(Editor’s Note – Normally reporters are asked to avoid writing in first person. Since The Village Reporter lightly covers National News (focusing on Local News instead), Cory Johnson was asked to make an exception to the rule and share his personal observations. Johnson is a student at Wauseon High School)
It is inescapable, unavoidable, and downright merciless. Do not dare to think about it now! It just might creep up in your conversation; it’s already cluttered your news feed and every other station on your television set these days.
Politics is all around us. Right after the weather, it is, perhaps, America’s favorite conversational topic. I have seen it ruin relationships and burn bridges, yet bring thousands of people together to unite for one purpose. We run from the mere mention of the subject just to heartily embrace it minutes later.
Of course, being born at the tail end of the Millennial generation, I have the distinct “luck” of being apart of a key demographic. In the 2010 census, Americans under the age of 24 made up one-third of the population. Just last year, Millennials, at 75.4 million strong, surpassed the Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest generation. So it’s no wonder why advertisements, policy platforms, and politics target teenagers and young adults more than any other group.
However, the 2016 presidential election divided the nation. With so many smear campaigns, name calling, bickering, violent acts, riots, and actions based on streaks of emotion from all sides of the political spectrum, many of my peers and fellow Americans felt more discouraged than ever. Some of the most commonly used words I’ve heard to describe 2016 include “embarrassing”, “reckless”, and “frightening”.
Whatever feelings towards the election and the outcome, it was nothing short of captivating. Thus, out of my journalistic nature and curiosity of the American democracy, I found myself calling Representative Bob Latta’s office to request a ticket to the 2017 presidential inauguration, which I was admittedly surprised to actually receive. So begins my journey to the nation’s capital at a time where hundreds of thousands of others would flock to witness history in the making.
As I ventured into Washington D.C. on Thursday, January 19, there was a certain buzz of excitement and anticipation all around. Thousands were around to pick up their tickets for the next day’s swearing-in ceremony from their congressman and planned to stick around for the “Make America Great Again Welcome Celebration” that afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial.
After asking an array of questions to Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH), communications director pulled him out of the confirmation hearing for a quick interview with me. In our conversation, Senator Brown cited the need to protect individual Americans and expressed openness in working with anyone in the new administration with the same goal of solving key issues such as fighting the opioid epidemic.
After my interview, I made my way to the celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Performers at the free concert included Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood, and 3 Doors Down. Numerous celebrities had previously turned down any assertion they would make an appearance at the concert, whether they had been cordially invited or not. Regardless, thousands stood for hours around the reflecting pool to watch the entertainment and an appearance from President-elect Donald Trump himself.
Even in the lines to pass through security screenings, many attendees questioned each other as to who would make an appearance at the event. It became obvious that no matter who else was in attendance or what events would transpire, many Americans traveled across the country one reason: to witness in person Donald Trump in his first moments as the president of the United States.
Throughout the celebration, there seemed to be a very larger than life persona of Mr. Trump. When actor Jon Voight welcomed the crowd and introduced the president-elect, saying “He certainly didn’t need this job, and yes, God answered our prayers,” it felt like a very Jesus-esque comparison, and the crowd loved it. The fact is, many in Trump’s fan base, who made up the majority of the crowd, see him as the savior of America. Chants of “USA” and simply “Trump” erupted throughout the entire of show.
To be surrounded by people all united to support one man, no matter their own gender, ethnicity, or age, was awe-inspiring. A great sense of contagious hope, patriotism, and unity overtook nearly everyone in attendance to even spontaneously sing “America the Beautiful”. For the past year, these principals have felt nearly extinct to many Americans. Yet, they have been simply cast aside in the partisan debate. No matter who they voted for, it was nothing short of a glorious feeling to be in the presence of a renewed body, even if it only made up a fraction of the nation.
The Big Day
After two hours of sleep, my day started at 4:30 AM when I woke up to join the crowd waiting to get into the Inauguration Ceremony. Even before security opened at 6:00 AM, the streets leading up to the Capitol Building were lined with excited faces waiting to witness the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.
After I scouted out my spot in the standing room only section, and waited a few hours, I dared to retreat back into the street to grab some breakfast. While standing in line in the quaint café down the road, I met a mother/daughter pair who flew into DC from Colorado. Again, my sense of hope was renewed when I learned the mother was an avid Trump supporter, while her daughter was not. Yet, they still came together to witness the historic inauguration.
After receiving my city-priced hot cup of joe and blueberry muffin, I returned to the streets and attempted to make my way back through the streets my designated viewing area for the ceremony. One thing I learned early on was to always expect delays in the capital, rather you’re driving, walking, or taking public transportation. So, of course, I was met with a long line of people in a similar situation as I was, waiting to pass through security to enter (or reenter) the viewing area.
The reason for the hold-up, however, appeared to be that a group of protesters had linked arms to block anyone from entering the viewing grounds. There had been no shortage of protesters even as I arrived at the crack of dawn. Groups rallied against to support the closure of Guantanamo Bay, rally against abortion, preach the message of Christian salvation, among a myriad of other issues. The group responsible for the delays appeared to be against US involvement in Palestine.
As we waited, I talked to Gary, an activist supporting the closure of Guantanamo Bay. He cited President-elect Trump’s views on the military prison as “irrelevant”, only saying that the US has failed to pay rent and tortures innocent persons at the facility. He voted for Winona LaDuke, a perennial candidate, with a base of giving America back to the native people. To my amazement, I later found out she received a single electoral vote in the election.
A jeering spectator would later yell profanity at Gary and say he thought murdering innocent people was “cool”. Although the man would later confess to me he in no way was that radical, he found entertainment in encouraging the protesters to scream and get fired up, which, in my mind, could have very well been the reason protesters blocked the entrance to Capitol Hill in the first place.
An army veteran, also lingering in the standstill foot traffic, perhaps said it best by telling how he fought on the front lines to protect our freedom of speech and protesting, and was proud to do so, but when protesters use their freedom to restrict his, that crosses the line.
The Inaugural Ceremony
After about an hour, the protesters went away (rather on their own free will or forcefully, I am not aware). I went back into the seating area, reclaimed my spot, and waited a few more hours for the ceremony to begin.
The ceremony was electrifying. Seeing the peaceful transition of power between two presidents with very different political views sent chills through me with the realization of how fortunate I am to experience the American democracy right in front of me whether in the nation’s capital or every day back home in Wauseon.
Still, I was reminded of the some of the partisanship in the crowd when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took the stage as the sole Democratic Party speaker. Even while telling how he invested his hope in the American people, he was roundly booed. Chants of “Trump” and “drain the swamp” became so intense, I could not understand any of the senator’s remarks.
The crowd celebrated with thunderous applause and cheering as Mike Pence took the oath of office as Vice President of the United States and Donald Trump as President of the United States.
The inaugural address soon after was received similarly as President Trump outlined his intentions to give power back to the people, put America first in foreign affairs, restore infrastructure, and make the country more economically sound.
For the crowd in attendance and the millions watching from home, it doesn’t matter if the president’s address compares to the widely quoted lines in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s or John F. Kennedy’s, but whether his administration will make good on its promises. An imperative part to this, however, is if the American people will support the new office holder and give his policies a chance. This is where we are as a people. Donald Trump is the president of the greatest nation in the world.
As I would later walk down Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House, numerous cabinet departments, and monuments, it was more evident than ever that one person did not build the foundation of this nation in a day. This country was built over time by many hands and people with a immense heart of patriotism. It is up to us to continue the legacy and mold our identity. We are known as an international leader in the economy, industry, freedoms, and diplomacy. It takes all of us to bolster the nation to retain these titles.
After the ceremony, I prepared to go to the Inaugural Parade. Again, I was met with long lines of enthusiastic people waiting to pass through security. Immediately in front of me was a local school teacher with her 12 year old daughter and eight year old son. As protesters once again rallied through the streets, various signs depicted graphic, doctored images of the president and expletives adjectives.
Brady, the eight year old, even took it upon himself to repeat some of the expletives verbally to tell me what he saw. His mother told me how she was warned not to bring them into the city because of the dangers and bad examples, but she wanted to expose them to history in the making as she tried to keep them informed of candidates and issues from numerous perspectives.
I was grateful to find I had gotten separated from Brady and his family on the parade route, as I ended up on the side of a huge protest rally where the speaker boomed with the song “FDT” and more explicatives to describe the new leader of the free world. To better understand the protests, I engaged in conversation with a protester from Portland, OR. He was very courteous in offering his opinion and even asked for my thoughts on the role of the media in the Trump administration. Still, he had no explanation for the profanity blaring through the sound system or from the speakers on stage.
Protesting is a very basic freedom. If you don’t like something in America, you’re welcome to change it or yell about it. Yet, in all the conversations with my fellow Americans I had in DC, simply ranting or using grotesque language is counterproductive to the movement.
Furthermore, violence has no place in America. The images of broken glass in storefronts and limousines on fire were widely seen. The hundreds of police officers sent to the capital to keep the people safe should not have had to or ever have to deal with violence as a result of demonstrations. Violence is not an answer to peace, or even violence.
The Women’s March in DC on the afternoon of Saturday, January 22, is reported to have drawn nearly 500,000 supporters, about double the attendance at the inauguration ceremony. The support in the city on Saturday versus Friday were polar opposites. Still, I didn’t mind the crowded streets or being squeezed in to a car on the metro, because the march still spoke for love and peace, which are essential to preserving a democracy.
My biggest takeaway as a student at the inauguration was that cooperation takes effort, but it is well worth it. It is hugely significant that we take the time to understand and love each other as individuals. We need to take to calculated steps to find our own voice. The group mentality in that encompass supporters or demonstrators can be intimidating and fierce. It is human nature to say and do things in groups we would never do as individuals, but it is essential to break down those barriers to understand each other and cooperate, because that is the American way.
Cory Johnson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org