By Noah Bierman
Tribune Washington Bureau /(TNS)
WASHINGTON – Donald John Trump swore the oath of office Friday as the 45th president of the United States, one of the most polarizing figures to assume the office shouldering a promise to reclaim prosperity for millions who have felt abandoned by their government.
Trump, who won the presidency by smashing nearly every convention in politics, celebrated one of the most solemn and sober rituals in American democracy, a peaceful transfer of power that culminated with him ascending to an office that few thought was within his grasp.
In his 16-minute inaugural address, Trump painted a stark portrait of a country hobbled by lost jobs and threats from terrorism and immigrants.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” Trump said.
In a speech that had the overtones of his divisive campaign rhetoric, he spoke as well of giving power from politicians back to their constituents.
“We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” he said. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
He made history on many levels Friday. At 70, he is the oldest president to begin a first term. The brash business mogul also became the only commander in chief to enter the White House with neither government nor military service. And while his predecessors included a screen actor and several war heroes, none became international celebrities in the era of reality television.
The gut-check moments along Trump’s journey – winning his first primary, the Republican nomination and the election itself – have not mellowed his disdain for tradition. His refusal to conform to political norms helped him attract millions of voters who felt disconnected from coastal power centers and eager to see a leader unafraid of offending people. Trump referred again to those voters, “the forgotten man and the forgotten woman,” as he thanked supporters during a celebration concert Thursday night overlooking the Washington Monument.
His unconventional qualities, and a promise to bring back jobs lost to outsourcing and automation, helped Trump compile a historic electoral upset in which he defeated 16 primary opponents and trampled both the Bush and Clinton family political dynasties.
As he and his wife, Melania, took their first steps into the White House on Friday, they were greeted with hugs by the first lady and President Obama – whose legitimacy he questioned and whose legacy was at the center of Trump’s attacks.
Trump lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million, and he has failed to build support from skeptics who see his presidency as divisive and even dangerous.
During the transition period, something other modern presidents have used to mend wounds from bitter elections, Trump has sparred with enemies and inflamed old divisions. He held victory rallies in states that helped win him the election and continued to criticize Clinton in public appearances weeks after she faded into the woods of New York for long walks.
That lingering sense of grievance, combined with resentment from Democrats amid a period of heightened polarization in the country, has helped Trump secure an ignominious distinction as he prepares to take the oath of office. His approval rating is lower than that of any incoming president in decades, according to polls.
Elsewhere in Washington, protesters rallied against Trump’s inauguration, and another wave of marchers were expected in the city Saturday to celebrate women’s rights and register disapproval of Trump. Attendance at the swearing-in was expected to be between 700,000 and 900,000, or about half the size of the crowds attracted by Obama in 2009, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Light rain fell throughout the morning. Many of the city’s subway stations, packed eight years ago for the nation’s first black president, were sparsely filled on Friday, as employees throughout the region were given the day off.
Trump has nonetheless insisted he will attract record crowds. He has reacted defensively as liberal politicians said they would not attend and such big-name entertainers as Elton John rejected requests to perform.
He accused Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon brutally beaten in the march on Selma, Ala., half a century ago, of being “all talk” and “no action” after Lewis said he would skip the inauguration because he did not consider Trump a legitimate president.
Trump’s aides have tried to tamp down some of the controversy around the inauguration no-shows, saying interest in the event has been overwhelming.
“When you wake up on Friday and see the enormous crowds that are there, you’re going to recognize that it is going to be an inauguration for all Americans,” spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters this week. “Obviously, we’d love for every member of Congress to attend, but if they don’t, that’s some great seats that other folks can hopefully partake in.”
Trump promised to bridge divides.
“There’s never been a movement like this, and it’s something very, very special. And we’re going to unify our country,” he said Thursday at the concert.
Then, after prompting the crowd to chant his “Make America great again” slogan, he promised: “We’re going to make America great for all of our people – everybody. Everybody throughout our country. That includes the inner cities; that includes everybody.”
Spicer downplayed expectations for Trump’s first day in office, saying that of the four or five executive orders he will sign, some would be logistical measures designed to keep the government operating and protect the first family. He promised more extensive measures on immigration, energy, crime and terrorism, starting Monday and throughout Trump’s first weeks in office.
Allies couch Trump’s combativeness as part of his appeal – a challenge to the Washington establishment that has frustrated Americans of all stripes.
“As a new incoming president, he should challenge everything,” said Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, who is now a lobbyist and television commentator. “He is looking at Washington, D.C., with a fresh set of eyes and I think that’s always critically important because he has the ability to come in and see things that others do not see because they’ve been blinded by the D.C. Beltway mentality.”
But even as Trump rode to electoral victory by exploiting that anger, he has been unable to persuade most Americans to join him.
Just 40 percent of Americans hold a favorable impression of Trump, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week. That’s lower than the approval ratings for Presidents George W. Bush (62 percent), George H. W. Bush (65 percent), Obama (79 percent), Reagan (58 percent) and Carter (78 percent) before their inaugurations.
Yet those ratings demonstrate another truth: Popularity at the beginning of a term does not always correlate with success at the end. Carter and George H.W. Bush lasted just one term. And Reagan, whose lower approval numbers came closest to Trump’s, became one of the most beloved presidents in recent history.