Rain drizzled and the sky was gray, but Matt Krapish sported a big smile as he strode toward the National Mall to watch Donald Trump become the 45th president of the United States.
Krapish, a 6-foot-7 bail enforcement officer from Baytown, Texas, ignored the Black Lives Matter protesters down the block. A frayed Texas Rangers ball cap shielded him from the bad weather. These were just minor irritations to a man excited about the prospect that Trump’s inauguration would set the country on a new and positive course.
“I’m just an average American,” Krapish said. “There’s something different about Trump that makes the rest of America feel good.”
That “something different” is what drew thousands of supporters here Friday to celebrate the improbable ascent of a business mogul and reality TV star whose populist speech and brash behavior set him apart from his predecessors in the White House. That “something different” is also what drew thousands of protesters, who reject Trump’s policy stances and temperament as dangerous at home and on the global stage.
With half-empty subway cars and sparse crowds on the Mall, Trump’s subdued welcome stood in marked contrast to outgoing President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, when hundreds of thousands of people flooded into Washington to witness the swearing-in of the first black president.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates the subway, posted rider figures from Trump’s inauguration with comparisons to the inaugurations of Obama in 2009 and George W. Bush in 2005. An hour before the ceremony, 193,000 people had taken the Metro – far fewer than the 513,000 who’d ridden by that same hour when Obama came to office and even below the 197,000 for Bush.
This time around, there was also a palpable trepidation, detectable at times even among the Trump fans sporting red caps and American flags as they filed toward the inauguration grounds.
Take 19-year-old Caroline Lawe, who grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and who came to the inauguration with a couple of friends. She’d voted for Trump, though he wasn’t her first choice among Republican candidates. She said she still harbored some reservations about his temperament but not enough to dissuade her from heading to the Mall to bear witness to a moment that defied virtually every poll and prediction in the election year.
“It’s part of history, no matter what your political views are, to be here with everyone and to feel the momentum,” said Lawe, a sophomore studying nursing at Catholic University in Washington.
Christina Jeffrey, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is a conservative political scientist who suspects her political stances were behind her dismissal from an adjunct teaching position at Wofford College after Trump’s visit there last November. Jeffrey said her mother was a journalist who’d documented the rise of the Nazi regime in the 1930s; she takes her mother’s experience as a cautionary tale for the rise of Islamist extremism.
That’s why Jeffrey is on board with Trump’s platform, including his staunchly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim positions.
“I expect him to do all the things he said he was going to do,” she said. “I’m perfectly happy with his program.”
For all the pundits decrying the doom and gloom of Trump’s inaugural speech, the lines played well with the audience on the Mall, hitting the major concerns of his supporters: jobs, immigration, terrorism. To Trump voters, the thinly veiled barbs at Muslims and other minorities represented telling it like it is, the rhetorical style that fans like for the lack of “political correctness.”
“He’s a very different kind of candidate than we’re accustomed to,” said Jade Morey, of Byron, Georgia, a delegate to the Republican National Convention last summer and, initially, a reluctant Trump supporter. “In some ways, that can be a little scary because he does say what’s on his mind. But for a lot of people that’s also very comforting. They find it to be honest and refreshing.”
Cheers rose from the audience when Trump mentioned the military, fighting the “carnage” he described in American streets and bringing back outsourced jobs. When Trump wrapped up with his signature slogan, the crowd chanted it along with their new president: “Make America great again!”
Former Florida Gov. and current Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican now in office as a Democrat, said he’d found moments of uplift in Trump’s speech and that the brevity – about 16 minutes – served the new president well.
“I think he tried to paint a picture of a bright future for our country,” Crist said as he walked back to his Washington apartment after the inauguration.
Jessica Lunceford, a Trump supporter in town from Johnson City, Tennessee, said the only hate she’d heard Friday was from the protesters, who seemed unwilling to give their new president a chance.
“Don’t be close-minded,” she said of the demonstrators. “Instead of using your voice to promote hate, use it for unity.”
Still, several in the crowd tempered their enthusiasm for Trump by saying they’d hold him accountable for his promises. They wanted to see “the wall” on the border with Mexico. They supported buying American – for some, even if that meant higher prices. They wanted to see the jobs Trump promised on his trips to cities gutted by collapsed steel or textile industries.
Danny Castle, 53, in town from Colorado, said he owns a tow-truck business in Texas and has seen firsthand the effects of illegal immigration. If the wall plan “falls on its face,” Castle said, he wouldn’t be voting again for Trump.
“I’m pro-immigration, but they have to come here legally,” Castle said.
Adam Bush, a conservative in the majority-Democratic state of California, acknowledged he’s a political minority in the Bay Area but said the social issues weren’t the big concerns for him.
“I don’t really care about gay rights, you know; let ’em have it. Weed legalization, let ’em have it,” Bush said. “A lot of it for me is just security and bringing it back to a more logical way of doing things.”
Even his presence in Washington wasn’t mainly out of conviction but because he’d scored tickets through a congressional office.
“A lot of it was more about the history than just being a Trumpette,” Bush said, “but we’re definitely on his side.”
Among the audience on the Mall were several young Trump supporters, high school students who weren’t yet old enough to cast ballots in the November election.
Four high school classmates from the Macon Teenage Republicans club who’d made the trip from Georgia to Washington said their school was mostly pro-Trump, with “a heavy dose of opposition.” Their main concern seemed to be the economy.
“The U.S. is essentially a giant business,” said Nick Bailey, 16. “And if he can run a billion-dollar business, he can run America. Our biggest thing is going to be our economy. And if we don’t have a good economy, we don’t have nothing. I believe he’s going to build that up.”
Another student on the Mall, 16-year-old Ashley Uhlenhake, from Plano, Texas, said Trump was not guaranteed her vote if he ran for re-election in 2020. She said she came from a conservative family, hung out with liberal friends and counted herself somewhere in the middle – a position that can be “intense.”
Uhlenhake said she’d be watching Trump closely the next four years, reading news from different sources to get the fullest picture possible before she decided who’d get her first presidential vote in 2020. That could be Trump, she said, but only “if he’s an advocate for the people and not just pandering to people.”
With reporting by Alex Daugherty, Tony Pugh, Anna Douglas, Matthew Schofield, Rob Hotakainen and Lindsay Wise. McClatchy special correspondent Derek Robertson contributed.