By Alex Osondu Atawa Akpodiete*
The expression, “Out with the old, in with the new”, may not totally be appropriate given the age difference between the American 44th President Barack Hussein Obama and the 45th President, Donald John Trump. Obama is 55, while Trump is 70. Nonetheless, the world watched as America exemplified what makes it one of the bastions of democracy – the peaceful transfer of power.
Additionally, America continues to impress the world that it is really a melting pot (or salad bowl) for all cultures and nationalities. It is the only country where a Kenyan-American can become its president and where a Slovenia-born (formerly Sevnica, Yugoslavia) model (Melanija Knavs with an Austrian father and Slovenia mother) can become its first lady. Of course, it is also the country where a reality TV star, a man with no military experience or political experience can rise to the highest office in the land, giving hope to countless Americans with his slogan “Make America Great Again”, with the new appendage “Greater Than Ever Before.” It begs the question: when will countries like China, Russia, France, Canada, Germany or United Kingdom achieve these feats, at least as it relates to minorities?
The official inauguration was essentially a three-day event, starting on Thursday, January 19 with Wreath-Laying Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Welcome Concert at Lincoln Memorial, and State Society Inaugural Balls at National Harbor. Friday, January 20 was the Inaugural Swearing-In Ceremony at West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building. The Inaugural Parade started on the steps of the Capitol Building and proceeded along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. In the evening, there were several Inaugural Balls including the ones at Walter E. Washington Convention Center and National Building Museum. Finally, on Saturday, January 21, the National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral and First Amendment Demonstrations in Downtown and RFK Stadium were scheduled.
Interestingly, Barack Obama leaves office with one of the highest approval ratings for a US President, while Donald Trump enters with one of the lowest approval ratings for an incoming President. However, polls have lost some of their credibility after the disastrously erroneous predictions during the last presidential elections. Over 1.8 million showed up for the inauguration of Barack Obama, as compared to slightly over a million that came for the swearing-in of the 45th President. Take the numbers with a grain of salt.
Foreign dignitaries and celebrities
A few days before the inauguration, International Times stated that “celebrities and politicians have been declaring in droves that they’re intentionally missing the swearing-in ceremony to protest Trump’s controversial stances.”
Nonetheless, as always, the inauguration was graced by foreign dignitaries and Heads of States. On the list were: former UKIP leader Nigel Farage; Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak; Anson Chan, the former chief secretary in Hong Kong; Freddy Lim of the New Power Party of Taiwan; and Yu Shyi-kun, Former premier and member of Taiwan’s ruling Beijing-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party. Those who were absent with excuses included: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was on a cross-Canada tour; and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
There were rumors that the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, was shunned and that his predecessor Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was instead invited. While I could not get a response from the US Presidential inauguration Committee, I placed a call to Femi Adesina, SSA to the President Buhari on Media, who stated that “the rumors are based on ignorance. Presidents do not get invited, only Ambassadors.” One wonders of what significance it is to the rumor peddlers. It would have been a violation of protocol and a major diplomatic faux pas for the incoming administration.
One thing you must admire about the new President is his ability to weather storms from various scandals. During the campaign he rode through allegations of rape, groping women, bigotry, Russian hacking and incompetence to decimate the Clinton machinery. Post-election, he has even used his Twitter handle to challenge those that tried to undermine his victory and question his legitimacy. Even the unsubstantiated allegations that Russians had some incriminating information, did not deter him. His Teflon approach will serve him well in the next four years, especially as the democrats prepare to fight him. In a recent e-mail from Donna Brazile, Chair of Democratic National Committee, she stated “one thing I do know is that the fear or anger we all might be feeling can be powerful motivators to speak out louder and fight back harder than we have before.”
Both at the swearing in and the following day, Washington DC witnessed several protests. Saturday was scheduled to be the Women Match on Washington. Some of the protestors were aggressive and tried to use poles to block some of the inauguration paths, but the well-prepared security agents defused their antics, although some vandals destroyed a near-by Starbucks and used bricks to damage security vehicles. Some of the more peaceful groups included DisruptJ20, ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and “Communities Under Attack Fight Back”. One of the more controversial groups is DCMJ (formerly known as the D.C. Cannabis Campaign), which engaged in a marijuana giveaway of over 4,200 joints.
In an article in Washington Post, Ben Becker of the ANSWER Coalition stated, “The main message is that there is going to be a grass-roots movement of resistance to the Trump agenda from Day One of his presidency.”
The post-inauguration protests resulted in the arrest of almost 100 people. Anti-riot police dispersed rioter with pepper sprays and rubber grenades, mixed with smoke.
The dawn of a new era
AT 11:58am US Eastern Standard time, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Roberts steeped up to administer the oath of office to the incoming President. Two minutes later (12:00 noon) New York Billionaire businessman and real estate mogul, Donald John Trump, became the 45th President of the United States of America, Commander-in-Chief of the US military, and “leader of the free world.” He will be assisted by Michael Richard Pence as his Vice-President.
The words from the inauguration speech of President Donald J. Trump must be echoed the world over, “Whether we are brown, black or white, we all bleed the same red blood.” Let us remember these words and spread peace and love everywhere.
Alex O. Atawa Akpodiete, a Mediator and Public Affairs Analyst, wrote from Washington DC metro area.