What I Saw At the Inauguration

What I saw of the inauguration: Not much.

I’ve been a Trump-ette since August 2015, when The Donald upstaged Hillary Clinton at the Iowa State Fair by flying in on his helicopter and offering free rides to kids. So it seemed a natural to help out at the new president’s inauguration. My husband didn’t see hanging out for a full day on the cold, damp inaugural route along Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue with quite my sanguinity, but he agreed to go along. At a training session the preceding Tuesday we learned that it wouldn’t be so bad: There would be “warming tents” where we could repair regularly for breaks and coffee, and we’d get a free breakfast and also a free box lunch.

Fired up, we rose at 2:30 a.m. in the predawn chill in order to be at the volunteer gathering spot at D.C.’s Verizon Center at the required 4:45 a.m. to wolf down our free breakfasts and get our assignments, ID badges and royal blue 58th Presidential Inauguration Committee Volunteer caps before hitting the streets in pitch darkness at 5 a.m. for a day that was scheduled to last until 5 p.m. My husband and I were assigned to “Zone 10,” a set of VIP bleachers for the inaugural parade about six blocks from the Capitol where President Trump’s swearing-in would take place. Our job, along with that of four other volunteers, was to prevent proles who hadn’t paid for the VIP seats from occupying them.

There was already a problem: the parade wouldn’t start until around 3 p.m.—some ten icy hours later—and the inauguration itself wouldn’t take place until around noon. So we milled around—keep moving and you won’t feel the cold!—chatting with other volunteers, security folks, and hardy early birds wearing “Make America Great Again” hats as they searched for good views from the sidewalk. The sun eventually rose, and the temperature also rose, ever so slightly. At about 9 a.m. I decided I really did need a break after four solid hours in the chill, so I went off to hunt down the promised warming tent. Except that it turned out that there was no warming tent for Zone 10. Oh dear—but we were told we could warm ourselves in the National Archives building about a block down Pennsylvania. Then it turned out that the National Archives wouldn’t open to the public until 10 a.m. Five solid hours in the chill. Every now and then my husband would ramble by and dig at me with Oliver Hardy’s remonstrance to Stan Laurel whenever something bad happened to the pair: “That’s another fine kettle of fish you’ve got us in.”

A nearby food truck was selling black coffee—for $5 per cup!—but at least those hot cups of joe made welcome hand-warmers. As the hours slogged by and Trump’s swearing-in drew near, the scene became decidedly more lively, and we chatted with more people. Everyone we talked to, from parade attendees to borrowed National Guards, hailed from out of town, specifically from Trump Country in the Midwest and South. This was not surprising: The District of Columbia had voted 91 percent for Hillary, and neighboring Maryland and Virginia had also gone blue.

The sidewalks slowly packed themselves, and new problems emerged: No one on our sidewalks six blocks from the Capitol could actually see anything on the far-away Jumbotrons that were supposed to enlarge the dot-size figures on the West Porch. Two sound systems at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, one of them with a slight timing delay, muddled “America the Beautiful” and the “Star-Spangled Banner” so badly that we could scarcely hear them. We couldn’t make out Chuck Schumer’s Civil War letter-reading—what was that all about?

Miraculously, though, we could hear quite clearly Chief Justice John Roberts’s administering the oath of office to Trump, and then Trump’s speech. The media pronounced it “dark.” The people from Trump Country on the sidewalk loved it. “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American people,” said Trump. “Yaaay!” roared the crowd. “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

As might have been expected, the curse of Zone 10 struck again. Just as there were no warming tents for us volunteers, there were no box lunches. Or rather, the “lunches” turned out to be a sack of water bottles and granola bars. Thanks, inaugural committee! And thank you, Lord Jesus, for those overpriced food trucks! A few hours and a few trips to the National Archives with its toasty anterooms later, we were back on duty keeping proles out of the VIP bleachers. Except that the potential VIPs in our section seemed to have had the sense to realize that they wouldn’t be seeing anything worth paying for six blocks away from the Capitol, so the bleachers were empty. We essentially had nothing to do. Eventually the powers that be on the inaugural committee threw the bleachers open to the sidewalk people. We clambered aboard along with them. It started to rain. The crowd from Trump Country remained cheery and feisty, however, amusing itself by sparring verbally with some anti-Trump demonstrators who had wormed their way into an empty space next to the bleachers. “Love trumps hate!” the anti-Trumpers shouted. “You lost—go away!” the Trump Country-ites shouted back.

Eventually, some black limousines well-guarded by the Secret Service rolled by. Two of them apparently contained Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, because there was an outburst of cheers from the crowd: “Trump! Trump! Trump! USA! USA!” Some military bands marched by, but they were apparently saving their music for closer to the White House. By now it was 5 p.m., and we could tell everyone that we had gone the distance.

We had to switch on the TV at home in order to see such things as Trump’s face, Melania Trump’s elegant blue dress and the burning limos and trash cans—in front of the Washington Post building, of all deliciously ironic places. My husband acted the gentleman and didn’t tease me too much over what I had dragged him through. It was warm and cozy in front of that TV, and we were splitting a bottle of wine. I think that’s where we’ll spend Inauguration Day 2020.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard

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