The inauguration of President Donald Trump was a model of efficient protocol, embodying the smooth transmission of executive authority, handed down from the eighteenth century. His brief inaugural speech praised the value of traditional patriotism and quoted the great Hebrew hymn, Hine ma tov, Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers sit together in unity.”
The scene on Central Park West last night, and throughout Washington today, however, demonstrated the rancor and hostility that have seized a large portion of the electorate, which insists that the new president is an illegitimate usurper. According to this sizeable faction, represented by much of the country’s political and cultural class, President Trump’s first 100 days in office must be met with a campaign of massive resistance, including direct action. Such efforts were already evident throughout Washington this morning, as self-styled anarchists smashed windows in protest, and middle-aged women linked arms to block entrance to inauguration events, smirking at uniformed military officers who demurred from shoving through their illegal phalanx. In New York, several councilmembers were arrested in front of Trump Tower for blocking traffic but were able to tweet about it an hour later.
An estimated 25,000 people attended the Inauguration Eve rally, held outside the Trump International Hotel & Tower at Columbus Circle, formerly the Gulf + Western Building. They assembled to cheer Mayor Bill de Blasio, Robert de Niro, Cher, Alec Baldwin, and other like-minded luminaries. Many people waved signs reading “no! stop trump/pence fascist regime before it starts,” or “no no no. in the name of humanity we refuse a fascist america.” This “Refuse Fascism” contingent, a dominant presence at the rally, assumes a kind of 1930s-style Popular Front appeal—but it is actually a front for the Revolutionary Communist Party, run by longtime activist (and some say cult leader) Bob Avakian. The Refuse Fascism movement has received favorable coverage from Rachel Maddow, and leftist icons such as Cornel West, Ed Asner, and Bill Ayers have endorsed its program.
The speakers at the anti-Trump rally exercised their fervid imaginations in depicting the doom that awaits America. Filmmaker Michael Moore announced, “As bad as we think it’s going to be, it is going to be worse.” He spoke of the “Muslim registry” that Trump allegedly plans to institute, which will require “every Muslim-American” to register with the government. “I will be the first to sign up on the Muslim registry,” Moore promised. “Who will join me? Let’s all sign our name! We are all Muslim! We are all Mexican! We are all women!”
Mayor of Minneapolis Betsy Hodges expanded the categories of people who must fear the ravages of President Trump: “He will have to get through all the mayors in all the cities in this country if he wants to get to our beloved communities. When he comes for our artists, who are going to be more important now than ever with their voices of dissent, he’s going to have to get through me.” The idea that artists are at risk of being rounded up for internment—another suspicion devoid of any evidence—is consonant with the general pitch of #Resistance rhetoric.
Naturally, such a rally would not be complete without a Hollywood star making it all about himself: actor Robert De Niro read aloud from a list of unsent tweets that he imagined Trump was preparing in response to De Niro’s own remarks: “The sushi at Nobu is made from raw fish, and the portions are so small!” sneered the actor/restaurateur, fantasizing that the billionaire president would be baffled by the $180 omakase offerings at De Niro’s exclusive sushi emporia.
Mayor de Blasio gave a relatively weak and anodyne speech, at one point acknowledging that the progressives had been wrong-footed and out-maneuvered by the new president. “Donald Trump always likes to say he built a movement. Well now it’s time for us to build our movement!” He received tepid applause for suggesting (accurately) that the Left had lost at its own game. The mayor also received a storm of negative press for participating in a political rally that fouled up midtown rush hour traffic and for calling continually on Twitter for more people to join the rally.
Critics of Trump’s inaugural speech complained that he did not do enough to reach out to the opposition, and that his narrow victory compels him essentially to share power with the other side. But the “resistance,” including members of Congress, has already made clear that it will do everything it can to gum up America going forward, in an effort to delegitimize Trump’s government. If the protests we have seen so far are any indication of what the future holds, then it’s doubtful that our nation’s divisions will be bound up any time soon.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images