I’ve never met as many Republicans in my entire life as I did Friday in Washington for Donald Trump's inauguration. I’ve clocked up six months total in America – all of which I’ve spent in New York City – and I’d met one solitary Trump supporter so far. Before I came out here I worked as a tour guide at Oxford and met dozens of Americans, none of whom had a nice word to say about the 45th President. Either Trump supporters don’t travel or they were too embarrassed to admit it in Europe.
At Washington's Union Station it was clear this was Red America’s day and there were plenty of Make America Great Again caps bobbing through the crowds. It felt very different from New York City, to put it lightly.
In a shop selling souvenirs excited Trump supporters asked me to take a picture of them with a cardboard cutout of their hero. They asked me if I wanted one but were shocked when I pulled a smiling Obama towards me. I did, however, buy a Make America Great cap for a liberal friend in Dublin which I’m sure he’ll treasure forever. I looked terrific in it – red definitely suits me – but just couldn't bring myself to wear it long; usually I find it easy to get hyped up by big national events, but with Donald Trump it’s different. I just think he is a dangerous and bad man.
Outside Union Station I bumped into a crowd of socialists protesting. As a student I always thought most protests in Ireland seemed to be about austerity, so a socialist demonstration in the rain made me feel right at home, solidarity with the lads with a Palestinian flag and a sign asking Trump not to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. I presume there wasn’t the space to add, “Or at least not until there is a peace agreement that sees a two state solution with joint authority over Jerusalem.”
I interviewed two of them for IrishCentral and it was pretty clear that even in Europe they would be considered on the left of the spectrum. If the Democrats start advocating for completely open borders then they can kiss the White House goodbye for at least another generation, at which point US tax rates will will resemble Monaco and Medicare and Social Security will be as private as Trump’s pool in Mar-a-Lago.
Live in DC for the Inauguration! 🇺🇸Posted by IrishCentral.com on Friday, January 20, 2017
The next couple were Trump supporters and I thought they were lovely. All the way from the Carolinas, one was an Irish American and the other other a Hispanic pastor who assured me her flock were full square behind the new President. She actually felt that there was a far higher chance of immigration reform happening under a Republican Administration than with a Democrat in the White House. She didn’t agree with his comments about Mexico, nor did she think much of his pussy grabbing past which she declared a “sin,” but she was hopeful that a Trump Presidency would see restrictions on abortion and an end to gay marriage. For sure Vice President Mike Pence agrees with with her.
Hispanic Pastor and Irish American Trump supporters tell us why they're in DC today! 🇺🇸Posted by IrishCentral.com on Friday, January 20, 2017
Another set of Trump supporters I found in an Irish bar – where else would I go to find Irish Americans? A father and his half-Mexican, half-Irish son from Texas told me confidently, “No more hope, [he’s] actually going to make a difference.” When I raised the fears of the undocumented Irish I was confidently reassured by Dad, “Irish Americans shouldn’t be concerned at all.” He had a problem with illegals, working in construction and other low paid jobs, holding down wages (which is exactly what thousands of Irish illegals do), but the educated Irish would still be able to come to America.
Irish American Trump supporters
Irish American Donald J. Trump supporters in DC for the inauguration weigh in on illegal immigration and the 'grab-em' recording:Posted by IrishCentral.com on Friday, 20 January 2017
Two ladies in town for the Women’s March the next day, both wearing identical pink “pussyhats” were next. I didn’t put it to them that using women’s genitalia to symbolize feminist resistance to the new President was “trans exclusionary feminism” because I’d been out of my liberal Twitter bubble all morning and just didn’t think.
Irish American Jane and her sister in law are here to protest the new President!Posted by IrishCentral.com on Friday, January 20, 2017
Moving through the crowds in central DC I was struck by two things: firstly there were nearly as many protesters as supporters and secondly, they were all just letting each other get on and do their own thing. What saddened me most when I heard later about the small outbreaks of violence was that I felt so impressed by the strength of America’s democracy at that point. Even if Russia hacked the election, in plenty of countries having so many ordinary citizens with such opposing views in one place would be a recipe for riots, or at the very least insults, but I saw nothing but Americans treating each other with courtesy and respect. If it hadn’t been for the caps and the signs it could have been just a busy day in DC.
Due to road closures what should have been a half hour walk across town turned into an hour and a half tour of Washington, DC. I missed most of the swearing in and President Trump’s rambling speech but was passing by loudspeakers when Trump took the oath of office. My deeply buried inner Catholic stirred and I crossed myself. I hope my worries for the future are confounded.
Passing the back entrance of the White House was when I really felt the guard had changed. A black car drove in and, rightly or wrongly, I assumed he was a GOP staffer eager to start undoing eight years of work by Obama.
At a dinner hosted by the Ireland Fund to celebrate the inauguration I sat by a couple whose family hailed from near my own in Kerry. I asked whether they thought the right candidate had won. “Yes,” the husband bluntly informed me. I assumed from the irritated tone this was a position that had earned him a lot of slagging in his liberal hometown.
Watching the parade out the window I felt must have been a curious exercise in restraint for most of the Fund’s employees. Most were Irish born and, like me, I’d say would have been rolling their eyes and making despairing comments if it hadn’t been for the presence of the event’s Republican guests. Still, as the presidential limousine passed by, we snapped away on our phones as eagerly as we would have had it been JFK back from the dead. Inauguration Day is Inauguration Day and a like on Instagram is a like on Instagram.
Chatting to guests I was struck, as always when I speak to Irish Americans, how sincere their love of Ireland is but how different the political realities of our two nations are. The husband I was chatting to told me that he had been a Democrat since 1952 but last year changed his registration to Independent and voted for Trump. He said Obamacare was a disaster and his wife told me she really didn’t understand what her liberal friends could be worried about. Neither of which would count as views within the Irish political mainstream.
Afterwards I interviewed Congressman Mark Meadows who represents North Carolina’s 11th District and is as gracious a politician as I have ever met. He told me that there would be a vote in Congress on repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act sometime within the first three weeks of February at which point the GOP would have a replacement ready.
Live with Congressman Mark MeadowsPosted by IrishCentral.com on Friday, January 20, 2017
I wished him a goodnight and began my walk back to Union Station. I doubt they’ll be many others for Trump supporters. With an approval rating already in the low 40s and an apparently sincerely held view that “the President can’t have a conflict of interest” I expect the Trump Administration to rapidly hit the rocks.
But then again, what do I know about middle America? I’m just another liberal journalist living in a New York bubble.