Growing up, it never occurred to me that I may someday die in a country far different than the one into which I was born.
That changed this weekend with the inauguration of Donald Trump. I’ve been to several presidential inaugurations including George W. Bush’s first, which as everyone knows, followed an extremely controversial election. Even that event felt hopeful and unifying compared to what I experienced this past weekend.
My vantage point for the weekend’s events was from an apartment overlooking the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue directly across from the National Archives. That put me along the Inaugural Parade route and just above the location of a permitted protest which began with chants from loudspeakers at about 6 a.m. on Friday morning and didn’t slow down or cease until the presidential motorcade passed the group along the parade route.
As noon approached, my youngest son implored me to take him to see the swearing in. Personally, I hesitated going because I’d already seen some of the protests around D.C. in the hours before the inauguration, and I wasn’t sure I was prepared to be a tragic footnote in history. He was persistent, however, and I finally relented and took him. After all, this was historic and an important demonstration of the traditionally peaceful transition of power.
I don’t know what I expected, but what I saw was both shocking and disappointing. By design, protesters blocked each security checkpoint to enter the National Mall. And these weren’t the Martin Luther King, Jr., peaceful nonviolent protesters either. These were mostly young anarchists seeking to be threatening and intimidating. A few people I was standing with waiting for the opportunity to enter the secured area finally simply gave up. They concluded that it was too difficult and potentially dangerous for them to attempt to enter. A couple of times I even told my son that we should go back but he now viewed this as almost a challenge. The game? How do we get in there without getting seriously injured or killed?
Word quickly spread that things were moving along at one of the checkpoints so we immediately headed that way and joined the line. I laughed when I realized why this checkpoint seemed to be working better than the others. It was “protected” by a group of Bikers for Trump who made clear that they weren’t going to put up with any of the shenanigans going on elsewhere.
Still, we had a problem. Time was passing and the odds of getting in before the swearing in occurred was growing shorter. I looked at my tickets and realized that I could enter from another security checkpoint designated for people with my particular ticket. We immediately headed that way and arrived to see more protesters along with police lined up on either side of what became a makeshift walkway through which ticketholders could pass. Walking between the lines of officers, we were reminded a few times to hold our tickets up in front of our chest so they could see them. As I carefully followed their instructions, I kept thinking to myself, “This is America?” To say it was surreal is an understatement.
Later, I watched the Inaugural Parade from the apartment balcony overlooking the Navy Memorial. The chanting continued below us, much of it laced with obscenities, as the presidential motorcade passed. The crowd viewing from the balcony was mixed. That became most clear when, just as President Trump passed, one of the people standing on the balcony near me boldly stood up and flipped off the passing motorcade with both middle fingers.
There were also children on that balcony and more kids standing on the balcony above and behind us. While thankfully everyone in this country has the right to express political views, I’d be curious to ask that individual in a quieter moment if his behavior is really the example we want to set for future generations.
On Saturday, I witnessed the throngs of protesters at the Women’s March on Washington as they headed down the street towards the National Mall. In one respect the contrast was striking. While the day before, families with young children clutching American flags were greeted by an angry, spitting, profanity spewing mob as they attempted to witness history, the protesters at the Women’s March peacefully pushed strollers and took youngsters by the hand to the protest venue. No one I could see sought to thwart them in their quest to express their views. In my opinion, that’s the respect that should be shown from both sides at all times.
What was still disturbing at the Saturday event was some of the visual aids and signs being used by the protesters. The day before all the signs were angry and threatening. On Saturday, many protesters seemed to be in a contest to see how gross and filthy they could be. Walking down the street with my 15-year-old son as women passed by with signs reading “This pussy grabs back!” or wearing molded vaginas on their heads sets a certain coarse tone that I’m not sure bodes well for the future and is not easy to explain. While these women may argue that President Trump started it with his comments years ago, do we really want to go down that road? Evidently, the proverb “two wrongs don’t make a right” is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Somewhere during the middle of all of these events, I stopped to talk to the guard in our building.
“As a country, we can’t go on like this,” I told him, and he agreed.
In our nation’s history, we’ve had a Civil War and we’ve had civil unrest. Still, we’ve yet to have the one event that irreversibly tears us apart. Let’s hope that this current ugly divisive era we’re living through today doesn’t ultimately lead the United States to its demise. That would truly be shameful.
Our grandparents comprised the greatest generation. Let’s all try hard not to raise our children in such a toxic environment and with such low regard and respect for one another that they ultimately prove themselves to be the worst.