Article by Nick DeMent | Photography by Reed Freeman | Owl Staff
A year has passed since America was introduced to its new president, and opinions remain as diverse today as they did the day he was sworn in. As I left my house on the early morning of January 20, 2017, a light drizzle was softly falling from a slate-colored sky, mirroring the faded asphalt of the long road to the MARC train station in Baltimore.
There, I was to meet a handful of other Owl Magazine staffers for our journey to the Capital. After we assembled our party and acquired tickets to D.C., we boarded the train with one goal in mind: to capture the essence and opinions of the people.
The first opportunity for some insight occurred on the Metro itself while interviewing two young men: Jeremy, a 27-year-old law student at Berkeley, and his friend Ryan Roger, a 29-year-old musician.
“It’s a real sad moment in our history,” Jeremy said. “[Trump’s platform is] about race, immigration, Muslims and turning people against each other who have much in common. Rejecting bigotry and hatred at all junctions is what we have to do.”
As for Roger, he shared his friend’s disturbance with the election of Trump. “We are seeing economic and xenophobic forces rise,” Roger said. “When you start hearing fascist rhetoric you have to show up, and people haven’t done that in the past.”
Both of them were supporters of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic race. They believed he mobilized a huge public message that touched millions of people, and they were not supporters of Hillary Clinton.
Shortly afterward we arrived at the station, the hum of excitement buzzed in the air as hundreds of people moved about the station, some dressed in patriotic costumes and many more waving signs of political statements. Around every corner there were military, private security, and police accompanied by inquisitive search dogs.
As we exited the station, we encountered a man holding a sign comparing Trump to Hitler. Robert Meringolo from Albany, New York, an avid anti-Trump protester. “They won’t let me carry this sign without a permit, which is a violation of free speech,” he said. “They are trying to sanitize this. They were going to arrest me.”
When he told the police what they were doing was violating his rights, Meringolo said they responded, “We don’t care.”
“This man has shredded every value; he’s a con-artist,” he declared.
Marching alongside droves of protesters and supporters, mantras of “not my president!” filled the air, and many heads adorned with red “Make America Great Again” hats poked out of the crowds.
It was not long before we made it to the checkpoint of the Capitol grounds, and after making our way through the bustling crowd and an extensive search process, we arrived at the heart of the inauguration.
Looking around we quickly noticed the emptiness of the area. There were thousands of people there, but large stretches of land were accompanied only by discarded trash and there were far less people there than I expected.
Another thing I found out of place were the six religious officials present, each a representative of various Christian and Jewish orthodoxies. The atmosphere was then filled with prayers and blessings of every sort.
To me this felt very inappropriate; I wondered just how separate church and state are, not to mention the ethical implications that occur when using influential religious figures in such a powerful political setting.
As the microphone feedback settled and the echoes of blessings faded, we came across a Vietnam Veteran named Gary Gone, a 63-year-old stout Trump supporter. Gone believed in Trump and confidently stated he “wants to unite this country, we have been divided for the last seven years.”
To him Americans have “become lazy,” and “other countries think, ‘come to America, you get everything for free!’” He blamed our economic problems on “ghetto rats” and added that “Trump is gonna end all that.”
19-year-old Political Science major at Heidelberg University, Andrew Aviles, felt that “neither candidate was perfect.” When asked why he supported Trump he told us, “I’m Latino, there’s a big misunderstanding that because we are Latino, we immediately have to hate Trump, like the same misunderstanding with women. He put a face and a name on what we want and what we don’t want, when it comes to Latinos. He put a face and a name on illegal and legal immigration.”
He then later remarked, “[The] media was very biased; they shamed anything he said.”
Unfortunately, we had a difficult time finding more Trump supporters to speak to. Despite many attempts to ask their opinions, most ignored our questions or refused to comment.
In contrast to Andrew’s thoughts, we found a few young women in a closely-knit group. Clara White, a 20-year-old Psychology major at George Washington University, Anna Larocco Masi a 21-year-old Political Science major, and Anna Du, a 20-year-old Political Science major.
LaRocco Masi told us they were there to stand up for the LGBT community and women’s rights. In regard to Trump’s comments on women Masi felt, “It’s disgusting, and I don’t think we should have a president who is being tried for stuff like that.”
They told us that Trump supporters had verbally assaulted them earlier in the day, calling them “losers,” as well as slinging sexist and profane slurs the women did not wish to repeat. All they were doing was standing and showing their support for those they feel need it.
Their other concerns were for the future of reproductive rights for women. “A lot of people don’t understand that abortions aren’t federally funded,” White said. “And that it is only three percent of what Planned Parenthood provides.”
Trump wants to defund Planned Parenthood because he is pro-life. However, Planned Parenthood also provides contraception and treatment for STDs and infections.
“Women are literally half of this country, and that’s disregarding an entire population. Not everyone agrees on abortions, but everyone should agree women should get the health care they need,” White said.
As we departed the Capitol grounds we saw a group of young women wearing “Trump” hats and other accessories showing their support for the new president. While they were around the same age as the previous group of women, their political beliefs were quite different. Cydney Bentley, Grace Rummler, Andrea, and Kate Waskvisch, students from Saginaw Valley State, Michigan, all agreed they mostly voted for Trump because he’s “not Hillary, anyone but Hillary,” as well as being unanimously against abortion and Planned Parenthood.
Our day was coming to a close when we ran into a 43-year-old project manager for a company that develops software, Scott Merillat. “Nothing about his values are virtuous, everything is about him and his agenda,” Merillat said. “[His agenda cares] nothing about the poor, nothing about building and making the world a better place.”
As we departed, I remember looking up at the panoramic, pale gray sky that hung like a thick sheet of wool over the stark concrete city. On the long journey home, I contemplated that day and what it meant for the future of America. For some, the future seemed bleak, reflected in the murky sky, while others celebrated a new beginning to come.