WASHINGTON, D.C. – The peaceful transfer of power was a bit more exciting than usual this year with passions running high on both sides.
President Donald Trump officially took the oath of office on Jan. 20 in front of a crowd of enthusiastic supporters who chanted his name, repeated his “Make America Great Again” slogan in unison with him at the conclusion of his speech, and booed the speakers they saw as opponents of his agenda. But others traveled to the nation’s capital in protest of Trump’s election, some clashing with police. Prince George’s County residents were on both sides of the spectrum.
Jim Wass, a Riverdale resident and member of the Republican Central Committee, attended the inauguration with his wife. He said he supports Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” agenda to change how the government operates.
“There has never been, within government, any kind of accountability for results,” Wass said, before providing examples of problems with the execution of the economic recovery act in 2009 and the rollout of health care reform. “If that had happened in the private sector, people would be fired. We can’t be quite as agile as the private sector (in government), but we can do better. This is the best opportunity we’re ever going to have for this sort of thing.”
He said he thinks Trump will be able to break “not the rules, but the habits of the past” that led to those problems.
Trump himself, in his inaugural address, emphasized his outsider status.
“Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people,” Trump said.
Prince George’s County was also represented on stage at the inauguration, with Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD-5) leading the stream of House of Representatives members as they entered. But new Rep. Anthony Brown (MD-4) did not attend, boycotting the inauguration. According to his Facebook page (his office did not return requests for comment), Trump’s “verbal attack on Mr. (John) Lewis disrespected him and his office, showed a disregard for the office (Trump) will soon hold and the Constitution (Trump) will soon swear to uphold, and demands my absence from the inauguration.”
Lewis participated in the Civil Rights movement before his election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Trump had said Lewis was “all talk” and “no action or results.”
Members of the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department were also on hand in downtown D.C. during the inauguration, waiting to provide assistance if needed.
Trump’s speech has been described by pundits as dark or bleak, and it emphasized the problems Trump sees in the country, what he called “American carnage.”
“Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves,” Trump said. “But for too many of our citizens a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge. And the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs, that have stolen too many lives.”
Trump promised to bring back jobs and create new ones, build new transportation infrastructure, “bring back our borders,” re-examine the amount of aid the U.S. sends to other nations, and fight “radical Islamic terror.”
Wass said he considered the speech more “sharp” than dark.
“I will say that it was intense. It was sharp. It was restating what he told us in numerous campaign speeches throughout 2016,” he said. “So it was sharper than I expected, but that was not unwelcome.”
Many in the crowd thought the remarks by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat in the Senate, were unwelcome. Wass said he did not join in on the booing of Schumer during his speech – Wass said it was “unfortunate” that members of the crowd acted that way – but said he felt the senator’s remarks were divisive and signaled Democrats would oppose the new president.
“I guess I hadn’t paid attention to what the speakers had said in their introductions before but it came across as a divisive speech, a preemptive rebuttal to the inaugural address to follow a few moments later. I was not used to that,” Wass said.
Schumer spoke of diversity and patriotism and Democrats’ support for immigrants.
“I stand here today confident in this country for one reason: you, the American people. We Americans have always been a forward-looking, problem-solving, optimistic, patriotic and decent people, whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity,” he said. “Whether we are immigrants or native-born, whether we live with disabilities or do not, in wealth or in poverty, we are all exceptional in our commonly-held and fierce devotion to our country.”
Protesters blocked access to some security checkpoints earlier in the day, and after the inauguration, protesters clashed with police. Among the protesters Friday was Larry Stafford, a Glenn Dale resident and executive director of Progressive Maryland, a left-wing organizing group. He said approximately 200 Marylanders were part of his group, including many from Prince George’s County.
“We did it because we know that Trump’s agenda will impact Maryland in a devastating way and we want people to be ready for the fight,” Stafford said.
Specifically, he said Trump’s “racism and bigotry” inspired him, but also policy decisions Trump is likely to make. Cutting the federal workforce, which Trump has spoken of, would hurt Prince George’s County, Stafford said.
“A huge number of Prince George’s County residents are federal employees. We know that’s very relevant to the areas where we organize,” Stafford said. “We’re looking carefully at what he actually does now that he has the power of the office.”
Wass said cutting the federal workforce would hurt the county in the short-term, but that the end result would be better government.
“If cuts go into effect, there may be some near-term impacts. But I am one, actually, for squeezing the boil. There are different ways to be healthy, and sometimes you have to excise what isn’t working,” Wass said.
Wass said the new administration could lead to a change in politics in Prince George’s County as well.
“We might push Prince George's County to be a little more Republican,” he said. “It sounds counterintuitive, but I think there are a lot of people who want to hear from an honest politician.”