democratic leader to speak. Senator Chuck Schumer stood to address the crowd. I assume his speech was meant to be for the democrats watching at home, I imagine it included a lot of language about unity and coming together as Americans. I hope that he did the job he was tasked with doing, which was sending a message to his party that unity and peaceful protest to effect change was the answer, not violence and more partisanship. All I can do is assume, imagine, and hope about what was in his speech because I did not hear a word of it.
The crowd around me began booing and screaming their displeasure at the senator from the moment his name was announced. This was the breaking point for me. I could not believe that this crowd was being so disrespectful to former presidents, to the opposition party, and frankly to their champion Donald Trump who had to have okayed the speaker list. I felt surround by hatred, and I desperately thought how could we possibly move forward as a country. I watched the new president be sworn in, and I felt the tears fall down my face as I listened to the national anthem. Then, it was President Trump’s turn to speak. I thought that the new president did exactly what he needed to do. He gave a speech that focused in on conservative values, he spoke to a portion of the country that feel forgotten, and most importantly he called for unity.
“We are one nation…We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny…that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots…” –President Donald Trump
This call for unity was met with thunderous applause from the crowd around me. The message that no matter the color of your skin, or the person you voted for, we are all united as Americans was universally cheered for. This struck me deeply. The same crowd that devolved to racist and sexist insults to show their dislike of democrats, was now cheering for unity. Were the cheering because they want to be unified? Were they cheering because the sentiment was nice? Or were they cheering because their demigod like hero said something? I have no idea, but it is a very important question. I think that the most important thing that I learned these two weeks in Washington D.C. was that no matter the winner or loser of the election, the politics, and institutions of Washington are designed to force the parties to work together. So it would make sense to hope for unity, but that does not explain the vile disdain that I witnessed for the opposition party.
I was touched to learn that the Trump supporters in our group did not participate in the booing or obscenity. I hope that that was the vast majority of inauguration goers, but at least for the people located directly around me it was not. I left the inauguration feeling worse than I did on Election Day. I think because this was the moment that I realized it was real, Donald Trump won and we need to figure out what that means for this country. After the ceremony I headed back to where we were staying. A classmate and I got separated from the group and ended up walking through some of what devolved into the most violent protests. I saw the KKK for the first time in my life, standing across the street from Black Lives Matter. I saw brutal confirmations in the metro between Trump supporters and D.C. natives. I heard stories from friends of both Trump supporters and non-supporters being assaulted on the street. I woke up after a long nap and watched the videos of windows being smashed and cars being damaged. And I felt hopeless. I want desperately for the country to be able to move forward under a Trump administration with a healthy peaceful opposition. But I could not imagine a way we would get there. Much of my hope was restored yesterday morning, and I hope that you will follow up this story here.