South Carolinians Mignonne Matheson and Hugh Gourlay stood together Friday on Washington’s National Mall and marveled at American democracy.
They arrived with different personal perspectives – Matheson as a long-time Donald Trump supporter, Gourlay as a disappointed Hillary Clinton voter. But they came together, and together stood far from the official stage and the white plastic flooring that protects the Mall’s lawn. As President Donald Trump took the oath and removed the -elect from his title, they watched on the massive screens set up along the route, in which the audio arrived a full couple seconds before the video, so the cheering would begin before the president’s lips moved.
They listened as Trump spoke, then they turned to leave. But there was no question that they were leaving together. They even said they were taking away the same lesson.
The United States isn’t strong or great because a Democrat or a Republican is in the White House, they explained, going back and forth as they talked. The United States is what it is because every person can vote for the person in whom they believe. And the country is great because after that vote is cast, everyone owes the new president, whoever it is, their respect.
Of course, it didn’t hurt in their case that as Matheson explained why she believes so strongly in Trump, Gourlay smiled and said “I really do love her.”
This was an important trip for the two. She’s from Easley, South Carolina, and he’s from Greenville. They were high school sweethearts who drifted apart as adults but found each other again recently. They’re both 57 now. So while they weren’t on the same page in the last election, they felt it was important to acknowledge that what matters most is the process, the system. He said there was no better way they could think of than making this journey up for the inauguration.
“I shed my tears but they’re dry now,” he said. “If I believe in this country I have to believe that Trump will now deliver on his promises.”
For her part, she said she was looking forward to Trump getting his jobs program going, gets his cabinet in place and gets to work.
“And I do believe he can clean up the corruption in this town,” she added.
They were, however, two of many raising their voices in celebration or marveling at how even in a divided nation, the transfer of power was peaceful and smooth.
Before the event, Michael Barth of Daniel Island, South Carolina, said he had wanted to be in Washington for the event because “South Carolina plays such a huge role in this administration. We put him on his way to winning the nomination, and now he’s got two nominees to part of his inner circle from the state. It’s a great day for South Carolina.”
And others had similar sentiments.
Brian Yarbrough of Lexington, said he was excited by the Palmetto State presence in the capital, and he wanted to be part of a historic weekend.
“Really, I’m here to support South Carolina,” he said.
Seth Kursman explained the importance of South Carolina in this transition even though he now lives in Canada, Still, he said his forest products company Resolute does a lot of business in the state so he feels connected. His seats were up front, giving him a view of the swearing in. As he stood there, he noted his disappointment in the Democrats who were boycotting the event.
“What an embarassment that so many members of Congress are not attending,” he said. “They should remember who they represent and what today celebrates. The peaceful transition of power is not something to protest but rather to embrace.”
Glenn McCall, 63, Rock Hill, South Carolina, has been working in and around GOP politics since the early 1990s, and remembers the last time the Republican Party controlled the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, back in 2004.
“This feels different,” he said. “No one had given President Trump a chance.”
Drew Johnson, 45 and from Chester, started working in South Carolina politics while he was still in college. He worked in country politics, and 5th Congressional District politics. He’d been to two national conventions.
“But I’ve never been to an inauguration,” he said.
Johnson wasn’t a supporter of the new president from the first day. When the candidates rolled into South Carolina, he was in the corner of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“But as soon as Trump was the nominee, I was fully behind him,” he said.
He’s excited to see what comes next.
“We worked hard for eight years for this,” he said.