After a divisive campaign, a divisive election, and a divisive transition of power, it may come as no surprise that the official start of Donald Trump’s presidency is … divisive.
For many of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters, the inauguration marks the beginning of a new — and hopefully better — America. And for his equally enthusiastic opponents, it’s the opening act of a long, hard fight.
A few days before the inauguration, pro- and anti-Trump interests collided at a middle school in liberal Montgomery County.
Daylin Leach, one of Pennsylvania’s most progressive state senators, held a public forum on how to lobby, protest, and otherwise advocate for liberal ideals.
“People were just concerned,” Leach said. “They didn’t know what to do, so I thought we could offer some advice.”
The so-named “Resistance Forum” was well-attended, with around 800 people packing the Upper Merion Middle School auditorium’s seats and aisles to listen to Leach, a panel of liberal advocates, and activists give tips on resisting policies they oppose.
Speakers named the Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, women’s rights to abortions, and a wide range of other policies were named as being threatened by Trump.
And Leach says he believes the losses could go beyond individual laws
“Now, the end of Democracy is not inevitable, but there are warning signs, and there is no law of God that says we always have a democracy,” he said to the audience. “There are many democracies in the past that did not survive. So how do we resist?”
Such grave proclamations were frequent during the forum and were met with solemn nods and pledges of action.
On the lawn outside the auditorium though, a small group decked out in pro-Trump paraphernalia was unmoved.
Jim, wearing a shirt that read “Proud member of the basket of deplorables,” was from the area, like most of the protesters, but he declined to give his last name.
He said that when Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and 2012, conservatives were told to get over it. And he says now, he thinks it’s Trump opponents’ turn to do the same.
The woman next to him, Jill, echoed the sentiment.
“He hasn’t done anything. He’s not even in office yet. And you’re going to already boycott him? For what? Because you’re a spoilsport? You lost? That’s ridiculous,” she said.
Jill held a rainbow-colored “LGBTQ for Trump” sign. She said she thinks the activists and other Trump opponents inside the auditorium were overplaying the potential downsides of a Trump presidency.
She actually doesn’t think much will change — especially socially.
“You know what? He’s always been a very big Democrat,” she said. “He’s has been a liberal. If you look back, like in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he’s always been a liberal.”
Most of the protesters — though excited for the new administration — said they didn’t have plans to travel to Washington, D.C., for the swearing-in.
But a lot of other conservative Pennsylvanians do. David Buell, a member of the Republican State Committee, says this will be his fourth inauguration. He made the trip to Washington to see Ronald Reagan and both Bushes get sworn in.
Buell says no matter who’s becoming president, he loves the gravity of the ceremony. And that’s why he says he’s so disappointed that this year over 50 legislators — including four Pennsylvania congressmen — are boycotting.
“It’s the signature peaceful transition of power of the highest office in the country. And you know, that warrants respect,” said Buell. “So I think it’s very poor discretion. It’s bad judgement.”
Buell echoes the Montgomery County protesters’ view: People should at least give Trump a chance.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a vehement dislike for something that they can’t really put their finger on, and they’ve already doomed his administration and his policies and the country. And you know, our country’s stronger than that,” he said.
But back inside the auditorium, Leach says he knows exactly why he dislikes Trump. And he says Trump has had all the chances he deserves.
“He nominates Jeff Sessions as attorney general. He nominates a whole team of people who are hostile to environmental protection to protect the environment, a labor guy who’s basically against paying workers and against overtime and against raising the minimum wage,” Leach said. “At a certain point, when are you like: ‘Ok, we gave him a chance, and he’s blown it’?”
Many of the left-leaning people at the senator’s forum say they’ll be in Washington for inauguration weekend — but not to watch the swearing in.
Like Jill Zipin, with anti-gun group Ceasefire PA, they’ll be at the Women’s March on Washington, a protest scheduled for Saturday that’s expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people.
“The vast size of these marches and protest show to the elected people that there are a lot of people who still care about these issues,” Zipin said.
Sister protests are being held around the world, including in Philadelphia.