WASHINGTON — Kenneth Manny, a veteran of the Vietnam War, flew up from Florida the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration because he’d grown exasperated with business as usual in Washington.
“It seems like nothing ever gets done in D.C.,” said Manny, who wore a black hat bearing the yellow words “Vietnam Veteran.” “Politicians promise the moon and they just take, take, take. It’s all politics, and I’m tired of the politics. I want someone to run the government like a freakin’ business.”
As signaled by supporters like Manny who demanded change, the forceful language of Trump’s inaugural address and the protesters lining the entrances to the National Mall, Trump’s inauguration represented a decisive break from the status quo in Washington.
In a now-famous line from his 16-minute speech, Trump described life in the United States in stark terms. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said, referring to poverty, gang violence, industrial decay and problems with education.
He also distanced himself from the former presidents and dignitaries standing behind him on stage. “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” he said.
One avid and longtime Trump supporter, Carol Greenwald of Chevy Chase, Md., who founded the website and organization Jews Choose Trump, said she loved Trump’s speech. She compared its populist message to that of the seventh president, who sought to strike a populist blow against the establishment during his two terms. “I never thought I’d live to see Andrew Jackson reincarnated,” she said.
Not everyone found Trump’s speech so appealing.
“He gave the most hateful speech based on alt-right nationalism we could have feared,” Steven Goldstein, the executive director of The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect said in a statement provided to JTA.
The New York Times reported that an hour before the inauguration, protesters smashed shop windows around Franklin Square in downtown Washington and police officers in riot gear used pepper spray to break up groups of protesters.
Still, the vast majority of protestors were peaceful. Alana Kessler, a 20-year-old sophomore at American University, said that when she spoke with Trump supporters, she showed them a sign around her neck that said “free hugs.”
“I tell [Trump supporters] I’m not against you. We are all American. We are a country, but we need to become a community. The only way we can do that is by speaking up and talking to each other,” said Kessler, who also held a sign that said “I am a Jewish woman and I’m inspired to keep America great.”
As two Trump supporters from Westminster, Md., 19-year-old Dustin Banham and his uncle Greg Harrison, walked past Kessler and a circle of mostly women supporters chanting “No KKK, no fascist USA,” they said they supported their political opponents’ right to protest. “It’s their right, although I don’t think they should have bad language on their signs,” said Harrison.
Speaking immediately after Trump concluded his inaugural address was Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He delivered a prayer composed mostly of quotes from the Bible. Hier has known the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for decades, and his center has received donations from the Jewish family.
“Dispense justice for the needy and the orphan, for they have no one but their fellow citizens,” Hier said. “A nation’s wealth is measured by its values and not its faults.”
In the lead-up to the inauguration, there was a good deal of discussion about how many people would turn out to watch the businessman and reality TV personality take the oath of office. Trump himself called for “record-breaking crowds” to come to Washington.
While there was controversy over estimates of the crowd size, side-by-side photos of the Mall comparing the turnout for Trump to the inaugurations of Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013 appeared to show fewer people come out this year. In the aftermath, a dispute arose as Trump maintained his inauguration drew the largest crowds ever, and news media and Trump opponents kept pointing to the Mall photos.
Nevertheless, Trump declared his Inauguration Day a victory for “all Americans,” vowing that they “would never be ignored again.”
“The time for empty talk is over,” he said. “Now arrives the hour for action. Do not allow anyone to tell you it cannot be done.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ethan Miller, a member of the liberal advocacy group IfNotNow that has of late protested American Jewish institutions for not sufficiently criticizing the new administration, participated in a joint protest with “Disrupt J20,” which bills itself as a “diverse group of Muslims, immigrants, Jews and other multi-racial community members.”
Miller, 25, with other members of the group, protested outside entrances to the Mall and inauguration parade route with the intention of disrupting the events. Although Miller said his group was not successful in preventing people from accessing the parade route, he said the protests were successful because diversity of his group is “a form of resistance against what Trump is proposing.”
And there will be more protests to come, he said: “The inauguration is just the beginning.”
George Altshuler writes for the Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of The Jewish Chronicle.