WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the forgettable Little Rascals remake from 1994, Waldo, the film’s arch-prick, places a phone call from the racetrack.
“Hi, Dad, it’s me. You’re gonna be so proud of me. I’m gonna win the race,” Waldo brags.
The scene cuts to the bleachers, where one man sits in a dark suit and purple tie, an oversize cellphone pressed to his ear.
“Waldo, you’re the best son money can buy,” Donald Trump answers.
Twenty-three years later, Trump is America’s rich daddy, freed from three-second cameos, the WWE hall of fame, and other circles of kitsch hell for a stage far grander and more everlasting. From now until the Earth’s extinction, he will be remembered as an American president, and I struggled to internalize this fact as I sat in section 13 on the west front of the Capitol, rain drops dappling my hair and notebook. Here it was at last: the day of reckoning.
President Donald John Trump, the 45th president of the most powerful and alluring and terrifying nation on the planet, on par with Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt.
His words today were beside the point. Pundits will make the mistake of overanalyzing what he had to say. (What does he mean by “carnage”? What are the implications of this “hour of action”?) Trump’s language, if apocalyptic, is forever elastic and often meaningless. The man who perhaps understood him most, Wayne Barrett, is now dead, departed on the eve of America’s most unlikely inauguration. Reality outstrips fiction, again and again.
Trump’s inauguration threatened to turn into a campaign rally. In their bright red “Make America Great Again” caps, the overwhelmingly white Trump acolytes thronged a Capitol used to a more bourgeois insularity. They chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “USA,” booing Hillary Clinton, clad in white, when she flashed on the big screen. Oddly, they held back vitriol for Barack Obama. One boy, though, wore a black shirt that read “01.20.17. Obama’s Last Day.” He told me he had it for several years.
The TV cameras probably missed how the crowd turned on Chuck Schumer, patron saint of the platitude. As the minority leader, as much a New York institution as his new president, wound up for a paean to multiculturalism, paying tribute to immigrants and individuals of any “gender identity,” boos erupted. “Get him off!” one man cried, a smattering of people behind me beginning to chant “we want Trump.” One or two “CNN sucks” or “Lock her ups” and I would’ve felt like I was back in Manchester.
The rain didn’t come until Trump took to the podium. One of the many clergymen (there was a single rabbi, maybe for the sake of Jared Kushner, and no Muslim clerics, because, well…) told the crowd this was a sign of God’s blessing. I couldn’t help but think of other portents. Just before, in a preview of the clashes in the streets to come, a couple of people near my section shouted “Not my president” and blew a whistle as Trump took the oath of office.
“Get a life,” a woman yelled as policemen dragged one of the protesters away.
Let the record reflect that the port-a-potty company with the contract to serve the Trump-loving masses was called Don’s Johns sanitation services, based out of Chantilly, VA. The name was papered over in most cases, for obvious reasons. As I walked out of my section, with Trump officially christened our commander in chief, a couple of beefy Trump supporters made their own exit from the sanitation station.
“Get your feces in your hand and let’s go find a protester,” one man told the other.
For the next four years — as in the previous four — a large segment of the country promises to hate the other with dogged ferocity. A feckless Democratic Party, tone-deaf intellects, and too many oligarchs have hollowed out our country and allowed Trump to thrive. However capitalism has failed Trump’s voters, the austerity-drunk House Republicans, with Trump’s blessing, won’t have much of an answer. People have a right to be pissed, even if they’ve chosen a potentially disastrous pied piper.
Yet here we are. As Alec Baldwin said on Saturday Night Live, a show watched mostly by people who voted for Hillary Clinton, this is real life.
If you see any feces, duck.